It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it may not be all that funny to some. Two stories in the most recent "On the Media" have me thinking about the shifting equilibria of both the legal and journalism worlds, and what their implications are for the rest of us...
In "The End of Libel?", Brooke Gladstone reports on the poor prospects that some lawyers at larger media properties are facing as the number of libel suits has dropped over the past few years. Before you get all teary eyed for the lawyers' plights (some of my best friends' wives are lawyers), there's some speculation in the piece that the lawsuits may simply be spread out more thinly as more, smaller properties pop-up in the post-broadcast landscape. But plaintiffs, the story concludes, may be best served these days by taking their case to the court of the public through their blogs, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc.
The other, more disturbing conclusion, is that news outlets -- blogs included -- are simply being much more cautious about potential lawsuits, and are avoiding deliberate, touchy issues. My gut -- call me the eternal optimist -- is that there will always be someone with nothing to lose, and now that it's so much easier to publish and reach a large audience, the power of the however more broadly defined "media" has not decreased. This may not be comforting to the corporate lawyers now facing the prospect of having to hang their own shingle after years in the corporate world.
In "The Crowdsourcing Dilemma," we see another dynamic playing out as Bob Garfield describes how he turned from believer (he used crowdSPRING.com to source the cover for his last book) to, well, nervous believer as he notes that the service has expanded beyond designers to also include writing projects. Like the corporate libel lawyer with no more business, he's worried he could eventually be replaced by cheaper labor. And crowdSPRING isn't the only game in town -- we interviewed Saul Hansell, the editor of AOL's seed.com project, in our inaugural podcast about that site's content outsourcing business model.
Just like the search game, in which both white hats and black hats work to strike an ongoing balance with Google's search algorithms to reach to top of the organic results (seed.com sits squarely in the white hat category), content (the good and the crappy, of which seed.com sits squarely in the middle) is in a fight with filters (technological and logical) to find its way into our inboxes, feeds and minds. Media outlets, to stay relevant, need to find multiple ways to connect with us, and give us the choice as to how we participate. There are still many opportunities for media to reach us, and as long as they are, there are opportunities to cross barriers of both taste and law.
And if you, dear reader, think the implications of this shifting dynamic are limited to just writers and lawyers, you've got a big lesson coming your way very soon.