Category Archives: saving newspapers

Old/New Media: Bring Out Your Dead!

Every week, I come across another blog comment where someone says they wish that old media would just hurry up and die already.

It’s not just that they know it should be dead.  It’s that often they seem to have limited vision of what would replace it.  It will be… social media!  New media! Unfiltered access to press releases, each with their own take on the news!  A thousand points of light!

That “old media is dead” is often intoned by someone who is surfing around, reading content that someone took time to link to — blogs, news sites, possibly even the online arm of some terrible dead old media — like BusinessWeek or the New York Times or WIRED or Rolling Stone — allows me to — well, write them off.  Or at least roll my eyes.

So this week, when I read that comment from another self-satisfied, snarky, there can-be-only-one-true-Ring/media/blog/whatever Clay or HeWhoMustNotBeNamedsays — but in this case, it was from a journalism student — it at least got my attention. *

In theory, J-school students are paying good money — as I once did — to learn the ethics, and laws, and standards, and tactics…

… of a dying profession.

Someone in J-school should be thinking about how to morph this field they’re entering.  How to do what they love, as the saying goes, so that the money — some money, at least — will follow. So having a J-School student eager to pronounce “old media” dead reminded me of that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

“Look ‘ere, ‘e says he’s not dead!”

“He will be soon.  He’s very ill.”

(man) “I’m getting better!  I don’t want to go on the cart!”

“Don’t be such a baby!… Look, isn’t there something you can do?”

(at which point the cart driver clocks the older man on the head, and he’s laid — now presumably dead — on the cart)

This student pointed out that in the age of Twitter, we no longer need “old media.”  By the time they get to the news, he pointed out, it’s old already.

Wow, he’s going to be some reporter, eh?  Can’t get anything by him.

I don’t want to sound all naggy, but there are some things the New York Times does better than nearly any organization on the planet.  And many other “old media” that do really damn good reporting.  Including broadcast.

Just because they need to figure out a new way to make money, doesn’t mean the reporting is dead or even wrong — just the vehicle.  Suppose every time a car died, we shot its owner?  Yeah, that’s stupid too.

Every day, I read fantastic blogs doing great reporting as well.  And by reporting, I don’t mean tweeting that there was an earthquake.  I’m on Twitter.  I know there was an earthquake.

I mean making me aware of aspects of the news I hadn’t thought of, because I don’t have access to it.  The New York Times and its ilk can open doors that you and I can’t open — and that should be opened.  Westword, my local “alternative newsweekly,” has been doing great reporting for 30 years.

On a completely different level, a local newspaper (or blog, if everyone in the community has a computer) unites a community in a way that niche  blogs or multi-media cannot.

So put away the Harry Potter books, okay?  This is not a situation where one kind of media must die  in order for the other to survive.   (See: he’s dead Jim!)

Old media does have to figure out something new.  Not just “let’s make them pay for content,” though that’s a start.  The first step in innovation is usually incremental; and the next step will be more radical.

* * *

Gordon Crovitz, Steven Brill and Leo Hindery aligned last week behind a pay-wall.  Don’t know whether you’d pay for Gordon Crovitz?  Maybe you’d pay for others.  I probably would.  And the AP building its own aggregator?  They’re totally onto something: stop AP content and, in this magical world of downsizing that is contemporary journalism, you have just choked off 1/3 of most American news — papers and sites– at least.

Whatever we come up with, we’ll need the old media, new media, social media — and probably something that hasn’t even been labeled yet — plus  our brand new J-school peeps to deliver this excellent new model.

Something hopefully more imaginative than clonking old media over the head and throwing it on the cart.

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Filed under Media, saving newspapers, Uncategorized, Web 2.0

Why Smart People Are Still Pondering This Old/New Media Thing

You already realize I’m a bit of a science geek.  But you may not know I’m also a history geek — not insufferably so, but I’m looking beyond what I thought I knew to find new insights.    On my bedside table, along with my fiction books and books on how to not be a crappy parent, there usually sits something by Joseph Ellis or someone equally readable.

I tell you this as context for when I say that, even for me, the piece in the January 26th issue of the New Yorker, Back Issues: The Day the Newspaper Died, is a bit of a slog (See: Does Google Make Us Stupid? Let Me Count the Ways).  But it’s worth at least zooming through for the parallels between newspapers as our founders envisioned them in the First Amendment — as opposed to our new vs. old media whinging today.

The piece essentially begs the question:  what’s the value of having an organized free press, with reach and access, to really go after our government?

Some of the value can be seen in the lengths a government would go to avoid that free press.  In the New Yorker story, we’re reminded that President John Adams tried to have his critics arrested for treason with the Alien and Sedition Acts — which he also helped create and pass.  I doubt he would have outlawed a TechCrunch, or a small paper writing about the local 4H results — both evolving and thriving aspects of our current media landscape, I’d venture.  But a John Adams, today — would he outlaw the New York Times or Washington Post for breaking the story of Guantanamo, or the White House emails?  To quote one potential White House resident, you betcha.

I bring this up because every five minutes on Techmeme, some blogger hits bigtime clickthroughs by proclaiming the imminent death of old media.  But we need newspapers.  And blogs (see: Twitter, the New York Times and the Guantanamo Video).  What is this ridiculous psychodrama where someone has to be dead?
It gets a little bit Social-Media-Echo-Chamber-y.   For example,  I’m normally an avid reader of Clay Shirky’s blogs. I just like literally how he thinks.  But last month he got picked up in BoingBoing and ReTweeted umpty galillion times for throwing the Guardian-UK this tired old bone:  that the New York Times is on its last legs, and that’s a harbinger for the category: “I think that’s it for newspapers.  Why pay for it at all?”  After awhile, Erick Schonfeld (whose work I also follow and  respect) and TechCrunch (and all their commenters and fans who want to be liked by TechCrunch) chimed in, and it got absurd.
Has it occurred to anyone that the economy could also play a tiny role in these “decaying fortunes?”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and reading everything I can on the subject — from the kinda-wacky-kinda-brilliant game(r) theory of Jeff Bercovici at Portfolio.com:

Here’s how it would work: As you browse FT.com, you have a small status bar at the bottom of your screen, akin to the “life bar” in first-person shooter games that shows you how healthy or injured your character is. In this case, the status bar shows you how many free page views you have left.

Now here’s the fun part: If you want to exceed your quota but you don’t want to pay, there are other ways. In video games, you can usually replenish your life bar by collecting floating gold coins or stars or mushrooms or what have you; why not do the same on a newspaper site?

to the practically reactionary suggestion of  former Washington Post editor  Peter Osnos — who outright suggests that Google save newspapers, and argues that it’s in the company’s best interests.  An excerpt:
If the past is a guide, there will come a time when these behemoths essentially are monopolies, and society will rise up in protest, to the relief and, usually, the benefit of everyone except them…
There are a lot of ideas circulating for saving the news business…but getting Google (and its smaller competitors) to share revenue with creators of content would be a money stream that essentially does not now exist.
to the altogether different take by The Long Tail (and Wired EIC) author Chris Anderson, who wrote in a recent piece that “free”  may not be sustainable as a business model in a recession.

Media isn’t broken, to paraphrase a comment I recently saw on Chris Brogan’s blog — it’s just not fixed yet.  Just because we haven’t imagined the next form it’s going to take, doesn’t mean it’s “dead,” or that new or old journalists must prostitute themselves with “content marketing” in some form  (not that there’s anything evil about that, but blurry lines don’t help anyone).

What do you think? 
Do you have ideas?  Share them in the comments!
P.S. — for more excellent ideas, see the comments on Matthew Ingram’s post, “Google Is Not Your Sugar Daddy.” (link in comments below)

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Filed under Media, saving newspapers, Uncategorized