First, even though the future-of-media topic features exciting and frightening new trends in information and culture and learning and communication and authority, it's important to remember that this is a story about money. I'm happy The Tower is falling, but it's not falling because it sucked so bad for so long. It's falling because it's not profitable anymore. That's all.
Second, if your idea for the future of journalism doesn't propose either a new subsidy for the profession or a new concept of "content" that has a market value independent of what advertisers will pay for it, then I'm not likely to be interested. This doesn't mean that your idea is without merit -- we're headed toward a complex 21st century media ecosystem, not a new mass-media monoculture, and there are all sorts of new things we'll have to make for that ecosystem. It's just that ideas based on old assumptions about content probably aren't helping us derive the shape of the next media economy.
Most of our new-media ideas still assume that the future of journalism is inextricably linked to advertising, and since the television-industrial complex is failing, their prescription is typically just a variation on the idea of ever-less-expensive content costs. Others ignore sustainability and propose a non-profit future. If you're comfortable with those limits, you're in a great big club, because this is where most of our discussions are taking place today.
I'm not comfortable with it. I worked in the business for 20 years, and I don't see any way around this observation: Quality is expensive, and crap has diminishing returns. So whether you're telling me that the future is social media, or iPhone apps, or paid content schemes, or search optimization, or niche aggregation -- whatever -- unless you're changing the game, you're still talking about 21st century iterations of 20th century media. You're part of a race to the bottom.
I suspect that the changes we'll experience in the next decade will make what we saw in the past 10 years look mild by comparison. I suspect that companies will develop profitable ways to configure and package information that cannot be appropriated, re-Tweeted, copied or pasted. Not stories per se, but something deeper. In other words, a news-media future that's based on the creation of lasting value instead of the renting of ephemeral attention.
The pieces of that future exist today. Knitting them together won't be simple.
Then again, things always look simpler looking back from the end of a decade. And won't that be fun?
(Here's the original version, which took too long to warm up)