The News Industry: The Past is the Future

Social media isn't really new, it just approximates old-fashioned information sharing on a larger scale.We often hear the phrase “The past is prologue” when being advised to examine our history to understand current events. But The Economist tells us the past is the future when looking at the media industry.

The July 9 issue of The Economist features a special report on the news industry entitled ”Bulletins from the Future.” The article suggests we’re seeing the death of mass communications, as we’ve known it for almost 200 years. We are returning to a time of opinion journals and pamphlets — or their modern digital manifestations, which are consumed by small social networks.

“There is a great historical irony at the heart of the current transformation of news. The industry is being reshaped by technology, but by undermining the mass media’s business models, that technology is in many ways returning the industry to the more vibrant, freewheeling and discursive ways of the pre-industrial era,” states The Economist.

“Camera-phones and social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter may seem entirely new, but they echo the ways in which people used to collect, share and exchange information in the past. Social media is nothing new, it’s just more widespread now,” notes the article.

Much of the extensive article explores a host of new business models being tested by newspapers. Also examined is the radical repackaging of news content — getting away from the traditional sections of the newspaper such as sports and lifestyle, in favor of new approaches.

But the real answer to how our news institutions will be reshaped is more “generational” than any particular business model. The article concludes:

“A new generation that has grown up with digital tools is already devising extraordinary new things to do with them, rather than simply using them to preserve the old models. Some existing media organizations will survive the transition; many will not.”

“The biggest shift is that journalism is no longer the exclusive preserve of journalist.”