If Newspapers Had Never Offered Free News Online… They Would Still Be Failing
from the besides,-they-tried-that dept
Mathew Ingram points us to a column by yet another “old school journalist,” Leonard Pitts Jr., lamenting the trouble that newspapers are having today, which once again includes the two most popular ridiculous “tropes” of old school journalists. First, the claim that people think that professional journalists will just be replaced by citizen journalists. That’s misleading. People think that citizen journalists can help create better journalism, but I don’t know anyone who thinks that you get rid of all professional journalists. Pitts speaks eloquently about how journalists like himself parachute into dangerous areas and report on what’s going on there — and he suggests no citizen journalists could possibly do that. That’s kind of insulting to all of the people who already are in those places. And, again, no one says that professional journalists go away. It’s just that the role of a journalist changes somewhat.
But the bigger, more ridiculous claim, is the one that newspapers never should have posted free content online:
Rather, the state of daily newspaper journalism only proves English majors should not be allowed to make business decisions. Only English majors could give their product away (i.e., online), then be surprised to see revenues decline.
We’ve debunked this ridiculous trope in the past. Lots (tons, in fact) of newspapers did try to charge online. And you know what happened? Their revenue declined. Because no one signed up. Those early experiments were all failures. People just started going elsewhere for news anyway. And the real issue, of course, is that it wasn’t “the news” that was the newspapers’ true business in the first place: it was bringing together a local community (around the news) and then selling the attention of that community to advertisers.
But the market changed. Craigslist showed that you didn’t need a newspaper (or to pay high prices) to do “classifieds.” The web created other types of communities as well, such as communities of interests, rather than communities of location, like newspapers. But (for the most part) newspaper industry folks still refuse to understand this. They think that they’re in the “business of news” and so they think that they need to get people to pay for news. And the end result is fewer people in their audience — meaning a smaller community and much less interest in anyone paying to get the attention of that community.
The failure isn’t the failure to charge. It was the failure to innovate and to recognize that they needed to be building stronger communities. And, of course, one way to do that would be to… empower citizens to be journalists as well. But apparently that’s not allowed in the mindset of old school journalists either.