Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Society Doesn’t Need Newspapers

It's a bit sobering when a 146 year-old newspaper like the Seattle PI holds the presses for good and goes web-only. With this in mind, Clay Shirky's Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable is a very smart analysis of our planet's current move from paper to pixels. My favorite quote:
Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.
Steven Berlin Johnson's Old Growth Media and the Future of News makes a fine companion piece, and offers some upsides:
In fact, I think in the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest.
Newspaper publishers are not the only ones taking trembling steps to digital publication. Most scientific journals, including the ones I write, review and edit for, are also somewhere along this path. This is an especially acute issue for learned societies that have long relied upon journal revenues as their cash cow. Finding an economic model that will pay for the stuff we need to read is going to take a lot of trial and error. On the plus side, it should be a great time for radical forces (such as myself) to try out all sorts of wacky experiments in radiology publishing. As Shirky concludes:
Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.
(via Daring Fireball)


William said...

As they point out over at TechDirt.com, most of these media companies think the content is the imoprtant part, but the community that reads and discusses the content is the valuable part of the equation. Just as the radiology journals made it difficult to read keep a digital copy for future use. The most important part is the discussion of the artical not the ink.

The Samurai Radiologist said...

@ William: I agree that discussion of an article can be important, especially when it clarifies, corrects, or otherwise enlightens the topic under consideration.

However, that doesn't negate the original content, especially if the author has special expertise in some area, and follows good journalistic practices, such as confirming one's facts before reporting them. The second sentence of Clay Shirky's quote -- "What we need is journalism." -- summarizes this well.

I'd add that for the comments following an article to approach the importance of the article, they need to follow these same rules of good journalism. The original poster should not be the only one held to this standard.

There are, indeed, many radiology journals whose content is locked up by their publishers as part of their business model. My hat is off to AJR, Radiology and RadioGraphics, among others, who have made the bulk of their content freely available to the public. As a "reward" for this, I do my best to cite these journals preferentially when I write my own scientific articles.