We should be thankful that the ever-watchful Gods of journalism bow and genuflect before the likes of the self-anointed gurus in our midst. Despite a whole gaggle of these people, today I refer to Clay Shirkey who teaches at NYU. He is one of a number of theorists who are all are members of the unofficial Guru’s Guild. Their devotion is to find ways for news to survive, a worthwhile endeavor. We know traditional news is on the edge of failure and is undergoing a transition into the unknown. In academia, Clay Shirkey is an important media theorist. He gets enormous play for theories that look good on paper, in print and online, but when pulled apart, they really make little sense.
Clay Shirkey has three new ideas. One is that news must be subsidized to survive because people will not pay for what they now can and do get for free. Meaning, free is good. Paying for anything is not good. It is that simple. He believes that most people “don’t care enough to pay” for news. I will not argue that but as long as people can get what they consider news for free, why pay. I wonder who exactly will subsidize newsgathering and its presentation without influencing what and how it is collected and then presented.
Shirkey says that news has to be cheap. That might be his most foolish take on newsgathering and the dissemination of what journalists collect. Whether it is for TV, or the Web, who pays the journalist? Who pays the editor? Is there no pay or very little pay? We still live in a capitalistic society and the loss of any incentive in the workplace could degrade quality. Yes, I know – good wages do not guarantee quality, but I bet it helps.
Finally, at least for this go-around, Shirkey opines that thought of his “news has to be free.” I am not sure what he means. Is he saying that after we subsidize the news, and after we cheaply produce the news we gather, we give it away without any compensation? Free in this context seems to come from a fevered dream.
Shirkey believes in serious competition at all levels of news. That is hard to argue with. But then he tells us what he means is that, “multiple competition that produces chaos is the solution” to the future of news. Is chaos really a solution? Our world is already in a state of chaos with its wars, economic pandemonium, and the roiling of Mother Nature. Do we really need more chaos in newsgathering?
He is right when he says that no single business model will work to save the news business. He says that if only media, and by that I assume he means the professional press in all its forms, is the only way to present the news, than we have what he calls “ a single point of failure.” I can only guess he wants many points of failure, i.e., failure distributed across every platform to create the chaos he so fervently believes in. I don’t know what the answer will be, but chaos in any form is not the answer or the solution to the future of news.