When new, low-cost, highly-convenient subversive architectures reach
out to encompass the practices of dominant ones and start feeding
consumer demand in the same place, it’s usually a clear sign that an
industry is being disrupted.

Such has been the purpose that technology has served over recent
decades – a phenomenal amount of usurping has taken place across vast
genres, everywhere from international steel manufacturing to
Microsoft’s once ambitious dream to link the world with one
standardized multi-purpose lifestyle package. The features all these
subversive architectures have in common are resolutely the same:
they’re cheaper, they’re more convenient, and they are market-share
carnivores on two types of consumer: those who are ambivalent and those
who are ignorant.

This is the jist of the hypothesis of "disruptive technologies"
coined by Dean of Harvard Business school and bestselling author Clayton M. Christensen,
who I was fortunate enough to see speak at the Oslo Business Summit
last month. To witness live examples of these types disruptions in a
market-place is both an exciting and terrifying experience – exciting
in that the future suddenly looks so different, and terrifying for the
same reason.

Nowhere have such examples been more prescient recently than last
week in the field of journalism, when two high-quality, equally highly
acclaimed weblogs published well-written, erudite and startlingly
professional pieces of investigative journalism.

The first piece to break waves was a thorough report on a terrorist
training camp inside New York State founded by Sheik Mubarik Ali Shah
Gilani, the Islamic cleric Daniel Pearl was attempting to interview
when he was kidnapped. Daring, provocative, and written with the type
of considerable elegance New York Times staffers would be envious of,
The Politics of CP’s "Jamaat ul-Fuqra Training Compound Inside the United States"
was an admirable feat of journalism by the highest standards and even
brought local insights and testimonies into the investigation, quoting
one anonymous witness with catchy, breathtaking prose:

We see children – small children run around over there when
they should be in school. We hear bursts of gunfire all of the time,
and we know that there is military like training going on there. Those
people are armed and dangerous. We get nothing but menacing looks from
the people who go in and out of the camp, and sometime they yell at us
to mind our own business when we are just driving by. We don’t even
dare to slow down when we drive by. They own this mountain and they
know it, and there is nothing we can do about it but move, and we can’t
even do that. Who wants to buy property next to that?

The result was that the exclusive report was ultimately picked up by World Net Daily, one of the largest internet news sites around, and the findings are being followed up by official investigators.

Flagrant Harbour,
a stylishly written, on-the-pulse weblog written from the exotic
sub-equatorial mania of Hong Kong this week followed up some excellent
research into a local businessman by the name of Jonathan Hakim. Late
last year, the author of Fragrant Harbour spotted that Hakim, former
scion of the Hong Kong internet industry and founder of Boom.com, was
involved with a company offering cheap and quick transplants from a
military base in China. Hakim this week contacted the author and had an
in depth conversation with him about the nature of his naivety of the
dubious ethical dimensions to the enterprise, all of which was well
reported with gripping linguistic alacrity in this week’s edition of
the weblog.

Disruption

The reaction from The Fourth Estate to this new form of media has
been nothing short of hysterical: the responses of professional media
pundits have been everywhere from embracing to abusive.

Glenn Reynolds, founder of Instapundit and author of An Army of Davids,
sees weblogs potentially changing the landscape of journalism; "I think
that blogging is the wave of the future, and consequently, I think
we’re going to see journalism moving from a profession, back to being
an activity," he writes on his newly formed weblogging organisation, Pajamas Media. He continues:

We used to say that a journalist was somebody who wrote a
journal, and a correspondent was somebody in a distant city who wrote
you letters, and corresponded. Now it means somebody with good hair and
a microphone. But I think that the traditional meaning of journalism is
what it’s going to be like again … It’s more a case of who’s on the
scene and who can report — or journal — what happened, as opposed to
somebody who makes a profession out of reporting and opining. So it’s
driven by the activity; it’s driven by the nature of events, rather
than by your paycheck, if that makes sense.

The answer is, it’s increasingly starting to make sense to a lot of
people, and it especially makes sense given Professor Christiansen’s
model of technological disruption in industries.

In the illustration, extracted from a seminar given by the professor at
the Oslo Business Summit, low-end technological disruption feeds on
both markets where there is no current demand and markets where
customers are already over-served by too much supply. What is most
disturbing for industry professionals about the above model is that
‘sophistication’ has little to do with it once more convenient
architectures enter the game.

Now in that light consider the above pieces of journalism: passable
for material which might be featured in any national broadsheet, it’s
free, and it is more accessible than any of the traditional newspapers,
meaning that people who don’t currently read investigative reports in
high-end print or online subscription journals are perfectly happy to
assume the habit. In other words, the whole package above is just more
convenient for readers who are trying to get a sense of what is going
on in the world.

So what will news services of the future look like? Perhaps the Korean phenomenon Oh My News
has the answer. Part news site, part blog, it is the quintessential
epitome of hybridised new media: written by citizen journalists, most
of whom are college students but a good number of whom are
professionals, Oh My News has been the first to break a flurry of major
international stories, most recently the Paris riots. The site is
manned by a small team of editors, but otherwise costs are kept to an
absolute minimum: no expensive deployment of editors, no turnover and
hiring costs – and faster transmission of news. Reynolds hopes one day
that his pioneering activities will one day translate into hard cash,
and by all accounts, this is not too far off. The news industry is
changing as fast as it can be reported, and those who are at the
forefront of it now stand to make a fortune.