What is the future of the newspaper industry? The music industry!

The same economic drivers that are disrupting the newspaper industry, indeed any industry built on the distribution and packaging of creative acts that can be transmitted digitally, on the Internet, are the same.

I don’t think it’s all that different whether you are talking about newspapers, music, radio, TV, or movies.

Musicians have been the canary in the coal mine for some time now. These past few years they have been finding new ways to fund their art and reach fans and new audiences. God knows the previous arrangement’s math didn’t favor them anyway.

The important thing – from records, to 8-tracks, to cassettes, to CDs, and now to mp3s, it’s the music that survives.

And it is going to thrive. No matter what naysayers may believe. The industry, on the other hand, has been and continues to be transformed. The economics have irrevocably been changed.

This while the news paper industry is still flailing about. In some instances working to produce less of its core product, in pursuit of profit.

Then again, what is the product? Is it the package (CDs in the music industry, the morning paper in the newspaper industry), or what is contained within?

The web presents a true medium to re-invigorate democracy. It’s a participatory architecture, built for collaboration and communication above all else. Every person that is on the web expands its usefulness, and presenting new opportunities to connect, converse and share.

So if you consider the product of the papers news and opinion, you’ll see the monolithic fourth estate crumbling as either a sign for alarm or celebration. With us barbarians at the gates. Unlimited choice, simple to use tools to find and share information and opinion, being the unintentional weapons.

The primary difference between losing the music industry and losing the work of newspapers is that we still need systems to research, filter, and present the news in a way that is beneficial in our lives. For our livelihoods. There are dire consequences to democracy, if we continue down a path of more media, less news and not find systems for people to deal with the ever growing fire house of information we are hit with day in and day out. I think we are already feeling some of the effects.

There is hope. But the choice for the newspaper industry remains as stark as Kent Newsome laid out for the music industry – find new business models or hold on as tight as you can until the well dries up.

Some in the industry know this already and are facing the future with open eyes and open minds. The new, local ownership of Philadelphia’s largest dailies might result in nimbler, more responsive, more participatory media. And conversations are underway exploring new infrastructures to support acts of journalism.

Others? Well hopefully Nick Lemanns of the world learn to recognize that the best way to move reporters to the web is to embrace the web as the participatory media it is. That the web, while offering challenges, presents terrific needs that journalists can fulfill. But it requires building bridges. And fast.

In-depth journalism requires legal, financial and information infrastructure. No one has solved these issues in a way that leverages the participatory nature of the web and has solved the funding equation. That’s why efforts like NewAssignment.Net are so crucial. Its work to put together a path is one to watch, and one to take part in. Tools like Memeorandum and Bloglines, along with plumbing like RSS and Atom, along with participatory news filters like Slashdot, Digg, Newsvine, IndyMedia and Philly Future, early news magazine efforts like Salon, Slate and Suck, and early newspaper efforts, many of which are lost to the nineties dot com crash, provide us with additional lessons to learn from. Not to mention the millions of blogs, and social networking users, many who have participant loyalty, that for some, rivals the relationships newspapers have forged with their readers. And what about Wikipedia?. These early efforts will help lead the way, but that’s no reason to sit on your hands. In this environment, those that wait too long for others to lead, will die.

Other stories of note this weekend:

Washington Post: An Eye for Cool, and Cash: Social news sites paying people to write. Imagine that!

paidContent: Advertisers Will Follow Audiences

NYTimes: What-Ifs of a Media Eclipse: Knight Ridder was ahead of the Internet curve, back in 1996. It even beat a threat from Microsoft (Sidewalk) remember. What happened?