Here’s one small thing I learned at Saturday’s We Make the Media conference: from now on I’m going to avoid describing shifts in the journalism market as a “revolution.”
Not because it’s adversarial. Because it’s a false promise.
Revolutions replace the institutions they destroy. And revolutions end.
“This is 1776″ — that was the unspoken theme of Joe Smith’s flag-wrapped commentaries. We’re here to preserve the values of Jefferson, he said. We’re going to solve all this business about the Internet by using a democratic process to build consensus around the best solution to our problem. And once we’ve created a Big Awesome New Institution, we’ll be on the other side of this. Everything will be okay.
But that’s not how the media business works these days. It’s not even (dare I say?) how the Left works these days.
Maybe there’s a chance that a big new institution like the one Ron Buel envisioned would be sustainable. But the odds are very low. As Tim Barkow points out, we’re more likely to succeed if we let a thousand flowers bloom: if we find ways to lower the barriers to entry in the journalism business, like Libby Tucker’s proposal for a “content-neutral incubator.”
Eventually, I hope, we can kluge these startups together into a durable network of interdependent journalists. Maybe we can’t. But nothing in the future will be as stable as the past.
The tech-savvier people at the conference grasped this intuitively, I think. But the huge, unrealistic expectations of the conference organizers were seductive. We all want to believe in easy answers. And when our little Continental Congress fell apart, the recriminations started. I was guilty, too.
Like Becca said, let’s do this thing.