Journalist Still Thinks Newspapers Should Collude To Stop Giving Away Free Content

from the learn-some-economics dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about how San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Lazarus had a ridiculous set of proposals for "saving" the newspaper industry. He wanted all newspapers to collude together and agree to stop putting content online for free and, in addition, to sue anyone who linked to the newspaper sites without paying a licensing fee. To appease him, we refused to even link to his column. Since then, the Chronicle has parted ways with Lazarus, who has made his way south to the LA Times, where he's basically written the same column (yeah, this time we'll link -- let's see if he sues). His argument is basically: "I have no idea what a good business model for the industry is, so why not use my really, really bad one!" He uses some high school students as a device in the column, basically mocking them for not wanting to pay for news online. He goes on to complain that "blogs" will somehow destroy newspapers by publishing so much junk that it "will be too blurry to discern" good journalism from junk. This is a common line from folks who think that if it's in a newspaper, it must be "good journalism" and if it's on a blog, it must be junk. There are so many examples of why that's wrong, it's not even worth pointing out how silly a statement that is (and the fact that it's published in a newspaper pretty much disproves the point anyway). There is plenty of good journalism found in both newspapers and on blogs -- just as there is plenty of junk found on both. And saying that people can't tell the difference is suggesting that your audience is really dumb. Next thing you know, Lazarus will sign up in support of the idea that bloggers should be credentialed.

But the bigger point is that Lazarus insists that since digital advertising revenue remains a small percentage of newspaper revenue, it means that it can't support a newsroom. This is clueless on a number of different points. First, it's using a snapshot view of a very dynamic world. Digital revenues are growing at a rapid clip, as there are both more readers and more advertisers buying online ads. Compare that to the pace (and direction) of growth for traditional newspaper revenue... and suddenly the digital realm doesn't look so bad. Second, it assumes (incorrectly) that online ads are the sole source of revenue. As plenty of other newspapers are discovering, if you stop focusing so much on being "newspapers" and start realizing that what you deliver needs to change as the market has changed, you'll find that there are plenty of ways to afford to pay journalists -- and in some cases, they'll even be able to make significantly more than before. Of course, you'd expect that sort of analysis not to come from some junk blog, but from a "real" journalist. So why is it the other way?
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Filed Under: david lazarus, free content, newspapers

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  1. identicon
    Cynic, 27 Dec 2007 @ 4:19pm

    This whole thing impresses me as a hall of mirrors. The newspapers point to something and say "Look!" Then later they ask what someone thought after they "looked". Then they check with experts who "looked" at a lot of things. If enough people look and make decisions then the newspapers can say "look, there's a pattern!" So they are ticked off that we say "look, the newspaper said something"?

    Personally it seems to me the only aggrieved parties are the people who are actually doing things. Heck, without people doing things where would all the journalists, experts and bloggers be. Maybe the folks who do stuff should stop as a dramatic demonstration of how the whole rest of the information food chain depends on them. Oh, wait...then the reports would just say "look, they stopped doing stuff!"

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