USA: Internet media continue to evolve, old media flirt with extinction

The age of creation on the web will begin to yield to an age of curation

Comments 3
o Jeff Jarvis
o The Guardian, Monday 4 January 2010

One of our more charming American sayings is that a time comes when you have to shit or get off the pot. We can only hope that moment has arrived in the debate over paid content online, and that in 2010, Rupert Murdoch and company will charge or not, and succeed or fail, and we can be done with this tiresome topic.

While old media moguls fret over collecting pennies, upstarts will be creating more competitive news businesses, having the advantage of much lower costs. We have seen not-for-profit news organisations march into Minneapolis, San Francisco, Chicago and Texas. Next year, for-profit local news enterprises will launch in Washington, from Politico, and in Hawaii, from eBay's founder, Pierre Omidyar.

Algorithms will play a greater role in the media industry and its economics. Demand Media and the slightly rechristened "Aol." are using automated editors to select and assign – to human writers – pieces that will attract the most interest and revenue via search at the lowest cost. We should fear what these content farms will do to quality. But as we see content continue to explode, we are also seeing more efforts, human and computerised, to cut through the chaff to solve the problem Clay Shirky calls "filter failure". The age of creation on the web will begin to yield to an age of curation. While internet media continue to evolve at the rate of a fruit fly, old media companies will continue to flirt with extinction. Newspapers' revenue and circulation will still fall and cutbacks will worsen their products, accelerating the businesses' decline as more papers die. More magazines will fold. Following the sale of NBC as an afterthought in Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal, the value of broadcasting will continue to deflate.

This will be the year when it becomes apparent that the future of news and media is entrepreneurial, not institutional. The year will see the rise of the new overtake the fall of the old. Even so, while we suffer moguls' death rattles, we will hear continued debate over government intervention to protect them through proposed changes in copyright, tax favours and direct subsidy. If the government steps in, it will be to bail them out as it did for bad banks and General Motors. And we know how well that worked. A concurrent debate in Washington will reach its climax this year over net neutrality and the means to bring broadband ubiquity to the nation. That is the intervention the entrepreneurs seek.

If, instead of the same tired debates over old media, you seek something new, go mobile. In 2010, we will see Google battle Apple for the right to connect us, not just with each other but with information about any place, any thing and anyone. As we also say in America, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

• Jeff Jarvis blogs at ... rnet-media