What moves in when newspapers blow away?

They have supplied relatively reliable information for 300 years or so, have been our public eyes and ears, our only society-wide means of knowing ourselves to make better collective decisions. What will replace newspapers, critic and guardian of democracies, when pulp is too expensive and the audience gets its news digitally?

What will replace the local and national tv news, now that only those who have no choice over their information channel–those in nursing homes, prisons and bars, say–still watch those quaint news teams (in their matching jackets?)

How much can we trust the various web 2.0 providers of socially-relevant information? Is it like trusting the mob who wanted Barabus or a universal brain/organism, as visionary Clay Shirkey describes it? And if we agree that there still is a place for distinct, organized information processors and providers, what should these new quasi-newspapers look like? And how will they be paid for?

There is a fascinating and heated debate going on right now among journalists at the socialmediatoday page. “The Internet is killing the free press and why it matters,” by Steve Bowles has set off argumentative fireworks! Contributing, I think, to the stridency of the comments is almost certainly the current economic downturn, in which newspapers are losing 20 and 30 percent a quarter, and guys like journalists, who enjoyed being middle-class after all, are scrambling to keep whatever they can.

Journalist Steve Buttry of Cedar Rapids, Eastern Iowa, USA, has put forth his vision of how journalism is evolving. Buttry’s “complete community connection” suggests economic models for newsmedia 2.0, but he also recognizes, as wikiness readers will recall, the very real fear and anguish change bring out in otherwise rational professionals. He quotes Tim McGuire of Arizona State University, who warned, “Do not underestimate how scary and how big the concept of moving beyond one-day consumption is” [to traditional audiences].”

In a time of change, Buttry reminds us, we must be ready to adapt if we wish to even continue at all. “This may be a scary change for our industry,” he writes, “but these are scary times. I can think of nothing more scary for our industry than failure to reach far enough or change thoroughly enough. [emphases mine]”

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