Clay Shirky, the communication theorist, is one of the most ambitious and thoughtful writers on the future of journalism. His latest essay, written for for the Cato Institute's Unbound online feature, identifies the chaos ahead for the craft --- more upheaval than upgrade, as he puts it.
In Shirky's view, the nature of journalism's public and subsidy are in enormous flux. In the digital age it is more difficult to organize the audience for content (to simplify, it organizes itself and runs off on its own and more difficult to bundle content to cross-subsidize the more expensive (and, to simplify again, more noble) aspects of journalism.
The result is a breakdown of media economics. Changes in journalism will reflect this change in subsidy.
"There are many shifts coming, but three big ones are an increase in direct participation; an increase in the leverage of the professionals working alongside the amateurs; and a second great age of patronage," he writes.
"The journalistic models that will excel in the next few years will rely on new forms of creation, some of which will be done by professionals, some by amateurs, some by crowds, and some by machines."
In response to his essay, respected media academic Philip Meyer suggests a shift is taking place to evidence-based from source-based journalism. He believes more journalism will focus on databases and documents and not on human contact.
Meyer, one of the earliest proponents of precision journalism, sees two overall changes: the rise of niche journalism and the focus on processing instead of hunter-gathering. And he supports Shirky in suggesting there will be many opportunities for altruistic patronage in this era --- the profit motive won't be as important for some and will give rise to opportunities.
"And now to risk a prediction: when the history of 21st century journalism is written, it will not look chaotic at all," Meyer writes.