The news is dead; long live the news

tuneinlogoncancel There’s much talk these days with various opinion and predictions of an unclear future for the newspaper business.

We’ve seen some pretty radical events in recent months, notably in the US – the Chicago Tribune’s Chapter 11 filing last December, for instance, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s conversion to an online media site in March after 146 years in print – and heard talk by old-media barons like Rupert Murdoch who wants to charge you for access to online news.

Whatever the talk, the one constant and common factor is that everything is changing. News is a commodity which you can find all over the web for free. So if you’re a mainstream media company and want people to pay for your news content, you have to have something a bit compelling (like the Financial Times does, for instance, or the Wall Street Journal with it’s iPhone app) to persuade people to give you money.

This week’s Economist adds to the discussion with “Tossed by the gale,” a feature story (from which the chart comes) that looks at the news industry overall and the fact that news is actually thriving.

It’s just that it’s not only coming from the established traditional news organizations, as the Economist’s editorial leader that introduces the feature story clearly points out.

[…] New sources of news are proliferating online. Many, it is true, are unreliable. Most are badly funded. Some are the rantings of deranged extremists. But some—like Muckety, an American site which enriches news stories with interactive maps of the protagonists’ networks of influence, and NightJack, the revealing and depressing blog of an anonymous British policeman, which won the Orwell prize last month—enhance society’s understanding of itself, and could not have existed in the old world.

But the only certainty about the future of news is that it will be different from the past. It will no longer be dominated by a few big titles whose front pages determine the story of the day. Public opinion will, rather, be shaped by thousands of different voices, with as many different focuses and points of view. As a result, people will have less in common to chat about around the water-cooler. Those who are not interested in political or economic news will be less likely to come across it; but those who are will be better equipped to hold their rulers to account. Which is, after all, what society needs news for.

And it’s happening right before your eyes.