Stijn Debrouwere: Fungible

ATN-300InsightaaS: There is an odd bifurcation in the way that "we" (I, anyway!) approach web-based content. On the one hand, we worry that our "digital exhaust" (or "digital auras", as CSC's David Moschella prefers to call it) will last forever, causing privacy issues as we age; on the other hand, we treat content that was issued even a few days ago as "old," as instantaneous "new news" rushes to fill our screens and feeds.

Today's featured post runs counter to the second inclination. We ran across it because it was highlighted on the home feed of @shareable_city, a new follower of one of our Twitter accounts. The post itself is certainly not new - it appears to have been published in 2012 by Belgian journalist Stijn Debrouwere, and uses references that have not aged as gracefully as the text itself.

But the text...it's thought that a mark of good prose is a degree of timelessness, and it's rare that such a mark is achieved in an online essay, especially on a topic that has changed as much over the years as journalism. By that measure - or really, any other - Debrouwere's Fungible is a remarkable piece. His argument touches on the fact that "There are organizations and websites everywhere that are taking over newspapers’ role as tastemaker and watchdog and forum. These disruptors don’t replace investigative reporting, but they replace the other 95% of what made professional news organizations important" and moves on to note that "what makes the news industry such a curious case is that many of the disruptors who address the same underlying consumer needs nevertheless do something that is not recognizable as journalism at all." Debrouwere also offers advice to news publishers:amp up storytelling and personality, scale down expenses, "un-bore" readers. But what makes this such a compelling piece isn't simply the advice, but the entire story, from the thesis through the examples and on to his advice and closing observations, which include the line quoted in W@shareable_city's post, "journalism is not being disrupted by better journalism but by things that are hardly recognizable as journalism at all." 

A treatise on fungibility, or, a framework for understanding the mess the news industry is in and the opportunities that lie ahead.

We don’t realize how much news media has changed in the past fifteen years. We really don’t.

I’m not talking about digital first or about blogging or about data journalism or the mobile web or the curation craze. Yes, journalism has evolved and is better for it. I’m talking beyond that.

I’m not even talking about the fact that everyone is a potential publisher now, from white-hat PR by universities and non-profits to the advent of blogging by experts and academics (remember that iPhone antenna thing or the ground-zero mosque kerfuffle?) to citizen journalism and by-us-for-us journalism (even philosophers do it), even though that’s huge.

Beyond even that. I think journalism is being replaced.

New habits

We used to peruse the entertainment section of our favorite magazine for movie reviews and recommendations. Now most of us use IMDB or the recommendation engines behind Amazon and Netflix.

Same thing for music: people still find new music through Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, but services like Spotify and Rdio actually replace music journalism for many...

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