Follow the lack of money

by Doc Searls

Jeff Jarvis is looking for better stewards of journalism's future. He explains,

I don’t see enough development going on in new news efforts — enough to save journalism from the sinking news business. And that’s what’s troubling me. The old players are proving to be quite ineffective stewards — we knew that — but there aren’t enough new stewards joining the church.

Problem is, you can't make a new business out of an old business that's turned into a church. Wall Street isn't up for that, and most of the big papers work for Wall Street. The word "stewardship" alone is a boat anchor on any company's stock price.

Frankly, it'll be a long time before newspapers fail, if they ever do. And magazines remain a healthy, if not a high-growth, business. Papers like the L.A. Times are actually quite profitable. They're just not profitable enough to satisfy Wall Street.

That's why I'm beginning to think that fixing big-J journalism (that is, fixing newspapers) with Yet Another Business is like fixing Catholicism with Protestantism, or fixing Windows with MacOS.

Computing gets better all the time because the operating systems business is being steadily replaced by building materials (mostly Linux) and practices (FOSS) that grow wild in human nature — and are hardly businesses at all. Yet they're extraordinarily good for business, because they create a solid infrastructure on top of which all kinds of "solutions" can be built.

The same thing needs to happen in journalism.

Scoop Nisker famously says "if you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own". That's what Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds and thousands (millions?) of other independent developers have been doing with tools, operating systems and other building materials required to re-make computing in ways that were not captive to any vendor's controlling interests. The result is much more freedom for many more vendors to go into all kinds of businesses that put free and open materials and methods to use.

We're seeing some of that happen in news gathering and distribution. Thanks to the features Dave Winer put in RSS, publishing now has a revolutionary set of free distribution and subscription methods — for everybody, from one-person blogs to the New York Times.

We need more tools like RSS, and more people using them, in more creative ways. Most of all, we need more journalists (of both new and aged vintages) to take advantage of these new tools and methods. Once they do, the business will follow.

Jeff adds,

The old players can’t do it. We need more new players to take hold of the future of news — not just journalists but entrepreneurs and managers and investors and inventors. It’s there for the taking.

I think Jeff's right. I also think you need the inventors first.

That's a hint, by the way.

Load Disqus comments