The debate about the future of the information ecosystem rages on. As you might surmise from my choice of words, I’m on the side that says something new will rapidly evolve to fill niches vacated by the demise of a teetering economic model. To a first approximation, there are two major reasons to believe this:
- People have deep-seating cravings to opine, educate, and otherwise expostulate. Many will gladly do it for free. And labor represents the lion’s share of information-industry costs.
- What’s more, a significant fraction of news is something large organizations have a vested interest in releasing. To the extent that’s true — and there certainly are major exceptions in areas such as debunking and investigatory journalism — ordinary enterprises can be and indeed already are a major source of resources for the information ecosystem.
Here are some of the species I believe will thrive or at least survive in the part of the ecosystem focused on enterprise IT news:
- Presenters of news. Vendors with stories to tell will take increasing responsibility for telling them deeply and well. Their economic motivation is obvious. And sometimes it goes beyond money. One of the most effective vendor blogs is surely Kevin Closson’s, and I know from talking with Kevin’s boss’s boss that Oracle was as surprised as anybody when his blog burst into popularity.
- Analysts. Whether they’re part of a big firm or independent like me, analysts play an important role in shaping perceptions of technologies and products. Getting paid directly for our written reports, whether on a subscription or one-shot basis, is nice — but it’s not essential. We can consult to vendors, users, and/or investors. We can get paid quite well to speak or write, courtesy of vendors’ marketing budgets. Some firms (not mine) have nice conference businesses. Do I miss the hundreds of newsletter subscriptions I sold annually at $347 each in the 1990s? Sure — but considering the production and direct mailing costs, not as badly as one might think. And I’m certainly pleased that my readership is much wider now than it was then. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I also have many more clients (subscribers-only of course excepted).
- Multi-revenue-stream print-news-like organizations. The computer trade press is shrinking — and moving online — but it’s not dead yet. Writers like Chris Kanaracus and Eric Lai still do solid reporting for stalwarts such as Computerworld. Computerworld’s revenue seems to be an eclectic mix of traditional-style ads, pointers to vendor-supplied or -sponsored information, conferences/events, and who knows what else. But they’re still in business, and somebody like them always will be. Yes, reporters have such wide beats that they can’t develop their own expertise the way they used to, and have to be more reliant on us analysts. So be it. The news still gets reported, ethically and responsibly. For those who value the press as gatekeeper/validator, it’s still there. But to get the complete story, you probably want to also check …
- … blogs in general. (Plus forums and other social media.) Some bloggers are vendors. Some are journalists. Some are analysts. Some are trying to promote their small consulting firms. Some have nice user-organization jobs, but are burnishing their “personal brands.” For some it’s a pure labor of love. None of us drives enough page views to generate much conventional ad revenue — but trade press perhaps aside, we also don’t much care. And as a group — with our commenters helping too — we keep each other in line.
Yes, the trade press has been eviscerated, and subscription analyst firms have their issues too. Even so, for somebody who sets out to read up on an IT subject and make an informed judgment about it, I can think of no time that the available resources were any better than they are now. And if they exist — and if you have enough understanding of how computers access data to be an IT professional — you can usually find them easily via Google. So I don’t think tech journalism is dying out in some dangerous way.
Similar stories could be told in other sectors as well, with somewhat varied details. In consumer technology, page views actually are numerous enough to matter. In sports, fan forums and talk radio play a bigger role.
And in politics, every blogger can weigh in, no matter what her ostensible specialty. Community political activists may need to carry the torch on some investigative reporting — so they will. Yes, it’s all a lot messier than a simple model of “Trust Walter Cronkite and your local morning paper.” But in the end, it will serve the readers/viewers/listeners at least as well.
A few days ago I posted some of the classic links in this discussion, along with a few bullet points of my own views.
As has been the case for a decade and a half — if you have the time for that much detail, there’s nobody better to read on the subject than Steve Outing, whose online-news mailing list is where I learned and debated a lot about these subjects in the mid-1990s …
… except that Alan Mutter may have slightly surpassed Steve.
But the single best post I’ve seen on the subject is by Steven Berlin Johnson, if by “best” you mean “most in agreement with my way of looking at things.” He uses the word “ecosystem” too, and — much like me — uses tech journalism and political news as his two paradigmatic examples.
Mark Hirschorn kicked a lot of the discussion off with a doom-and-gloom article in the Atlantic.
As he is for most trendy and depressing IT topics, Nicholas Carr was on the case fairly early.
Paul Dailing spoofed the whole “Newspapers are dying” meme. He’s just as fatuous as the worst of the pundits he attacks, but it’s a pretty funny piece even so.
Mark Morford took a similar position, but with a lot more intellectual substance (and some humor too).
Academic publishing is going open-access. I.e., academic researchers are increasingly insisting that their papers not be controlled by publications that restrict access to subscribers. MIT has taken the strongest stand, but Harvard, Stanford, and the National Institute of Health are also on the bandwagon. This recent Slashdot post is a good jumping-off point to a lot of other links on the subject.