I don’t have any easy answers. But I do think societies are going to have to think hard about how to sustain the public sphere.
Umair Haque is an economist I admire deeply, and he’s depressing the hell out of me tonight. He’s on a roll about the end of journalism as we know it.
That’s truly scary stuff. It’s like the collapse of the Fourth Estate happening in front of our very eyes, while we Honey Boo Boo.
Umair does this a lot. Saying it like it is, and forcing people to think and respond. Tonight he’s touched a nerve, and so I’m going to try to gather my thoughts a bit.
There’s obviously problems with the journalism business model. Unbundling, etc. What Umair is pointing to is something deeper than that. He seems to think that our very ability to appreciate and value journalism is eroding.
That’s actually scarier than the business model problem. I disagree with Umair about the business model problem. I think we’ll find a business model if there is an articulate demand for journalism. I happen to be in a field where really smart designers, engineers and entrepreneurs are working on the business model problem. It will look very different from the “great-minds-leading-a-newsroom” model of journalism from the last century. It will be a networked version of it, and I truly believe between Matter and Kickstarter we are seeing the beginnings of that business model.
What I am really afraid of is whether we are losing our vision for what journalism ought to be as a culture. I just read Trending on Twitter: Groupthink, and it points to how systems like Twitter, with its high frequency feedback cycles, are short circuiting our ability to form dissenting opinions. Is Twitter pushing the tendency for society to form premature conclusions? Is Twitter too quick?
Journalism at its best serves to resist dominant narratives and premature conclusions, enabling society to revisit and revise its understanding of the world. As an interaction designer, I worry that the communication forms that we are creating are stifling our ability to reflect independently.
How do we design communication forms that are conducive to truth-seeking? How do we sustain a public sphere in a networked age?