Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Old Dog, New Trick

Newspapers are up against it in the Participation Economy, the Internet-powered revolution of joining in, taking part, sharing and joy. For the modern consumer, the idea of reading newspapers full of day-old news hand-picked by faceless editors seems, well, very early 90’s.

These days we get to be our own editor-in-chief, selecting the bits of news, opinion and analysis that best suit our tastes, politics or predilections. The news business still hasn’t worked out a way to make this work financially, but I suspect that will change soon. Free is not sustainable. Walter Isaacson, former editor of Time, proposed one possible approach to the issue of payment here.

There may be some spark in the old format yet. On the first day of the climate talks in Copenhagen, 56 newspapers in 20 languages pulled off a dramatic and high-impact stunt. They simultaneously published a front-page editorial calling for action on climate change. Papers included The Guardian (which got the ball rolling), the Toronto Star, the Jakarta Globe, Le Monde, The Brunei Times, la Repubblica and The Cambodia Daily.

This degree of collaboration across geographical and political boundaries carries a high degree of difficulty. Whatever you think about the editorial itself, the scale and audacity of the maneuver is impressive. The old-school newspaper editorial is long past its heyday, but -- on this occasion at least -- some creative thinking and collaboration breathed some life back into the art-form.