According to many, the perfect storm is approaching. The winds have been whipping for a while. But there’s a problem. The Old King is dying but the New King, apparently, isn’t quite ready yet.
“We are headed into a long trough of decline in accountability journalism because the old models are breaking faster than the new models will be put in their place.”
He’s right. But, intriguingly, he also slings in a caveat. Shirky imagines a time in the future when everything is hunky-dory, and a broad conglomeration of multiple news organisations will ‘overlap and provide a small percentage of journalism individually, but taken as a whole, represent the same position of accountability held by newspapers in the 20th century’.
Perhaps. But until then, we’ve got a problem.
So what’s going to happen in this imminent limbo stage; when journalism enters an intermediate ‘state of nature’?
Allow me to imagine…
1) The paywalls go up, and a black market for scoops emerges
Paywalls and micropayment schemes begin to appear on news websites. A few of them make a decent stab of it: News International in particular, as they have a competitive advantage.
As Malcolm Coles at Econsultancy suggests, Murdoch’s sites begin corralling in Sky News, Sky Sports, Fox as well as umpteen other publications and broadcasters that it owns, offering an attractive package behind the wall.
Jason Wilson, writing at NewMatilda.com, suggests that News Corp will ‘draw on its corporate experience with pay television to leverage audiences and money using niche content of various kinds’ kicks in, and, for a while, it all seems to be working.
Desperate to lure readers beyond the paywalls, the organisations that enacted them scramble for scoops. They get dirty. They hunt for drug scandals and nip slips like never before. Investigative journalism becomes feral. They get some real goodies.
Infuriatingly, the exclusives start being screengrabbed and hijacked on pop-up sites.
A black market for scoops emerges, but readers don’t care if the scoop they are reading is 14th hand and poorly delivered, because they’ve still got it.
Shane Richmond notes in the Telegraph that ‘it doesn’t matter that versions of the story on free sites ‘won’t be as good’ because they’ll be free, which offsets the loss of quality considerably’ (and Google’s Eric Schmidt agrees).