Newspapers Pursued New Tech with Wrong Intentions

In a column at Slate, Jack Schafer says newspapers’ overcommitment to form and content lock-in led to the industry missing Web opportunities:

From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.

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  • Reading through Shafer’s piece I was struck by the inevitability of newspapers’ downfall. Plenty of blame is thrown around these days, but the massive disruption brought on by the Internet — and the associated shift from limited to unlimited channels — required a *complete* shift in mindset, and there weren’t enough people in the right positions with the ability to identify and act on this shift. Previous transitions (radio to TV, network to cable, etc.) provided limited reference points, but not enough. With the Internet, the channels were blown up and redistributed across thousands of new sources. You’d need to have incredible foresight and/or a deep interest in risky experimentation to truly embrace the Internet in those early days. I’m certainly not excusing the many missteps, but I do think this transition is more complicated and nuanced than it’s often portrayed. [Edit – “that/than” typo fixed in last sentence]

  • bowerbird

    a month ago you blogged shirky, who said the exact opposite:


  • @bowerbird: Oh I remember it well. That’s why I linked to it in the related links for this post.

  • bowerbird

    shirky said:
    > a dozen years ago, a kid who’d only
    > just had his brains blown via TCP/IP
    > nevertheless understood that
    > the newspaper business was screwed,
    > not because this was a sophisticated conclusion,
    > but because it was obvious.

    i guess it just seems contradictory
    to place “it was obvious” alongside
    “more complicated and nuanced
    that it’s often portrayed”…

    but whatever, at least all sides agree
    the newspaper business botched it…

    and the recording industry as well…

    and i don’t know… but is there really
    any question on book publishers too?

    face it, the content corporations just
    don’t have it in their d.n.a. to grok it.

    they grew up in the age of scarcity…
    their paycheck is managing scarcity.

    infinite reproduceability at zero cost
    is something they just cannot grasp.

    _except_ to realize that they cannot
    make a profit off scarcity any more…


    (should be “than it’s often portrayed”.)