The latest turn of events for No Depression hits me hard in two ways. First, and more immediately: What in the hell am I going to do without No Depression? Both in print and since its migration to the Web, I have depended on it for reviews and news of the music I love so much. Second, as a life-long journalist, now retired, it, along with what could well become a flood of daily newspaper closings, signals not just the end of an era, but of an epoch that arguably dates back to Gutenberg. It was in this epoch that the dissemination of thought became democratized, that virtually anybody who could read and write could share what was on his or her mind.
Yet this forum also shows the promise of a new, highly interconnected epoch of communication that has started in just the last fifteen years. If the secularization of movable type heralded an age in which anybody with access to a printing press could report the news or express an opinion, this new epoch means that geographically far-flung communities can instantaneously form, re-form and re-form again to share news and opinions. If the epoch of the printing press represented the democratization of information, this new epoch, hopefully, will lead us to a logical next stage: the collectivization of information.
In other words, we now must start to depend on each other (with, hopefully, a guiding hand from the good folks at No Depression), to exchange thoughts, ideas, news and opinions. Fading in importance, or at least fading from prominence, is the professionalism and expertise that full-time journalists can bring to the table. That expertise by a group of individuals now must be replaced by the expertise of the entire group.
We all know from our experiences on the Web that strong, loudly spoken opinion often masquerades as expertise, particularly in forums in which the loosest editorial control is exercised. Yet this type of decentralized and collective information gathering and dissemination also can lead to the emergence of new sources of expertise, and of insight and beauty, that had little chance of emerging previously.
The obvious, if perhaps superficial analogy in the music world is the erosion of the power of the Big Four music labels that was hastened, in part, by the emergence of low-cost online distribution of music. The result of this trend has been nothing less, in my opinion, than a golden age of independent music. Thinking back ten years, I just don't recall the wealth of independent musical talent that is currently available.
The price we pay for this new epoch of communication is time and energy. It takes more time and energy to participate in this new world of participatory journalism. We are changing over from being passive consumers of information to active creators and sharers of information. It will not only require more time and energy to create information to share but, with the professional gatekeepers gone, it also will require more effort to sift through and separate out what is useful from what is not. But the potential exists for more expertise and more information to become available. And increased participation in the process of spreading information takes the democratization started by Gutenberg to a much higher level.
As hard as this changeover may be, particularly for those who lose their source of livelihood, it has the potential to be truly transformative in the long-run. Here's hoping that it works out that way.