Periodically, this is worth re-saying

by zunguzungu

Felix Salmon, yesterday:

The biggest thing that’s missing in the journalistic establishment is people who are good at finding all that great material, and collating it, curating it, adding value to it, linking to it, presenting it to their readers. It’s a function which has historically been pushed into a blog ghetto, and which newspapers and old media generally have been pretty bad at. And of course old media doesn’t understand blogs in the first place, let alone have the confidence or the ability to incorporate such thinking into everything they do.

But it really is completely easy to understand why “the journalistic establishment” is uncomfortable with this function, why the term “aggregation” has come to stand for The End of Journalism As We Know It. The business model of Journalism-as-we-know-it has traditionally benefited from two environmental factors that no longer exist: a basic scarcity of supply and something between a monopoly and a cartel of suppliers who could control, in one way or another, the practices and behaviors that were appropriate for the production of that supply. These factors shielded the producers of copy from particular kinds of competition: when there were only three networks, or only one or two newspapers in a given market, a small number of people made very consequential decisions — in metaphoric smoke-filled rooms, and also in real ones — about what was important, what was news, and how it would be reported. And those decision makers didn’t need to take much account of anything but their own preferences. There was very little alternative.

This had its good points along with its bad points. But nowadays, there is the absolute opposite of a scarcity. The writing available to you to read is of a staggering variety of quality and type, and the sheer amount of it is vertigo-inducing, overwhelming. And while you could respond to that overwhelming over-supply by only reading the stuff that once traditionally had a monopoly on your attention — “I don’t read blogs; I only read Important Newspapers,for example — what you’re then doing is cutting yourself off from sources of information, not filtering the totality in any meaningful way. That you are running away from the problem is a solution of sorts, but not a particularly good one. But this is precisely the solution that the New York Times would like you to adopt. Their business model continues to be: pay no attention to all that other stuff! We are your only source of Real News!  And in this light, it will make perfect sense that the one kind of service that they have no interest in offering will be a link-economy that is aware of (and makes you aware of) their competition. The last thing a “legacy media” outfit would ever want to do is encourage your awareness that they aren’t the only game in town competition.