If Newspapers Went Offline For A Week… People Might Realize They're Fine Without Them
from the it's-hard-to-keep-up dept
Honestly, it’s getting difficult to keep up with the massive amount of stories every day from old school journalists — often with no business or economics background — either complaining about how things used to be or somehow wishing they could put in place solutions to bring that world back again. It’s gone. We’ll start with a piece by James Warren in The Atlantic, which you would hope would be a bit more intellectual — but instead makes the same old errors. Warren seems to imply that investigative journalism can only be done by newspaper reporters — apparently not realizing that the investigative reporting he’s talking about is a very new concept, rather than true “traditional journalism.” Also, in trashing online sites, he seems to totally miss why sites like the Huffington Post enjoy such a large community. He blames it on their combination of stiffing writers (including himself) and simply building off the works of those wonderful newspaper reporters.
But that’s obviously ridiculous. If online sites were only “winning” the traffic battle because they were ripping off others’ content, then that would be easy to fix: those very same newspaper sites should do the same damn thing. Hell, it should work better, since they’d have the original content. The problem is that it’s not the reporting that’s attracting the community. It’s the community. For way too long, the newspapers have ignored or diminished the role of the community. They were forgetting that, in the end, it really is the community that’s their “product.” They sell the attention of that community. But, for years, they had little to no competition in doing so. That meant they could basically ignore serving the community… and they did. Now that there are sites that actually do serve the community, people prefer going to them than the sites that treated the “community” like lower class riffraff to be kept away. Funny how that works.
Warren also gets quite mixed up in pretending that when newspapers put content for free online, they get nothing back for it. He goes on for a few paragraphs about the disaster of giving away content “for free” (gasp!) even making a stupid joke that maybe the NY Times’ columnists should work for free if they want their work distributed for free. Apparently Warren (like so many others) seems to be missing the point again. News organizations sell readers’ attention. You don’t get that attention if you don’t get the readers. And you don’t get readers by charging for content. So, when newspapers give away content for “free” — it’s not for “nothing” — it’s because it’s supposed to be a part of a larger business model. The problem is that the newspapers have fallen down on that end of the business model. But the answer isn’t making it more difficult to get more community attention. That’s like purposely burning your most valuable asset.
Along those same lines, Romenesko points us to a painfully bad idea from another journalist: getting all big newspapers, and the Associated Press, to collude with each other to stop publishing any news online for a week. The idea, of course, is that suddenly the rest of the online world will recognize what they’re “missing” without these big newspapers. Of course, that (once again, incorrectly) assumes that journalism only comes from newspapers (aren’t these big time journalists supposed to research this stuff before publishing such obviously wrong things?). If all the big newspapers don’t publish online for a week, what they may actually discover is that people get on just fine without them.
Why? Because the demand for good content is still there, and someone smarter than these journalists will supply it. Imagine if you’re a young news organization entrepreneur, and all of the biggest names in the market have just decided to take themselves out of the competition for a week. Talk about a huge market opportunity. So, sure, let the dinosaurs hide for a week (and watch out for antitrust complaints). The journalists who think this is a win-win idea, may quickly discover that all it really shows people is how little the old model is needed. There’s plenty of room for good journalism to thrive. It just might not involve newsprint.