Will Newspapers Survive?

For those of you who are living in or around the Boston area, I wanted to flag two events next week that will be hosted by the MIT Communications Forum and will be free and open to the public.

The Emergence of Citizens’ Media

Tuesday, Sept 19

5-7 pm, Bartos Theater, MIT Media Lab


Alex Beam, Boston Globe

Ellen Foley, Wisconsin State Journal

Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media

News, Information and the Wealth of Networks

Thursday, Sept 21

5-7 pm, MIT Building 3, Room 270 (3-270)

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks

Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture

William Uricchio, MIT

The second panel emerged in part because USC anthropologist Mimi Ito wrote an interesting post in her blog comparing Convergence Culture and the Wealth of Networks after Yochai and I had visited her center about a week apart. Here’s what she wrote:

Henry’s Convergence Culture and Yochai’s The Wealth of Networks, are the state of the art in thinking about new media and the Internet. Both provide both rich detail in the form of concrete cases as well as frameworks for understanding the social, technical, and economic changes coming down the pipeline that are both highly original and syncretic. But my goal at the moment is not to do a book review. I just want to ruminate on one thread of conversation that emerged from spending a day each with these thinkers and their texts.

Henry and Yochai are in many ways complementary thinkers who share an appreciation for the bottom-up, emergent, and viral forms of social organization emerging from the maturing media ecology of the Internet. Mostly they are in agreement about the scope and nature of the sweeping changes on the horizon as content turns digitally networked, and they both are actively participating in shaping these conditions of the future to be safer for the creative and knowledge production of everyday folks. But they also have some interesting differences….

Yochai also believes in the power of distributed intelligence and wired prosumers, and he sees amateur cultures such as fan cultural production as examples of “the wealth of networks.” But his focus is on what he calls “nonmarket” forms of culture and knowledge production. If Henry’s central cases are media fandom and alternative news, Yochai’s are open source and distributed models of software and knowledge production such as Linux, Wikipedia, alternative news, and some forms of science (eg. bioinformatics, seti@home). He argues that the dominance of commercially produced forms of knowledge and culture is a historical anomaly, and we are in the midst of a correction that will give more weight to amateur, non-commercial and folk forms. In many ways his argument is probably more radical than what Henry or I might say about the promise of amateur and folk cultures. He sees everyday amateur producers as increasingly the source of generative forms of knowledge and culture, that provide a genuine alternative to commercial media…. At the end of the week, I think what it came down to for me was that this balance depends crucially on the specificities of the cultural forms in question. Yochai pointed out that his argument about distributed nonmarket production really focuses on cultural forms that can be easily decomposed, like software and encyclopedia entries. In his book, he talks about how even in the case of science textbooks, where it seems like this should work, the units are large enough that it is difficult to sustain as a volunteer effort. If we look at music, for example, amateur performance has always persisted because it is a media form that is amenable to local performance. Contrast that with something like feature films or the sustained multi-year (or at least season-long) narratives you get in an anime series, and you start moving into domains that require both a certain amount of capitalization as well as a sustained authorial viewpoint.

This will be the first time Benkler and Jenkins have appeared on stage together — indeed, the first time we’ve met face to face. Benkler and I come from very different backgrounds but our books arrive at remarkably similar conclusions about participatory culture in a networked society. This is scheduled to be an unstructured conversation about what our two books might suggest about the future of journalism and civic media. I know we will have a lot to talk about.

For those of you who live outside the Boston area, these events will be available after the fact on streaming audio. I will provide information once the webcasts go up on line.


  1. FYI, Benkler’s book “The Wealth of Networks” is freely downloadable (the whole book or individual chapters) under Creative Commons licensing here: