by Tony Kontzer
The Internet long has been referred to as a "disruptive" technology, meaning it had the potential to displace existing paradigms, alter the course of technology, and change the way people interacted with technology.
On all counts, the label proved to be accurate: The Internet has evolved into the dominant computing platform, replacing the mainframe and client/server environments that had become so commonplace; it has become the center of technological development, with every software and hardware innovation keyed to take advantage of the Web as a business communication and commerce tool; and it has popularized computing among the mainstream population, resulting in computers becoming as essential to the modern American household as refrigerators, indoor plumbing and central heating.
But it has done so much more: It has, from a purely business perspective, forced one industry after another to reinvent itself for a new era. From the rethinking of commerce models and inventory methodologies to the revamping of customer support and marketing practices, few things about how to do business have escaped unscathed.
Some industries--take book-selling, led by Amazon.com, or personal computers, led by Dell--were quick to adapt, establishing early footholds through an innate understanding of the inner workings of the Web. Others, such as the music industry, chose to ignore the implications until it was too late, watching an intermediary--in this case, Apple--tackle the challenges of online distribution and take a giant bite out of its profits.
But still others have found themselves in a near-constant state of adaptation no matter how many changes they've made. Such is the case with the print journalism industry, which has reached a crucial crossroads in a history that traces back to Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the movable type printing press in 1439. In case you haven't been paying attention, print journalism is in trouble, with daily papers losing money, cutting staff, and shuttering their print operations to focus on online; magazines rethinking their business models; and wire services seeking more revenue from Web sites that use their content.
They're being undermined by the new online journalism--the world of bloggers and Tweeters. They're being sabotaged by emerging business models, such as Amazon's Kindle e-reader service, which reportedly keeps 70 percent of any subscriptions fees collected by the publishing companies who want to get their content to Kindle owners. And, of course, now they're being further undermined by the relentless downbeat economic times.
But amid the wreckage, a new journalism model may be rising. Consider the attempt by CourtTV founder and onetime Newsweek columnist Steven Brill to lead the industry's transition to an Amazon-free business model that would allow publishers to keep their subscription fees and retain more control. Or, look at financier Warren Hellman's plans to hatch a new business template for community journalism in San Francisco. And then there's famed technology blogger Robert Scoble's new venture, building43, which aims to help businesses better understand what the new social media landscape means for them.
The future health of the industry--our industry, the one that delivers your IT news to you--depends on these endeavors, and on the willingness of publications to adopt fresh perspectives. It's only with this kind of flexibility that journalists, the kind that are educated and trained to deliver news, will be able to carry the professional torch for the foreseeable future. And it's likely to be a long-term effort: With constant change on the Internet's horizon, that ability to adapt isn't going to get any less important any time soon.