Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying he believes in old media companies, and that democracy depends on a free and professional press.

That has put some hope in newspaper executives. After all, Jobs is the guy who reinvented the revenue model for the music industry.

And with the iPad, it’s clear Jobs and company at Apple are up to something.

Hi, we’re closed

However, if the iPad takes off, and other competitors step forward, how many different platforms will newspapers, magazines and book publishers have to create content for? What the iPad and other tools like it could create is a system of closed systems.

Scholar Jonanthan Zittrain speaks to this in his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. The iPad is an example of a tethered device. “It’s the kind of device that requires special programming knowledge and approval of the device’s creator (Apple).

He and I have nothing against things like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Tivo. They are great and have led to some exciting things.

However, they could also lead to a more controlled computing system and less innovation, as he argues.

Balance, please

What’s the answer? Balance – something Zittrain also calls for in his book and in an interview with Charlie Rose.

The Internet has existed as a system that anyone can jump into and play with, so to speak. If you want to create a website for your business, you can do that without knowing everything about how the Internet or computers work.

An Internet dominated by iPad-like devices could wreck that. Developers would have to have more specialized programming knowledge, approval from device creators and other restrictions.

So what should newspapers, magazines and other online storytellers do?

  • Explore all possibilities, but maintain some distance and freedom. Don’t rely on just one solution for distributing content.
  • Embrace both closed systems, like the iPad and open source platforms, like WordPress.
  • Advocate for standards when it comes to devices like the iPad, iPhone and Kindle.

There’s no perfect solution here, but doing these three things will help maintain that balance that Zittrain so smartly calls for as a solution.

What else could newspaper, magazine and book publishers do to help their cause here?

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the future of the Internet.