Clay Shirky in giving away the news

Clay Shirky’s latest book (Cognitive Surplus, follow-up to Here Comes Everybody) is about generosity: giving away something making an effort for no apparent reason, outside of a closely controlled reputation system, without clearly anticipated benefits for doing so. It echoes my forgotten-and-found-again definition of my research object: Everything that tastes better when it is shared, every good or service whose utility increase when offered or suggested to, subscribed or adopted by a third party, presumably a friend, colleague or relative — a definition around generosity that made lots of sense to me then, and still does now. Thank you for that.

His latest stance against private newspapers insist on generosity —that has been less covered so far in the coverage or the book— rather than abundance and I like it: papers’ democratic role supposes a civic duty, that is only possible it they render the news accessible to the whole public, presumably giving away enough through titles to help even non-customers to take proper action. Political information is a great example of generosity, an issue that David Kirkpatrick deems essential to Facebook contribution by dedicating his first chapter, main point and conclusion to it — an area where Facebook influence is major, and not neutral.

However, by presenting news as a common gift, Shirky criticizes Murdoch for dreaming of a world where only customers get the news. Shirky forgets that correspondents (and business newspapers) were originally paid for by businessmen to report on things (ie. spy on their agents) abroad and spot any trend, need, issues — in a private manner. The aggregation of it into newspapers was similar to some of today’s financial advice or industry-specialized leaflets, where “sharing with the public” is not what readers want to see. Exclusive pay-walls wouldn’t make sense for the Times if it covers areas where what makes news and how to frame it is controversial (hence defining it helps your readers agree on what is to be known) and if mentioning details doesn’t give more gravitas as being able to prove them (making inter-individual sharing useful).

An increasing number of trend-defining tools, decreasingly relying on larger publication (and the trend to use those to define one’s editorial line) justify a departure from the role of trendsetter. The increasing ‘social’ization of media, and the growing reflex of readers to doubt a report, be cynic and generally have like a stat-litterate mind driven by scientific doubt makes the ability to share one’s paper clips even more necessary—so unless I can convince all my current-events debating friend to subscribe, that pay-wall will be a problem; and I can only convince them by letting them read the quality reporting not as the current indifferent freebie, but as a priced service, in order for them to consider buying it themselves. I’ve always believed paying news could only work with a (controlled) mean of sharing excepts — and I don’t care for poorly targeted ads, or shill-as-journalists.

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About Bertil

I'm a PhD student in Digital Economics, and I love viennoiserie. Je suis un doctorant en économie (numérique) et j'aime la viennoiserie.
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One Response to Clay Shirky in giving away the news

  1. Bertil says:

    Next thing you know about me writing about the civic duties of the press: one of France pay-walled media, MediaPart.fr, exposes a corruption case at the highest level, opens the article for all to see and includes a plea for a trial subscription. The scandal has been brewing for weeks, and the factual aspect of the five-page long paper can be summarized in one sentence — but the civic nature of the piece is clear: the releasing is presented as “exceptional” (while actually, some articles or extracts are released every week or so) so is its audience (that much is more likely). The newspaper is clearly compared to Police forces, as more trustworthy — let’s say the burden of proof doesn’t seem to be the same.

    MediaPart does offer a coherent view of its role: inform, (intellectual) elites for a price, everybody when necessary. I still think they need to think about sharing more swiftly on social media.

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