Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The New Community Works Projects - Newspapers

(In response to growing concerns about the future of the Spartan Daily)

Newspapers are reflections of the conversations societies have with one another. People do not read the news because media corporations believe that news is newsworthy; frankly, the "news" is often not "newsworthy", from a journalistic perspective. So why do people read it?

They read to feel a connection to the greater society and gain perspective on the changing world around them. It is an innate evolution humans developed to survive, our understanding that we need explanation for things we cannot comprehend on our own. The ability to gain perspective we lack, on any range of topics while socially connecting to other people that share our human condition - identifying with personas instead of ideas to intangible to comprehend. Is it not easier to read the New York Times write on wiretapping than discuss the philosophical implications of the 1st Ammendment on the personal civil liberties of Americans? Newspapers humanize events. That is their job.

People frequently debate me whether it is the business of newspapers to create social networks, citing growing questions from journalists whether or not papers should build MySpace-esk networks.

My answer is simple. Taditional papers are not oracles. They are human run companies, which seriously need to take a look at American business over the last twenty years. Outsourcing, believe it or not, has nothing to do with money. Instead, it is a matter of efficiency. Money is the end result of the maximization of production at the lowest cost. To the point, if online networks can dissiminate and create social content/news reflection with a higher value than traditional newspapers at a lower cost, they will succeed. I have no doubt that they can. Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube and other social networks are currently a testiment to this.

This is not to say that newspapers have no place; they simply must evaluate what place they should take within those new networks. Denying the power of these networks, and thereby refusing to integate themselves into them, is not an answer.

Many will scrutinize this logic, especially coming from a journalist. Many see new production as being above (or a philosophically greater enterprise) than business. Some will even venture so far as to say that the news is a cultural good, not a commodity. While I sympathise with this sentiment, I cannot ignore the market system that we live in, nor the implications of those markets on the business of information technologies.

Newspapers are reflections the conversations that societies are having with one another, and they must, for the sake of the conversation, communicate as efficiently as possible.

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