What’s next for news? Shrugs all ’round

The “What’s Next for News?” discussion hosted by Globe and Mail tech writer Matthew Ingram at Ryerson University in Toronto last Friday (Oct. 2), which featured media futurist Clay Shirky and author/technologist Andrew Keen, though interesting revealed little with respect to the future of journalism.

That said it wakeybrds definitely the place to be for befuddled journos looking for a guiding light in this unpredictable social media world. For evidence, look no further than the first two reserved rows of seats in the auditorium (students be damned) where a ‘who’s-who?’ of Canuck media types congregated to hear the insights of Shirky and Keen. These included former Toronto Star publisher John Honderich and the Globe’s head honcho Phil Crawley (no, Honderich was not wearing his trademark bow-tie).

Considering the historical shift that’s taking place in the media whereby the entire ecosystem is experiencing nothing short of a revolution, Keen called the media industry a bellwether for the rest of the world with respect to that change, in his opening comments.

Shirky recalled the general sense amongst mainstream media outlets in the late 1990s that suggested over time, they would adapt new Web tools and online publishing techniques and save themselves.

“There was a general sense that (the mainstream media) would get it right, that it was a matter of trying to figure out how to use these new tools and that there was nothing wrong with the core of the media model . . . I don’t believe that anymore,” he said. “The change will be more transformative; it will be so transformative that although they may still bear the same names, they will be unrecognizably different.

“In times of disruption, experimentation beats planning by a long shot.”

At one point, Shirky said there will always be a demand for legitimate journalism; for professionals to produce copy online that is verifiable by the writer’s identification and the organization they work for. That certainly got the bald and grey-haired heads in the front rows bobbing.

In the end, you already know the answer to the question ‘what is the future of journalism?’ It comes down to the individual. The tools are free, the opportunity is there; it’s up to you, tender reader/writer, to forge your own future. As former punk rock singer Jello Biafra once quipped, “don’t hate the media. Become the media.” Shirky and Keen would tell you much the same.

“It’s the journalist that holds all the cards,” Keen said. “I don’t see where the value of the Globe and Mail or the New York Times . . . is in this new economy if they can’t control the means of production.”

Though there was little room for questions from the peanut gallery, one man stood up and asked why the discussion required a Yank and a Brit to pontificate on the future of online media? (Shirky is American; Keen is British). Why weren’t there any Canucks in the know on the stage? (Ingram didn’t count he was told).

A bit harsh but a fair question; Keen agreed and turned it back to the audience: “Why isn’t Canada producing a Clay Shirky? Is it because of an absence of ability? Is it the education system? Or is it something in the system that lends itself to a tinier elite that is actually managing this system?”

No one answered but the crickets.

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