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.

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Comments on “If Newspapers Went Offline For A Week… People Might Realize They're Fine Without Them”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Goodbye Gannett

He’s probably upset a person of an inferior race became president of the united states and weeps into his American flag every night screaming against the injustice of it all. But hey, democrats were pissing left and right when Bush got relected but the republicans are taking their failure to get their choice man up there worse than the democrats did.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Obama fiasco

I’ve lost count, but here are a few gaffs that would have been non-stop front-page news if done by a Republican:

1) Willful violation of the Logan Act (a felony).
2) Stumbling through the oath of office.
3) Telling everybody else they need to conserve energy, then turning the White House thermostats up so that he can be comfortable.
4) Implying that any dissent is unpatriotic.

Now, he’s pushing the idea that the Porkulous Bill (or Generational Theft Act) is going to ‘stimulate’ the economy. It will do no such thing, and his attempts to emulate FDR will get the same results, namely, turning a recession into a global financial meltdown.

http://www.chl-tx.com BHO has given *my* business a tremendous boost!

Reason says:

Re: Re: Re: Obama fiasco

Perhaps you should elaborate, if you actually have any facts to back up this nonsense.

1. When did Obama violate the Logan Act? Why are you the only person making this absurd claim? Or is it just you and your buddy, the new leader of the Repuglican Party, Rush?

2. If you weren’t so stuck on revisionist history, you’ll recall that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court delivered the oath incorrectly, which was, by all accounts (except yours, of course), the source of the problem.

3. Please provide proof. In fact, please provide proof of any of this nonsense.

4. That is a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook, the same shit they’ve tried since 9/11. Anyone who disagreed with the Bushits were “unpatriotic.” When did you dream that the Obama administration did this?

And to sum up, you’re not only live in a reality distortion field, you actively distort reality yourself. And on top of that, you can predict the future, by relying on your revisionist history!

Dude, why don’t you just admit it: You’re a racist, plain and simple. Keep blindly following Rush, and you’ll soon eliminate yourself from any meaningful political conversations, as your party goes the way of the dodo. Most of us, with actual functioning brain cells, aren’t buying this tripe any longer.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Obama fiasco

1) By negotiating with Iraqi leaders to delay actions that might favor Republican chances prior to the November election. Oh, BTW, Rush Limbaugh is not, nor has he ever been, the leader of the Republican Party, except in the minds of Libtards.
2) You might think that the incoming president could memorize a short oath. But unfortunately, the teleprompter wasn’t available.
3) No proof is sufficient for a Libtard, due to confirmation bias. Fearless Leader is given a pass on absolutely anything he does.
4) The Libtard turning a blind eye to Fearless Leader yet again. Don’t you know that if you believe in the COTUS, you might be a terrorist?
5) The race card from a Libtard. Whenever Obama manages to completely screw up, anyone who dares speak out against him will be subject to the last-ditch Libtard cry: RAAAAAAAAAACIST!!!!!!!

Interesting, and comically ironic that you would try to label me as revisionist. And, to correct another of your incorrect assumptions, I’m not a Republican. Republicans have become Liberal Lite, which is the main reason they lost the last election.


Esahc (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Obama fiasco

Will you please explain how he violated the Logan Act:

§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

1 Stat. 613, January 30, 1799, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 953 (2004).

Zhanate says:

News that people want

What people really want is news that reflects their own point of view, not the facts. and that’s why places like Huffington Post are so popular. They don’t ask readers to deal with the idea that their own point of view isn’t alway in line with the facts. Newpapers have gone downhill for this reason. Traditional journalism didn’t attempt to be impartial either. It was one of the ways papers distinguished themselves — they alighned themselves with one of the political parties in town. Modern journalists don’t like to think about this, but if they thought when they read the letters to the editor, this would become very clear. Modern journalists, who try so hard to be impartial, please no one.

Twinrova says:

Read. Beat Dead Horse. Repeat.

Damn it! Try as I might, I couldn’t resist skimming this dead horse topic, but luckily, I didn’t.

Since Techdirt refuses to acknowledge the bigger problem here, I’ll direct my reply to “the other journalist” who suggested going offline for a week.

Dear “Other Journalist”,
While your intentions of going down for a week may seem like a good idea, it’s not. What you’ll do, instead, is alienate your potential customers as they’ll no longer trust your business given the childish attitude and punishing them for no good reason.

However, you did bring up something interesting, which I believe you should investigate further.

Right now, the business you’re in is suffering because there are just too many news agencies vying for my dollar. The idea of banding together isn’t a bad one, if, and only if, the final business model is adjusted to reflect the wants of the readers, and not corporate expectation of profits (which will come when the wants are filled).

Techdirt’s Mike does make a good argument in which newspapers should focus on the community. I agree with this. So, instead of banding together to limit the news, why not band together and offer new incentives to bring to the market.

I’ve told Mike many times the issue is that with so many outlets, it’s damn near impossible for every one of them to focus on the community. Instead, it seems banding together is the best way to go.

The comment about online sites taking away from newspapers is a poor excuse to make. There are few of these sites, and this is where my point lies: By banding together, and creating a new site, the industry can now focus on competing with these few online sites while implementing new ideas.

Don’t dismiss the online audience as you’ve been doing. That’s an incredibly poor business decision to make. Online audiences are huge, and marketing a product to get them to come to your site is where you need to focus.

From there, multiple opportunities arise to create profitable business solutions. Some will fail, others will have success. But sitting idly by and whining will get you nowhere and push you further into extinction.

So, what will you do next? I’m sure readers would like to know as well.


TW Burger (profile) says:

Re: Read. Beat Dead Horse. Repeat.

Well said. I canceled my subscriptions to national and regional newspapers years ago due to the biased, puerile, reactionary, and vacuous content. It is as if not a single newspaper reporter puts any effort into investigating a story. Any articles I had personal or technical knowledge of were obviously mostly inaccurate or skewed to a particular viewpoint so I assume most articles are and usually find out later that this assumption is true.

I only read the community papers. These papers do not attempt to be solely entertaining and provide specific knowledge of local events.

mobiGeek says:

Re: get a life???

If blindless attacking of “not my guy” isn’t what you are in to, then what is it you mean by “(R)epublican”?

(Note: I say the same for those who state that they are “(D)emocrats”).

Can you honestly say that there is a stable platform on which the party you tout stands? If so, what is it? What was it last month? What will it be tomorrow?

Anonymous Coward says:

Only after local newspapers are gone and local city councils, county boards and school boards, local law enforcement etc. run rough shod over the ignorant masses, will they realize what they’ve lost. Sucking up the shallow infotainment that is local television news while trashing the local paper to sound cool or more intelligent is the fast lane to the loss of democracy. Anytime you hear a make-up-caked newsreader say “we have learned” you can bet some poor, underpaid and over-stressed newspaper reporter did the work. Once newspapers are gone, the bloggers will have nothing to talk about and tv will have nothing to read. Hell, local tv news won’t be around much longer anyway, the networks will trash the local affiliates and go straight to cable soon. Drop a few quarters in the box and perform your civic duty to make sure you know what your local government is up to for Christ’s sake.

Jessica says:

If newspaper journalists weren’t busy writing “fluff” pieces because readers have said they want to read “good” news, they might have more time to work on investigative pieces that actually affect your life.
If you lose the pure journalist, you lose the watchdog on the government and big corporations. You lose the objectiveness. Yes, the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report are popular. But they are only popular because people don’t want to hear something they disagree with.
You call certain publications biased. I’m not going to say they aren’t. However, at least they make an effort to get the other points-of-view. They don’t ignore facts that don’t support what they want the story to be about.

Paul says:

The reader of a newspaper is their product, not their customer. They sell their product (readers) to advertisers. But now, their product is leaving in droves. Readers don’t want to wait until the next day to read the news, and a hundred other reasons.

Seems they now they want to turn their (dwindling) product into customers. Good luck with.

There’s a reason the bottom of the barrel in college got journalism degrees. And this is the result.

Anonymous Coward says:

Heh, don’t like Obama? You’re a racist. Don’t like Bush? You’re unpatriotic. Same game, different face, although I must say it’s nice to have President that can speak in complete sentences.

Here’s a quote from Thomas Jefferson in 1802-
‘I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.’

Here’s some more:

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

“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.”

“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Anonymous Coward says:

My subscription to the local paper got cut off several years ago while I was out of town on a business trip. I only got one renewal notice before that happened. I was pretty irritated by them just stopping delivery so I never got around to re-starting it. That was eight years ago and I haven’t taken the paper since. And I don’t miss it.

Mark Blafkin (profile) says:

Enough Shooting Fish in a Barrel, Start Teaching them to Swim


Sorry for the tortured metaphor, but this article (and the series that have preceded it) really got me thinking. It’s easy to poke holes in the anti-Web diatribes of journalist-luddites and attack their sillier proposals, but what is the point? It’s not like it changes the fact that existing business models for local reporting are no longer tenable.

Yet, it seems every dumb proposal from journalists is followed by some vague, ideological retort about the need for newspapers to just give up the ghost of their failed business models and realize that “Free is the answer” or “Community building” will solve all their ills.

For all our talk about wanting to allow for business model competition and evolution, it always seems to translate into “free content” is the ONLY model.

Yet, we really don’t have a lot of evidence that this model is even viable long term. For all the hype around Twitter and Facebook, neither currently has a viable longterm business strategy (Other than Google, who in the Web2.0 world has one? Is this hybrid Gartner/IDC thing TechDirt is doing working?). At the same time, Bloomberg is one of the bright spots in the media world and it charges a ton for access to their information…keeping most of it locked away behind proprietary walls.

Sure free content distribution models and community-building can be part the solution for some media companies, but we should try to limit our knee-jerk responses to trash any business model that isn’t solely-based on those Web2.0 tenets. The fact that VC (or foundation) funded companies are able to grab eyeballs in the near-term, doesn’t mean they can translate them into a long-term sustainable business.

It’s time to stop pretending like we in the Internet community have all the answers to the ills of the content industry. With venture capital drying up and the credit crunch limiting other exit strategies, we’re seeing that for all our pontificating…we’re often just as clueless as they are.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Enough Shooting Fish in a Barrel, Start Teaching them to Swim

Sorry for the tortured metaphor, but this article (and the series that have preceded it) really got me thinking. It’s easy to poke holes in the anti-Web diatribes of journalist-luddites and attack their sillier proposals, but what is the point? It’s not like it changes the fact that existing business models for local reporting are no longer tenable.

I find it reasonable to try to stop people from wasting time, money and effort on bad business models.

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