Does The Mainstream Press 'Make' or 'Own' The News?
from the you-make-it,-we-bake-it dept
Part I – Who Makes The News
In his recent post, Mike discussed how there is a two-way street between blogs and newspapers, in which both become aware of stories from each other, and both borrow ideas. Techdirt believes this is part of the free market for ideas, and that nobody can own news, but we contrast this belief with the mainstream media moguls, who rant about how bloggers "poach" the news from the newspapers, offering naught in return. There is a trend of major publishers talking about how they "own" the news they "made", even when they themselves are just reporting on stories that occurred to other people. If anyone made the news, isn’t it the people involved? But news is really just facts, and nobody can "own" reality.
Continuing along the lines Mike laid out, let me introduce another group of people who often create a great deal of the content in mainstream news, but go under-credited in this debate: Analysts and Experts. When news breaks, or a general interest piece is planned for a mainstream publication, the reporters often seek the advice and opinions of industry analysts and experts. I know, because I’m often called regarding issues in the Telecom industry. The reporters will ask your expert opinion, some catchy quotes, and will integrate them into their story. However, oftentimes, I find the reporter is just starting the writing process (in ‘research’), and actually doesn’t know exactly what is interesting about the story. In these cases, I often spend half an hour on the phone with them explaining the background, the trends, the real scuttlebutt, the interesting aspects, who else they should talk to, what is "real" and what is spin (IMHO, of course), and who they can contact for an opposing view. Independent analysts also normally have less bias than a corporate PR rep. Often, I will refer the reporter to an article I’ve written or a Techdirt post on the subject. The eventual story occasionally follows my narrative quite closely.
Am I angry about this state of affairs? No. I think it’s great. All I ask is that the reporter put a quote or two from me in the piece. I get some marketing exposure, and I’m more than happy to help them build their story in return. This is one way reporters do their job, and it IS useful and productive. One would guess that lots of stories are made this way. There is no problem with this, but there is a problem when the news organizations start to think they "own" the story. What they did was add professional writing, fact checking, additional interviews, but most importantly provided distribution and an audience – all of which adds value, but none of which conveys ownership.
Allow me to triple repeat myself: I have no problem with this, and in fact seek out opportunities to work with reporters. This is a system that works…right up until the publishers act like – nay, claim – they are the sole creators of the news and that bloggers are mere parasites. In many cases, the bloggers are just the same experts going straight to the market with their ideas. As an analyst, I know I can go straight to market, but I’d rather go through the NYT, because that’s where the audience is.
Part II – Paywall Paradox:
So what happens when newspapers go behind a paywall, and reduce their readership by 90% to the 10% of people willing to pay? What if, at the same time, Huffington Post, Techdirt, and WiFiNetNews all offer their stuff for free? It’s not just the advertisers that will follow the audience: the experts want to go where the exposure is, where the readers are. If the mainstream media reduces their audience to a small fraction of payers, then analysts would have to revisit the cost/benefit of spending half an hour with mainstream reporters. If my contribution to their mainstream article is not indexed by Google, it does ME a lot less good. I want my quotes in the results when someone searches on "muni wifi" or "derek kerton". If they’re locked up, they don’t promote me, and I can’t link to them.
Result: many experts will prefer to work with the free publications, where the larger audience reads, and where their quote is indexed by Bing and linkable. Subsequently, paywall newspapers will find sources harder to find, and less willing to spend time. Big media reporters are accustomed to everyone eagerly returning their calls within 30 minutes. That kind of enthusiasm follows the readership, not the newspaper.
Next step: guess where the writers will want to work…