The first electric light bulb illuminated the first room in 1809. It wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison improved on the design, producing a light bulb that would burn for 40 hours (a year later, 1,200 hours).
But inventing the light bulb was only half the problem. You could place a million light bulbs in a million homes, and they would all be as useful as a phonograph with no records.
Edison also had to invent a way to distribute electricity. That took time to roll out and perfect, but the vast superiority of electric light bulbs over candles and gas lamps must have seemed obvious to any objective observer during those nascent days of virtual light.
Can you imagine a professor of waxology in 1890 saying, “It is your duty as a candle maker and a citizen to read the newspaper only by candle light — emphasis on wicks, not filaments”?
That’s essentially what Roy Peter Clark is saying: Embrace the darkness over the light; look to the past, not the future.
The problem for news web sites isn’t lack of revenue opportunities. It is lack of audience. We are not yet producing news sites that engage audiences in sustainable, repeatable, habit-forming ways.
And I fear we’re not going to get there in time if print journalists keep clinging to nostalgia for The Front Page rather than concentrating their remarkable intelligence and creativity on producing better news web sites.