Perhaps It's Time To Make Newspapers More Efficient...

from the less-redundancy-please dept

In going through the regular complaints from newspaper folks about the supposed (but not really) "death" of newspapers, we've criticized the industry for almost never suggesting ways to actually improve the product -- only ways to limit the online competition. However, there's a second point that's worth exploring as well: they rarely look at ways to make their own jobs more efficient. We've questioned the wisdom of massive redundancy in foreign bureaus among newspapers, and Ana Marie Cox is similarly wondering about what a waste the White House Press corp. is these days. As she notes, they sit around "waiting to be told things." The White House press corp. never seems to break any stories, other than the ones just handed to them, and then you have all of the press corp. simply parroting the same talking points from the White House. That's not needed, nor efficient. At some point, newspapers will realize that there are more efficient ways of covering the news rather than stationing yet another reporter in a bureau where there are already a ton of stenographers who can do the same thing. That's neither efficient nor is it adding value.
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Filed Under: journalism, newspapers, redundancy, white house bureau


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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 21 Apr 2009 @ 7:33pm

    Misdirection

    The reason that, all of a sudden, you're hearing about the business model problems is that the big papers have been saddled with debt due to their aquisition (Yeah, you can do that. I don't quite get it either.) It's not that they can't limp along doing the same half-assed job, it's that they sold the other half of their ass to finance the company that bought them.

    But in the end (sorry,) filesharing is to blame. Or whatever is the flavor this week.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2009 @ 10:52pm

    It's funny to encourage the newspapers to become more efficient or get better business models, because it's really a hopeless cause. The way nearly all newspapers will get more efficient is to die. The new business model for most newspapers will be no business model, because they're going to die.

    The problem is that there's simply no need for a separate organization to produce news for different cities or geographic regions.

    What is a newspaper anyway? A modern newspaper probably gets its national or international stories from a wire service like the AP, in which it may be a material participant. It then creates with stories relevant to its particular home city or locale. It aggregates all that content together, surrounds all that with targeted ads, and then prints it and (usually) sells it.

    The problem for newspapers is that, with the exception of the news-gathering function, Google could easily replace every function there tomorrow, and do it better than the newspapers do.

    Why do I need a local paper in Seattle or Kansas City, when Google can provide me a "custom" newspaper that is not just targeted to my local city, but targeted to me personally? I could get a morning paper on the Internet tailored to my personal preferences: heavy on tech and entertainment, moderate on Op-Ed and national news, and add my local stories in there while you're at it.

    Google can also target the ads far better than any newspaper could. They don't just know where I live, they know who I am personally. They read my Gmail. They watch me search the Web.

    How many sites now do I need providing a "newspaper?" Half a dozen? Three? One? There are something like 700-1400 newspapers in the U.S., depending on how you count them. What better business model or more efficient mode of operation is going to sustain anywhere NEAR that number? The answer is: there simply is no answer.

    No matter how well the Podunk Times connects with its fans, or tries to add value in novel ways, a huge organization like Google will be able to do it bigger, better, faster, and likely cheaper (in the aggregate). Who has the bigger user community - Podunk Times or Google? Who is going to be able to afford to implement and experiment with new features? Who is going to be able to integrate across services?

    The funny thing to watch is that the newspapers are effectively paying Google to kill them, and Google is supporting it. Google made $100M a year on Google News without advertising on it at all - just funneling people from the News site to their other properties. Now Google is advertising on News search results, too.

    We don't really need 1400 copies of the same AP story online, but that's largely what we get, and Google News just makes that blisteringly apparent.

    A story that was popular today was President Obama signing the National Service Act. If I search on Google News for "National Service Act", I get a consolidated 732 results. The top one, which is the one I'm probably going to click on, happens to go to the Washington Post. Why? Nobody knows. Not even Google - it's a computer algorithm doing the picking, and it picked the Post today. Maybe it will pick the AP tomorrow, or the New York Times, or the Podunk Times. Today the Post is the big winner in the Google Traffic Lottery. The big winner in the "Earth Day" lottery right now is the San Francisco Chronicle and "Creative Loafing Tampa," whatever the hell that is.

    Assuming I even click through to the article after reading the summary, effectively all the traffic on that topic goes to 1 or 2 out of 731 news sources. Maybe those sites get enough traffic to pay for their infrastructure costs and the costs of gathering the news. Maybe they even make a profit. The other 730 sites are still paying for the news but getting nothing out of it. Google has the sweetest deal of all: it doesn't pay for any news, and it's probably making as much or more money than all the papers it links to combined.

    The endgame here is that of those 700-1400 papers that exist today, some huge number (like maybe 95%) are dead papers walking. Google may see some serious competition in the aggregation business from Yahoo!, or maybe Microsoft, or even a crafty startup, but certainly not from any small paper, and likely not from any big one. Even if you wanted to compete, Google already has all the eyeballs. You're just starting a marathon, and they're on mile 24 already.

    So those 690-1300 papers that are going to go out of business, and they are going to stop paying for the news. If Google still wants some news to link to, my prediction is that they're going to have to start paying the AP and maybe many local "wire services" (consisting of one or two local reporters) directly, or through some aggregate of independent wire services.

    But I'd stop looking for ways to cut costs at the papers, and stop looking for new business models there. They're dead already. Please excuse their complaining. You wouldn't walk into an oncology ward and tell the people to stop looking glum, would you? They'll stop whining when they stop breathing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Griffin, 22 Apr 2009 @ 1:13am

    Cheerleaders, not reporters

    There's a good point to be made about "embedded" journos everywhere, from the White House of course but also to Wall Street as Jon Stewart so cleverly pointed out on the Daily Show. They add no value, they are worthless in the literal sense, so yes, why not chop them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Timothy Karr, 22 Apr 2009 @ 3:56am

    More reporters, not fewer

    The assumption you're making is that all reporters will cover a story in the same way. Sure newspapers need to be more efficient, and reporters need to strive to be more than stenographers (many are despite Ana Marie's glib assessment) . But this idea that it's redundant to have a number of different reporters covering a similar region or beat isn't valid. Each reporter comes to the task with his/her own perspectives, hunches and interests. The resulting diversity of news and analysis is the lifeblood of healthy democratic debate. Rather than trying to pare down journalism -- and depopulate press galleries -- to some efficient ideal, we should be exploring new models that allow for more reporters to get into the mix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      lulz, 22 Apr 2009 @ 4:19am

      Re: More reporters, not fewer

      The resulting diversity of news and analysis is the lifeblood of healthy democratic debate. Rather than trying to pare down journalism -- and depopulate press galleries -- to some efficient ideal, we should be exploring new models that allow for more reporters to get into the mix

      Except how do you expect to pay these new reporters? People don't want to pay for news anymore. Why pay for news when I can use iGoogle and see all of the news that I want? Granted, I'm paying in terms of looking at ads, but that's a small sacrifice.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2009 @ 7:16am

        Re: Re: More reporters, not fewer

        I can also go the zoo and listen to the parrots mimic those around them. Newspapers should be providing involved, in-depth reporting which adds value, not mimics all the other parrots.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2009 @ 7:18am

        Re: Re: More reporters, not fewer

        I can also go the zoo and listen to the parrots mimic those around them. Newspapers should be providing involved, in-depth reporting which adds value, not mimics all the other parrots.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike (profile), 22 Apr 2009 @ 10:36am

      Re: More reporters, not fewer

      The assumption you're making is that all reporters will cover a story in the same way.

      That's not an assumption, it's pretty much what happens.

      But this idea that it's redundant to have a number of different reporters covering a similar region or beat isn't valid. Each reporter comes to the task with his/her own perspectives, hunches and interests. The resulting diversity of news and analysis is the lifeblood of healthy democratic debate. Rather than trying to pare down journalism -- and depopulate press galleries -- to some efficient ideal, we should be exploring new models that allow for more reporters to get into the mix.

      We are. Check out all the participatory media sites that have turned everyone into reporters.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Timothy Karr, 22 Apr 2009 @ 4:38am

    Here's a start...

    Our testimony before Congress during yesterday's judiciary subcommittee hearing on the future of newspapers:

    http://www.freepress.net/files/Ben_Scott_Testimony_4_21_09.pdf

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zaven (profile), 22 Apr 2009 @ 5:57am

    Read this on Sunday

    Living in the DC area I regularly read the Washington Post (online). Their website sucks but nonetheless it's how I get my local news. The point of the article was things our nation should get rid of. I read this article on Sunday and at the end it asks readers to write in suggestions for other things our nation should get rid of. The top suggestions are supposed to get posted this Sunday in the paper.

    Anyways, I suggested that we toss out traditional print media and the notion that it's the only way we can actually get the news. Please go on there and recommend my idea. Maybe if I get enough they'll have to print it. My username if you can actually find your way to the comments section of the article is cougar65. It's on page 4.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2009 @ 7:05am

    Greed has "killed" the newspapers

    The critically acclaimed writer, former reporter, of The Wire on HBO tells it like it is.

    From the transcripts of the Bill Moyer show:

    "DAVID SIMON: Yes, we were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us? I would buy that if I wasn't in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet because I took the third buyout from the "Baltimore Sun." I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time-- those buyouts happened when the "Baltimore Sun" was earning 37 percent profits.

    You know, we now know this because it's in bankruptcy and the books are open. 37 percent profits. All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product-- that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.

    I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry.

    It-- it's even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. That-- it's analogous up to a point, except it's not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it's great for commentary and froth doesn't do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can't sustain that. The economic model can't sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn't-- they had contempt for their own product, these people. I mean, how do-"

    BILL MOYERS: The publishers. The owners.

    DAVID SIMON: Yes, how do you give it away for free? You know, but for 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. And they had-- they had actually marginalized themselves
    By the time the Internet had its way, I mean, they're down to 180 now. You don't cover the City of Baltimore and a region like Central Maryland with 180 people. You don't cover it well.”

    The transcripts:
    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04172009/transcript1.html

    Watch the video of the show.
    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04172009/watch.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      nasch, 22 Apr 2009 @ 8:41am

      Re: Greed has "killed" the newspapers

      Interesting, but it sounds like he's saying (among other things) that the newspapers would have been able to successfully charge for their content online, if only they'd had better content. And also that the internet does not and never will do primary reporting well. I don't agree with either of those, but he does have some other interesting comments.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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