How many journalists does society need?

January 27, 2010

There’s a good post on techdirt.com criticizing the media’s (yes, let’s say it) obsession with Apple’s highly anticipated tablet and with how it will “save” mass media from the scourge of “free” content. One of the key points I think it makes is that the model really has to change with technology, just as other industries have changed in the past:

…yes, there are many fewer jobs in traditional journalism, but that’s not due to “free,” but due to a changing marketplace. That happens. Lots of people used to be employed making horse carriages. Not any more. Lots of people used to be telephone operators, connecting callers from one to another, but then the technology made it so that wasn’t necessary any more. But telephony was better off because of it. Maybe we don’t need all those journalists in traditional roles, but who says journalism will be worse off for it? We’re seeing lots of interesting new business models developing, and many new sources of journalism.

Layoffs are sad. It’s tough to see colleagues (and ourselves) losing jobs. But let’s face it: because of its regional focus, and because of an advertising market that supported multiple similar properties, there’s been a lot of duplication of jobs and analysis in the past. (I’m merging newspapers and magazines a bit here for the sake of brevity, but obviously there are differences in the models.) Journalism is important to society. The media model that’s dominated until recently? Perhaps not.

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