Jonathan Zittrain is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources for the Harvard Law School Library, and Co-Founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Previously, he was the Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University and a principal of the Oxford Internet Institute. He was also a visiting professor at the New York University School of Law and Stanford Law School.
Zittrain’s research interests include battles for control of digital property and content, cryptography, electronic privacy, the roles of intermediaries within Internet architecture, and the useful and unobtrusive deployment of technology in education.
He is also the author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, as well as co-editor of the books, Access Denied (MIT Press, 2008), Access Controlled (MIT Press, 2010), and Access Contested (MIT Press, 2011).
Question: Will the Internet kill the newspaper?
Jonathan Zittrain: The problem with newspapers is Craigslist. This guy named Craig sets up a mailing list, and Craigslist.org, it's the ugliest site you've ever seen. If you want to get a couch unloaded, that's where you go instead of the classifieds. Now the idea that somehow we owe it to newspapers, in order to get decent reportage, and have a New York Times Baghdad bureau, to subsidize them by not allowing Craigslist to exist, so we still have to go through them to place our classifieds, a ridiculous enough notion that it's no doubt a straw man, and nobody would ever say such a thing. So newspapers do have a problem in that what they have to offer, and what many of us think is a good thing that they do, unbiased reporting and professional journalism, seems to be a substitutable product with cats flushing toilets on YouTube. And so long as that's the case, and people are like, "Hmm, news about Iraq? Cat flushing toilet? I'd watch either of them." So long as the cat flushing the toilet is cheaper, that's going to have more supply, and that's where the demand will go. So what we're really complaining about is the fact that there's some ethos, some profession of journalism, that has been subject to high pressure market forces that are driving it out. To me, the real solution there, if we think the news is valuable, and there isn't the market framework to support it you subsidize it. It's how you get NPR, it's how you get PBS, because you think of yet another channel of I Dream of Jeannie reruns, even though that's pound for pound what earns more money for the channel operator than PBS, we'd rather have PBS in the mix too, and we're prepared to see what we can do to make it happen.
Recorded on: 3/8/08