Thursday, February 04, 2010


One of the interesting... not necessarily good, but interesting... things about the time we live in is watching the changes in what us old-timers used to call journalism.
I'm sure you're aware (you being of above average intelligence according to the data I get about you from Quantcast) the newspaper industry as we know it is in it's final death throes. Saint Nick is keeping us abreast as the bells toll for the Kansas City Star's parent company and even that of The Pitch.

As an old newspaper man, I have mixed feelings. Its easy to wax romantic about my previous career in journalism -- late nights in the newsroom, the panic and thrill of pushing a story right up to a deadline, the smell of and feel of wet ink on fresh newsprint as you examine the first pages hot off the press1. I've got some great stories from my newspaper days. Stories involving poisonous snakes, dismembered fingers, bloody hand prints, bullets lodged in brains -- most of which never made it into print.

So in some ways, it's sad for me to watch what's happening to the newspaper industry.

But it's not surprising. A lot of us saw this coming years ago. I opted out of the newspaper biz about 13 years ago. Decided working late nights and weekends for little pay wasn't conducive to family goals I had. I went into an editorial position at an Internet company because I could see even then that printed paper as a medium was a losing proposition.

That's not to say that the gathering and disseminating of information is a losing proposition, only that the "traditional" print media haven't been able yet to develop the business agility needed to find a new and relevant business model.

Sure, they are trying to convert their old business practices to work in a digital venue -- notably the Press+ system that is currently in beta2. Unfortunately, in my view, there are a few problems with this effort.

First, it's nearly a literal translation of the failing offline subscriber model to online. Yes, many organizations have shown that micropayments can be a significant money maker (Amazon and iTunes). But Press+ seems to ignores the fact that money from subscriptions never was the primary revenue source for most publications. It's difficult to see how people will be willing to pay more through online micropayments than they would be through traditional subscriptions.

It also ignores the fact that once information is released "into the wild" it will be pretty much impossible to collect micropayments on it. Just like people who subscribe to dead tree publications like to pass on what they "read in the paper" or even leave the paper at a barbershop or coffee shop for others to read, online micropayment subscribers will want to pass on what they've read. Copy-and-paste makes it all the easier.

Now, lest I be branded a pessimist, I still think there is a way that advertisers can continue to support journalism-- at least for the larger news organizations. In my opinion, the plan being considered by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and Microsoft is heading in the right direction.

Essentially, Microsoft pays a fee to the news organization (Wall Street Journal) for exclusive access to the product of their newsroom. Stories from WSJ (and presumably any other NewsCorp organization) don't show up in the Google search results. So NewsCorp gets paid for the content, Bing gets a competitive advantage and the end user pays nothing for the content.

In theory Google would follow suit, bidding for the content of other news organizations -- or maybe even for NewsCorp content. One could even see the news organizations selling "clicks" to content the same way the search engines sell keyword ads. Content creators could "flip the script" on Google resulting in the search engines bidding for their content.

This is the kind of paradigm3 shift required for "journalism" to move forward as a money-making prospect.

1. Note: Presses are no longer hot. In fact, the moist ink is a bit cool to the touch when the pages first come off the press.
2. Hat tip to Nick.
3. Off topic: The other day my 7-year-old daughter asked me what a "paradigm" was. I told her it was twenty cents.

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  1. did Nick write this? unless you and him are the same which would explain a lot

  2. I'm not sure if that's an insult to me or to Nick.

  3. hey! how do you like the footnote plug-in? wish i had found it much earlier...

    i believe what Murdoch is hatching will eventually drive journalism home, but not without a number of twists,turns,S-curves, the odd flat and even some nasty switchbacks; as you mention, Google and (more importantly) AP/Reuters et el will have a large say in the final rules of the road.

    will be an interesting ride though.

    and don't mind M.V. - he and X.O. are in a contest(inadvertantly, through the total lack of sexual contact with...well, anyone) to see which of them can become the most curmudgeonly. I have it at the moment at a depressing tie...

  4. hey you should read my upcoming post about falling in love with a smoked fish from stuff

  5. M.V. -

    thanks for thinking of me, but i gave up beastiality in my early teens.

    but you go ahead and get down with your bad self. or fish, as case may be...

  6. National and large metro-daily papers are going the way of the saber-tooth tiger. I think there is a future for print media in small, rural localities where the news, sports and features are all local. Our local weekly is going gangbusters because people want to read about themselves, not stuff about D.C. or even K.C. or St.L. which everybody knows the moment it shows up on the internet.

    BTW, our local paper doesn't put it's content on line. As the editor-publisher says, "I want people to read the paper so they can see my adds."

    And people lap it up.



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