Tag Archives: saving newspapers

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

How to Save Newspapers; or, lessons of the Giant Water Bug

How do I feel about the newspaper business these days?

I’m reminded of a scene in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where the author Annie Dillard describes watching a frog that seemed fine, placidly sitting on a creek bank.  As she watches, and within seconds, he is “shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football.”  He contracts, as if all the air and fluid has just been let out of him, “like a kicked tent.”  In a moment there remains only a bag of skin floating on the water where before there had been a healthy being.

It’s an unforgettable image.

Dillard later discovers that the frog was the victim of a giant water bug, which paralyzes its victims from underneath, then sucks the lifeblood out of them — literally, blood, muscles, bone and tissue — and departs, leaving just a sack of skin.  She uses the incident to set the tone of the book, that there’s this wild interplay of prey and predator going on around us all the time, but we’re too busy and distracted to notice.

Sucking the life from traditional media?

Sucking the life from traditional media?

Newspapers… lifeblood being sucked out… you see where I’m going with this.

You might have noticed that your local paper is roughly the size of a Watchtower pamphlet (or a Home Depot circular, don’t want to offend anyone).

But if you wonder whom I might have cast as the water bug in this metaphor, I’ll spell it out for you: the i-n-t-e-r-n-e-t  s-e-a-r-c-h  e-n-g-i-n-e.

I’m not a hater, though.  I mean, here I am — linking away.

I am having a “wish I’d thought of that” moment — because in spite of all my personal worry and angst at seeing friends and colleagues laid off — I tweet about a website that tracks journalist layoffs, of all things — leave it to a journalist to put, elegantly and concisely, just what needs to be done.

To save newspapers.

And I don’t mean recycling.

I get a lot of news online.  But I get a lot of news offline, too.  And as I said below, there are things online journalists and bloggers can do unbelievably well — and some that, say, the New York Times does better than nearly anyone on the Planet.

Which doesn’t make it more pleasant to discover that Sergei Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) could buy every newspaper in the U.S.A and still put away $12 billion for their next acquisitions.

What does that mean?  Well, do you want all your news to come from one place?  Do you want your news at all?  Because, someone has to write it.  And it would be good if that someone got paid, was trustworthy, or at least was trying to adhere to some code of ethics.

This crossed my mind when Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher last week put forth his own water-bug control idea.  He writes:

US newspapers didn’t realize GOOG is a media company until it was too late. Google was able to scrape its content virtually for free, from newspapers and other web sites, and sell advertising around that content. Newspapers spend huge amounts of money to create their content.

Newspapers, and other media companies, have allowed Google to commoditize content, and retain the value in the aggregation and distribution.

Yet the technology for aggregation and distribution is a commodity — content is not a commodity.

Newspapers and other media need to rally around their content and not let Google or any other search engine scrape it for free.

Or else, Foremski continues, “the media will be the next big bailout.  It’s too important to fail.”

Amen.

Of course, how to do that — make search engines pay for the content they scrape, while making it available to consumers?  What are your ideas?

Figure it out.  It’s got to be better than just waiting for the water bug to finish sucking out your guts.

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Filed under Media, Technology and PR, Uncategorized, Web 2.0