Newspapers Are Not The Only Source Of Journalism

from the a-little-reminder dept

The NY Times has an interesting article looking at the concept of endowed newspapers, with the idea being that, if you could build an endowment for a newspaper, such that it doesn't need to focus on a business model, it would get us past this whole "newspapers are failing" issue. The idea is that they would be set up like universities, as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and with a large enough endowment, they wouldn't have to worry about business models anymore. As the article notes, a newspaper like the NY Times could survive on a $5 billion endowment -- which really isn't that much money. Of course, this isn't a new idea at all, and has been talked about for over a century, with plenty of critics pointing out why it would never work all that well.

That said, even if the idea has some merit, what bothers me about the NY Times piece is that it seems to fall back on the assumption that journalism equals newspapers. It starts off with the Jefferson quote: "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter" and proceeds to point out that we may be heading towards the former. Of course, that's not accurate. What Jefferson really meant was not "newspapers" but journalism. He used the term newspapers because that was the only outlet for journalists of the time. However, these days, that's no longer true. There are many different media types where journalists exist -- from newspapers to radio to television to the internet. So, the crisis in newspapers is not a crisis in journalism, and acting as if it is distorts the debate.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 12:27am

    I remember when I was a kid, and I used to travel with my mom's aunt and uncle in the summertime. In order to cross this one river down in Arkansas, we had to take a ferry across. Eventually a bridge was built and the ferry was no longer needed. This is the problem that newspapers and the RIAA face today, they've acted as ferrymen for so long that they assumed their "ferries" were the only way to move their respective "vehicles" across the "river". Except that people have started building bridges, and their "ferries" are no longer the only, or even most efficient, method for movement anymore.

     

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  2.  
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    Ben Cooley, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 12:32am

    Blogs do not equal actual jouornalism

    It's not that newspapers equal journalism. It's all about journalists that are paid to produce a product that is held to an established standard of professionalism and trustworthiness. They were paid by well known entities with reputations to protect, which could be held responsible for the accuracy and quality of the journalism of their "employees" (individuals paid a portion of the profit of the enterprise in order to produce a marketable product).

    What we have right now is not a tenable system. The paid journalists report the news in failing old-media print journals. But to compete with the existing glut of 'for-free' news on-line, they are forced to publish their product for free as well, which is then regularly used as link target material by the blogosphere. But this can't last as the shrinking profits from the older print media that is actually subsidizing the online distribution of free high quality content shrinks. Ultimately the sources of free quality content, along with the old-fashioned print journals they are associated with, will disappear (claims to the existence of fantastical means of monetizing "free content" to the contrary).

    Ultimately the system will self balance. The distribution of free high quality content online will ultimately bankrupt (or threaten to bankrupt) enough of the sources of that high quality content that the market market forces will lead to some form of profitable business model.

    What's certain is that the current glut of high quality free journalism is about to come to an end.

     

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  3.  
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    Ben Cooley, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 12:40am

    "Journalism"

    Yeah, I know how it's spelled. I guess blog comments do not equal actual journalism either.

     

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  4.  
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    John Doe, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 4:16am

    I wonder how much donation it would take to ensure only positive things are said about you in the newspaper?

    Funny to how they quote Jefferson when it benefits them. Jefferson also said "A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference." Included in that Bill of Rights is the right to keep and bear arms yet the liberal press is always trying to get that one taken away.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 4:18am

    Re:

    It gets even better than that; check out these quotes:

    "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."

    "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

    "For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security."

    So why does the press always imply that the Constitution is open for "interpretation"? These statements are very clear.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 4:25am

    I think I could get by on a $5 million dollar endowment.

     

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  7.  
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    Twinrova, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 4:31am

    I want to go next on your time machine!

    "What Jefferson really meant was not 'newspapers' but journalism."
    You must have jumped in your magical time machine and asked Jefferson what he meant by "newspapers" in his quote, because for Techdirt to say it's about journalism means this time travel had to have been done.

    Because most historians, people with reading comprehensions, and the government party to which Jefferson addressed with the quote, all know the quote was directed at freedom of the press, and not specifically newspapers or journalists.

    To think otherwise, especially in regard to a dying business model, is ignorant and, quite frankly, pathetic.

     

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  8.  
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    John Doe, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 5:08am

    Re: I want to go next on your time machine!

    At the risk of being a Mike defender, how exactly can you deride Mike for putting words in Jefferson's mouth and then you do the same? Are you not splitting hairs here between journalism and free press?

     

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  9.  
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    Xanthir, FCD, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 5:13am

    Re: I want to go next on your time machine!

    "What Jefferson really meant was not 'newspapers' but journalism."
    You must have jumped in your magical time machine and asked Jefferson what he meant by "newspapers" in his quote, because for Techdirt to say it's about journalism means this time travel had to have been done.

    Because most historians, people with reading comprehensions, and the government party to which Jefferson addressed with the quote, all know the quote was directed at freedom of the press, and not specifically newspapers or journalists.

    To think otherwise, especially in regard to a dying business model, is ignorant and, quite frankly, pathetic.

    That, um, is the same thing, at least in the context that Mike used it.

    Did *you* perhaps fail reading comprehension, and think that Mike was defending the newspaper business model or something?

     

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  10.  
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    Ima Fish, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 5:49am

    "it would get us past this whole "newspapers are failing" issue"

    We really should get past this issue, because the issue is over. Newspapers are the walking dead.

    Centuries ago having printing presses set up in large population areas to print out news on paper was the most efficient means of getting news to the people.

    Sure, they started running news between movies at theaters. Then on radio and then on TV. But because you could pack so much more in depth news in a newspaper, they survived.

    Then the internet came. Now having numerous printing facilities spread around the country printing essentially the same stories with some local input is no longer the most efficient means of getting news to the people.

    In fact, the entire process of killing trees, hauling trees, turning the trees into paper, delivering the paper to the presses, printing words on the paper, and then delivering those papers via trucks and cars to individuals, is entirely inefficient.

    Now with the internet in place, for the vast majority of people the internet is the most efficient place to get news. And you don't have to get it from your local newspaper's website, you can get it from anywhere on earth. Heck, if some astronaut is blogging in space, you can get it directly from space too!

    And with portable devices such as the iPhone or netbooks, you can read the news nearly anywhere. Which was the best remaining asset the newspaper had.

    The issue is not whether newspapers are dead. The issue should really be whether corporate based journalism is dead. I certainly hope so.

     

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  11.  
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    Nemesis, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 6:02am

    Re: Blogs do not equal actual jouornalism

    "...established standard of professionalism and trustworthiness" and "...responsible for the accuracy and quality..." are quite intewresting, if you talking about their editorials (since editorials are OPINION, one can only disagree with them.) All too many times, when I read a NEWS paper, I find that I am reading editorials on pages not labeled as such. Perhaps we, the people, are tiring of this. At least most blogs are honest about their point of view. We, the people, can and should learn how to evaluate what we read and not rely on organizations the try to shape news into their point-of-view.

     

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  12.  
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    Mike M., Jan 30th, 2009 @ 6:07am

    Re: Militia, Bearing Arms

    To all those who would like the opportunity to "keep and bear arms", I would first suggest that you sign up for military duty. Either the Reserves (as we have up here in Canada) or whatever form of part-time service is appropriate in the US.

    The purpose of "bearing arms" was never to defend yourselves willy-nilly against anyone, and it was not simply a question of owning a firearm without cause. Read the second quote you gave, and focus on the last part:

    "... as a LAST RESORT, to protect themselves against TYRANNY in government."

    I know that many people complain online about the fact that the government doesn't represent their interests, or provide them with the lifestyle to which they feel entitled, but I would think, personally, that the intent was more along the lines of the tyranny that happens in the Middle East, and defending yourself against a government that is outright trying to control every aspect of your life, through religion, violence and control.

     

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  13.  
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    Jonathan Stark, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 6:39am

    Newspaper are not dead

    Remember when T.V. killed radio? Yeah, me neither. Newspapers aren't going anywhere. Eventually, they will go back to focusing on the one thing that no one can beat them at: local news. Long post on the topic here.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 7:18am

    Re: Re: Militia, Bearing Arms

    At this point the people have no hope of defending themselves against the government. They control the military and the police, and we the people are disorganized, untrained, and unarmed. We lost this fight a long time ago.

     

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  15.  
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    Mojo Bone, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 7:24am

    RE:posts #2 & 3

    Not to worry, my 'editor's eye' interpreted that as a typo.
    What we have right now is not a tenable system. The paid journalists report the news in failing old-media print journals. But to compete with the existing glut of 'for-free' news on-line, they are forced to publish their product for free as well, which is then regularly used as link target material by the blogosphere. But this can't last as the shrinking profits from the older print media that is actually subsidizing the online distribution of free high quality content shrinks. Ultimately the sources of free quality content, along with the old-fashioned print journals they are associated with, will disappear (claims to the existence of fantastical means of monetizing "free content" to the contrary).

    Substitute the word "music" or "movies"for "news" and you could almost be describing the situation with digital entertainment as well. I'd prefer to be excited about the opportunity digital media provide for ensuring that monetization is perfectly accurate over forecasts of, "The sky is falling.", however.

     

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  16.  
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    Ima Fish, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 7:31am

    Re: Newspaper are not dead

    "Newspapers aren't going anywhere."

    You honestly believe that the entire process of killing trees, hauling trees, turning the trees into paper, delivering the paper to the presses, printing words on the paper, and then delivering those papers via trucks and cars to individuals, is an efficient, sustainable, and desirable system for delivering news?!

    I won't say that all newspapers will fold. There are still companies that manufacturer buggy whips. But the vast majority of papers will stop publishing on paper.

     

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  17.  
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    Twinrova, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re: I want to go next on your time machine!

    "Are you not splitting hairs here between journalism and free press?"
    No, I'm not. Press is a device, not a service.

     

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  18.  
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    Twinrova, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 9:43am

    Re: Re: I want to go next on your time machine!

    "Did *you* perhaps fail reading comprehension, and think that Mike was defending the newspaper business model or something?"
    I don't believe Mike is defending the business model at all. The quote was taken out of context by both parties who assumed "press" meant service, not device.

    Sorry, it just irked me, especially from TWO "press" services who clearly do not understand the quote, or for that matter, the very Constitution from which the word press was derived.

     

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  19.  
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    Xiera, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 10:06am

    Re: Blogs do not equal actual jouornalism

    Your post suggests that the only kind of journalism other than newspapers is online content. Television and, to a lesser degree, radio also qualify as journalism.

     

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  20.  
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    Xiera, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: Re: I want to go next on your time machine!

    In that case, I would claim you are wrong. I think Jefferson meant the service, not the device. I'm sure you're away that "the press" is the news media, not just some machine that prints characters on paper.

     

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  21.  
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    Xiera, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I want to go next on your time machine!

    *aware not away

     

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  22.  
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    Xiera, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 10:23am

    Re: Re: Newspaper are not dead

    Both Jonathan and Ima (you totally asked for it) are partially right. Newspaper companies *can* and, in many cases, will persist for the very reason that Jonathan mentioned -- local news.

    But they cannot and will not persist in the same capacity the exist in today. The reason for this is simple -- lack of revenue. It no longer makes sense to go through the expensive process of creating newspaper (detailed by Ima) as society is moving increasingly away from paper documents.

    The smart newspaper companies will move their content online. The less smart, but still not completely brainless, newspaper companies will print less frequent and more streamlined papers. And the less than less smart newspaper companies will continue their current business models where they have a fixed expense for each customer that limits their profits.

    We've already seen this kind of thing start happening. Newspapers started pairing with radio stations, newspapers and radio stations started pairing with local television stations, the next logical step is for newspapers, radio stations, and television stations to start pairing with online news content sources (which, guess what, has already started). I would expect this trend to continue if the newspaper companies want to survive.

     

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  23.  
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    Ima Fish, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 11:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Newspaper are not dead

    "The smart newspaper companies will move their content online."

    Good point. My local paper has a fantastic online counterpart. It's all local news and is updated constantly. As an example, the courthouse where I work had a high-profile trial going on and reading the constant updates made me feel like we were being stalked. And also, quite interestingly, the online edition is less "newspaperly" in that it prints more rumors and weird stuff. I check it about as often as I check Digg.

    However, I have no idea how they're going to make money from it since the news is very local and we live in the rust belt where there are not many business to buy advertisements.

     

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  24.  
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    Dan, Jan 30th, 2009 @ 11:11pm

    OR how about 1,000,000 $5K endowments for struggling bloggers to help break the stranglehold by big media. That seems so much more democratic.

     

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  25.  
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    jonathanstark, Feb 4th, 2009 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re: Newspaper are not dead

    No, I am not saying that newspapers will continue to publish on physical paper. I am saying that they are in a unique position to deliver unique, relevant, informed content related to their community. Whether the medium is paper or pixels is irrelevant.

     

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