Clay Shirky’s bracing dystopianism

Even with that experimentation, he added, the ongoing shrinkage of newspapers is likely to create a “giant hole” that will not be filled for some time. He said he has a vision of communities of 10,000 people or fewer becoming rife with “casual endemic corruption,” as newspapers are no longer able to fulfill their traditional watchdog roles.

I live in a town of 8,500, and I’m not sure I buy this. I see Shirky’s point. But I think he misses how porous and connected the lines of communication in a town of this size are, and how they can curb casual endemic corruption — not by directly exposing people (though that can happen) but the close (often too close) intimacy of such a place gives people a sense of oversight at least as powerful as that in the paper.

The paper in this town runs only the most exceptional scandal/corruption stories; most of the reporters lack that investigative impulse, and the paper tends to go soft on things in general anyway; it’s not, I would guess, much a check on even casual corruption — and far less a check than the disdain or anger of neighbors and people you all too reliably run into on the street.


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