Nicholas Lemann’s pre-Christmas review of George Brock’s book on news journalism in the digital age is worth reading in full. I have picked out a couple of extracts that struck me as particularly telling.
First, he takes on the pointless zealotry that exists on both sides of debate:
Roughly speaking, the discussants divide into two teams: Team Digital, whose members are quick to predict the imminent and not especially tragic death of the familiar news organizations, and Team Mainstream Media, whose members look hopefully at every new development for evidence to support their wish for a restoration of the good old days. When Buzzfeed raises millions of dollars from venture-capital firms, or a member of the public with an iPhone produces the first picture of a breaking news event and posts it to a global audience, Team Digital proclaims victory. When the New York Times introduces a reasonably successful online subscription system, Team Mainstream Media does.
Second, he introduces (to me at least) an interesting nugget: US newspaper sales fell by 55 per cent from 1950 to 2008. Reflecting Brock’s argument, he says this decline mattered little when economies (and advertising rates) continued to prosper; and when publishing’s barrier to entry remained prohibitively expensive.
Protected from competition, news organizations, for one historical season, were able to assemble, print and deliver a big collection of information people wanted and could not get from anywhere else – sports scores, movie times, stock prices, as well as more conventional news – into an unbreakable package. This allowed them to charge substantial fees to advertisers and subscribers.
If there’s perhaps one thing Team Digital and Team Mainstream Media can agree on it’s that the “unbreakable package” has now been broken.