Austin American-Statesman: I work at a daily newspaper, and everyone around here’s talking about the future of our business, and one idea that’s been floating around the past few weeks is this idea of getting people to pay for access to newspaper Web sites. And one entity that keeps coming in for criticism is Huffingtonpost.com, which repurposes newspaper copy for free. But I can’t help but think that this critique misses certain benefits that something like Huffington brings to the sites it appropriates content from—that it makes some of this material more ‘spreadable,’ as you say. Do you think that’s the case?
Jenkins: I think that the notions of spreadability that I’m talking about have real implications for news and journalism. All of these mechanisms, it seems to me, encourage people to engage with the content of the news. The whole system would fall apart if there weren’t professional journalists in the mix, generating content, setting agendas, doing the investigative reporting and field work necessary for real public conversations to take place. But historically newspapers are very poor spaces for serious back-and-forth communication between citizens. I think what we’re seeing are emerging models which allow citizens to take that media into their own communities, to talk about it among themselves, to organize around content that’s particularly significant to whatever group they belong to, and to generate their own kinds of commentary that responds to and reflects the issues of the day. And I do think that that’s actually in the long-term interest of the mission of journalism, if not the business plan of newspapers.
The problem is how to bring those two things back together.