Thursday, August 27, 2009

T. B. Lee on journalism and the Innovator's Dilemma

T. B. Lee (not T. Berners-Lee) has a newish blog and it has proved excellent enough* that it exceeded my expectations (which were not low to begin with; & I'm not saying this because we're slightly acquainted). For example, this post on newspapers and journalism makes a point which I've never seen stated as clearly anywhere else (well, OK, just once, but it bears repeating):

If I ran the world, no one would be allowed to opine about the decline of the newspaper industry until they’d read The Innovator’s Dilemma. The web is so clearly a disruptive technology, and the newspaper industry is so clearly following the trajectory Christensen describes in his book, that it’s hard to think clearly about the process if you haven’t grasped Christensen’s key insights. To review, the key attribute of a disruptive technology is that when it’s introduced into the marketplace, it is cheaper but also markedly inferior to the incumbent technology, as judged by the criteria of the dominant technology’s customers. Internet-based news clearly fits this pattern. As newspaper people never tire of reminding us, Internet-based news outlets rarely have the resources to staff expensive foreign bureaus, conduct in-depth fact-checking, fly sports reporters to away games, hire teams of lawyers, and so on. If the Huffington Post or TechCrunch were judged as newspapers, they would be pretty lousy ones.

What we learn from The Innovator’s Dilemma is this state of affairs is completely normal when a disruptive technology invades an established industry. . . . So newspaper partisans are absolutely right to point out that newspapers continue to be superior to online news sources in a number of respects. But they’re completely wrong to think this can save them.

More along those lines in the full post. Plus a neat coda on how C. M. Christenson was unfortunately kind of a sellout (or at least naïvely optimistic), which probably isn't said often enough.

*N.b. this does not mean I agree with Tim all of the time, or even most of the time. But the relevant mark of quality here is that even when I disagree with the argument, I usually find it both (a) thought-provoking and (b) neither stupid nor hackish.

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