Alan Rusbridger, Dan Gillmor, the future of journalism and the Great Schism between the Ism and the Ist

This is something I’ve not done before – posting a comment.  But hey, it took a while to write and the social media revolution is all about the separation of information from a dedicated means of distribution, so that’s alright then.

The comment was on a post by Dan Gillmor, which was really just a link to Alan Rusbridger’s recent speech about the future of journalism.  I think my comment makes sense without first reading the speech – but I  recommend you do read it.  It is very good, albeit a speech that doesn’t really nail the answer – probably because the answer involves arriving at the conclusion that journalists have little role in the future of journalism.

Here is my comment.

A fascinating speech and also insight into the issues all newspapers (and other forms of institutionalised media) are wrestling with.  Rusbridger is struggling with what I call the emerging Great Schism between the Ism and the Ist (as in journalism and jounalist).

We are just starting to realise the extent to which the business model for media tied content to a means of distribution and thus bound journalism to journalists.  Distribution was expensive and it was therefore institutionalised.  The people that produced the content (journalists) and the content itself were wholly beholden to the institutionalised means of distribution that was a newspaper.

What the social media revolution is all about is the separation of content from a dedicated means of distribution because the ability to distribute is now free and available to all.  What is therefore happening is a shift from institutions (journalists) into processes (journalism).  Journalism is effectively an objective or destination or even movement which is no longer delivered exclusively through the institutionalised form of a journalist.  News is changing from being a finished product, to being a raw material.  This shift is not just happening in the media – it is happening everywhere, from financial services to politics.  Essentially trust is shifting from institutions to processes – from places (experts, newspapers, blogs) to spaces (conversations, twitter tags).

It is the defining shift of the social media age.

Rusbridger clearly identifies the opportunities this may create, but perhaps the most telling statement in his speech is his use of the term “leagcy” to describe the print business.  This distribution dependant legacy is what will always stop him from successfully moving into the new media space because it not only shapes the nature of his content it distorts any future business model because revenues raised from charging for content will have to subsidise this legacy.  That is why the issue for newspapers is not really public acceptance of charging for content.  What people won’t accept is paying for distribution (since distiribution is now free).  Free yourself of your distribution legacy and the attendant print culture that shapes your content and you can create a business model that facilitates the process of journalism.

The only way to do this is not to junk the print legacy – this is probably not financially possible.  It has to be made to pay – and that can only be done once you recognise that it is a creature of distribution, not content.  You need to find the content that is uniquely and exlusively suited to the medium of print (i.e. not the content that is currently in most newspapers).  It is not really a question of unbundling newspapers and creating ever greater specialism – this can only ever live in the digital space.  It is a question of bundling-up all your distribution dependant content – the stuff that only works when it is printed.  The result won’t be a newspaper (news will have left the building) it will be a “something-else paper” and it certainly won’t be daily and it certainly will be much more expensive.  But it is only once newspapers have effectively quarantined their distribution / print dependant content in this way, that they can get on with the business of journalism.

For more on this see:
What gastronomy tells us about the future of newspapers

The sanctity of publication

There is no such thing as a citizen journalist


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