Upcoming MIT Communication Forum Events

Sorry for the late notice, but tonight is the first MIT Communications Forum of the semester. It’s on newspapers moving online and will feature David Carr from the New York Times and Dan Kennedy from Northeastern. I’ve been attending these events for several years and can tell you they are great for forcing one to think of communication issues in new and different ways.

If you can’t make this one (and I totally understand if you can’t) try to make some of the others. There’s one on the humanities in the digital age, another on civic media and the law and finally one on communications in a slow-moving crisis.

The crowd is mostly from the MIT community so discussions tend to be abstract, academic and awesome.

Newspapers vs. News

I am getting pretty tired of the drumbeat about the dire consequences of the decline of the newspaper industry. NPR did a piece this morning and it’s a pretty hard topic to avoid in the media. Why do people feel that newspapers – which are only one of several channels for distributing news – are so important?

People make the claim that newspapers are the glue that binds communities together and that the common knowledge base provided by newspapers is critical to a functioning democracy.

The Boston Globe now has a circulation of just over 300,000. That’s what, just about half the city’s population? Of course the Globe’s circulation isn’t limited to Boston. So how critical is the Globe really as a tool for community coherence?

Until 1704, Boston didn’t even have a newspaper. Does that mean Boston didn’t have any news? Or that the city had no community or civic life? Probably not. So how did those poor newsless folk of yesteryear stay informed and in touch?

news

That sounds an awful lot like what we’re seeing springing up today (except for the handwriting part) in the form of blogs, tweets, user-generated videos, etc.

Methods for reporting and sharing news have always existed and that isn’t going to change. The channels may change – but that isn’t anything new either. Nor is the handwringing. Putting news – which is inherently dynamic content – onto a static medium doesn’t make that much sense. People are – and will – continue to find ways to get and share information.

The News isn’t dead but newspapers are looking for life support.