By Christopher B. Daly
The new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review has a terrific piece by Clay Shirky about the current efforts to rescue journalism by finding a new business model for the news business. (Don’t get discouraged by the misleading — confusing? — headline.)
Shirky, who teaches about these issues at NYU’s Carter Institute of Journalism, compresses a lot of the points I made in my recent book, Covering America, in chapter 3 (about the rise of the Penny Press) and in chapter 13 (about the collapse of the “dual revenue stream” that financed journalism from the 1830s to the 1990s). In my book, the final chapter adds some recent success stories, showing how some digital natives are making a go of it in the new environment — doing great, serious journalism and, importantly, making money at the same time.
In my view, too many of us suffer from the historical fallacy of thinking that the present is “normal” and reflects the way things have always been. A lot of people, especially those over 35 or so, operate on the assumption that it is normal for journalism to be practiced by full-time employees of large, profitable corporations. In fact, by taking the long view, as I do in my book, it can be seen that the way journalism was practiced in the late 20th Century was not inevitable, not necessary, and certainly not permanent. It is already fading into the past as a distinct historical period, giving way to a present in which people are still figuring out the future.