Clay Shirky's Big Media Prediction for 2011: Syndication Stops

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If you don't know Clay Shirky by now, you probably should. Author of several books and the indispensable cshirky.com, he's carved out a reputation for serious thinking about technology packaged inside excellent writing.

Nieman Journalism Lab asked him (among others) to come up with their predictions for 2011. Shirky took the opportunity to note that syndication may be done for (and rightly so).

"Put simply, syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs," Shirky writes. "When news outlets were segmented by geography, having live human beings sitting around in ten thousand separate markets deciding which stories to pull off the wire was a service. Now it's just a cost."

If you read Google News, you're familiar with the phenomenon that 10,000 outlets run basically the same three stories on major international news events. This is kind of nuts and it adds a lot of noise into the news signal. It still happens because newspapers think they need to run this stuff -- and because sometimes they can arbitrage the pageviews they can drive running AP with the cost of AP.

That could change soon, though, if Google's attempt to differentiate between original and syndicated content takes hold. That may be good news for readers, Shirky argues, but it might be very bad news for newspapers:

Giving credit where credit is due will reward original work, whether scoops, hot news, or unique analysis or perspective. This will be great for readers. It may not, however, be so great for newspapers, or at least not for their revenues, because most of what shows up in a newspaper isn't original or unique. It's the first four grafs of something ripped off the wire and lightly re-written, a process repeated countless times a day with no new value being added to the story.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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