Even Futurists Can’t Agree On How To Save Newspapers

They’re seen as the biggest brains around and, in many cases, the future of media. Yet put three technoratis in a room (or in this case a conference) together and even they can’t agree on how to assure the future of newspapers.

Sure everyone tweeted, blogged and even vloged about the toughest debate at SXSW, but no one has summed up the opinions of Clay Shirky, Dave Winer and Steven P. Johnson quite so nicely as the San Francisco Chronicle (and to that we say KU-dos, Mark Morford).

A brief summary of all three views can be found after the jump.

Clay Shirky
A teacher, consultant and author of books and articles addressing the social and economic effects of Internet technologie, Shirky is considered an industry expert when it comes to decentralizing technologies&#151such as social networks. Most of his essay focuses on what newspapers have been doing wrong all these years. In conclusion, Shirky determines we don’t need newspapers, we need journalists.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Dave Winer
As a long time tech pundit, Winer’s claim to fame is that he has been on top of every tech revolution before it occurred. He pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software. A little more bold than Shirky, who admitted he didn’t know exactly what would save the newspaper industry, Winer believes without hesitation citizen journalists will be the future of news. With a decentralized media, everyone will be reporters&#151and everyone should be taught how to be journalists&#151and we will have a messy, yet in his opinion, more truthful source of information. Of course he doesn’t actually propose how we will know what exactly is true. We’re just going to have a huge mess of information to cull through and pick out truths on our own, we suppose.

Stephen P. Johnson
According to Newsweek Johnson was one of “Fifty People Who Matter Most on the Internet”. He is the cofounder of Outside.in, best-selling author of four books discussing the intersection of science, technology and personal experience, and was the former editor-in-chief of FEED, the revolutionary web magazine. He views media today as a complex system of flows and feeds that brings it closer to the real world ecosystem. He even lays out a flow chart of this ecosystem:


In his opinion professional journalists will still play a big role in the future of media. Unfortunately he still doesn’t propose a viable way to pay for this.

While it’s clear that everyone has an idea of what to do to save newspapers, mostly it has something to do with more people and less authority, no one has any idea how this industry will survive economically. If you have a better notion please leave us a comment.