Date: Tues, 18 Jul 1995 17:54:03 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: journalism without journalists
This may depress you a bit -- considering you are an aspiring journalist -- but I think you've hit the nail on the head. Our traditional notions of journalism are about to change. Radically.
Right now, editorial decisions concerning what is in your newspaper (or on your television network) are made by newspaper (or television) editors. Like the architect as middleman which I foresaw disappearing in Soft Architecture Machines, this editor as middleman will also disappear.
People not trained in architecture are already using CAD systems to design their own homes and offices without the aid of architects. In the same way, and probably to a much larger degree, in the near future people will design their newspaper or what they watch on TV without the aid of editors. People's computers will do the editing and people will make decisions about how the information is displayed and how much of it they want.
As I write in Being Digital, we are quickly moving from a world of atoms to a world of bits. While atoms are costly to transport and to change, bits, because they are the digital language of computers, are easily manipulated and transported. This conversation we are having by way of e-mail is evidence of what a world of bits is all about.
Very soon, all the news and information (and entertainment, for that matter) you receive will come to you by way of bits. Your computer will have the capability to change this raw data into whatever form you feel like it should be in.
For instance, let's say you want to know what the weather is going to be like today in Columbia. Depending on your mood, the computer can display this information as simply numbers (today's high will be X, today's low will be Y), or as a chart which compares today's temperatures with yesterday's. If you wanted to, you could have the computer display a map of Missouri, showing Columbia's temperatures in comparison with St. Louis' or Kansas City's. And, if you really wanted to, you could have an animated figure, much like your local weatherman, tell you all about the weather. The technology already exists to do this.
In the same way that you will be free to choose how you get your weather information, you will be free to choose what news you want. Suppose you are a fan of the Boston Celtics (as I am). In Columbia, Missouri you probably are not going to get a lot of information on the Celtics. But if that information is digital, and if that information is available over a network -- which it will be -- you could get all the information on the Celtics that you want. Instead of having a sports page, your personal newspaper could have a Celtics page.
The real problem of the information age will be the sheer amount of information available to you. There will be so much information that you could never possibly sort through it all. That's where your computer comes in.
Just as I envisioned the computer working hand-in-hand with the non-architect architect, I see the computer working closely with the non-journalist journalist. Your computer will know you so well, that it will know what things you are interested in, what you want to watch and what you want to read about. It, working with you, will be your editor.
Your computer will know that you like the Boston Celtic, so it will find whatever stories it can about them. And, because it will know your schedule also, it will know whether you have the time to read a full length article or simply a synopsis. (Of course, even if it gave you the synopsis, you could ask for more information.)
Journalism without journalists will go beyond these editorial decisions. As I talked about in my August 1994 Wired column, the large number of camcorders in the United States and the exponential expansion of the Internet could lead to each person becoming "an unlicensed TV station" (Negroponte, Aug. 1994, p. 134). People will soon be able to post live (or archival) video on the Internet, accessible to whoever might be interested.
In the very same way, but without all the equipment, people are already publishing on the Internet. World Wide Web pages and newsgroup postings are examples of how anyone can be a publisher -- or a journalist -- on the network. And when people are able to start charging for their works, we may see an end to publishing houses -- and traditional newspapers -- altogether. Let's say George Will writes 20 columns a year and 1 million people are willing to buy each one of those columns off the Internet for five cents a column. That would mean $1 million for Will, with nothing taken out by a publisher. Will would gain essentially 100% in royalties from his work. If Will can make that much by distributing his columns by himself, why would he want to sign a contract with Newsweek and accept lesser royalties?
Of course, not every person who publishes on the Internet will start off with the same name recognition as George Will. But if, due to your interest in the Celtics, you start finding a lot of articles by Joe Smith, Celtics reporter, you may just instruct your computer to give you everything Smith writes. Name recognition will be cultivated within the Internet just as it was before the Internet.
In the near future, everyone will be able to be a journalist. Everyone will be able to be published. And everyone will be able to determine what is published in their own newspaper or on their TV. The world of journalism without journalists (or maybe the world where anyone can be a journalist) is upon us.
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