Newspaper Association Insists That Only Newspapers Can Do Real Reporting

from the say-what-now? dept

An anonymous employee of a decent sized newspaper forwarded me a letter sent out to employees by John Sturm, the head of the Newspaper Assocation of America called The Reality About Newspapers. It's embedded below:

It lists out a series of 7 "myths" about newspapers, followed by the reality. The first 6 myths are actually good points that we absolutely agree with. Basically, it says the newspaper business really isn't that bad. A lot of people still read the newspaper and most newspapers are quite profitable on an operating basis. Indeed, we've pointed that out in the past. The real problem has mainly been with really poor decisions by some in management to take out huge loans. It's the debt load that's killing so many newspapers -- and it's not helped by the fact that newspaper readership is declining and advertisers have a lot more options than in the past.

However, the 7th myth and reality is just ridiculous:
Myth: If newspapers close, you will still be able to get news from other sources.

Reality: Newspapers make a larger investment in journalism than any other medium. Most of the information you read from "aggregators" and other media originated with newspapers. No amount of effort from local bloggers, non-profit news entities or TV news sources could match the depth and breadth of newspaper-produced content.
The problem is that his "myth" is a reality and his "reality" is a fiction. It is true that today newspapers invest more in journalism, but the rest of his "reality" isn't reality at all. There is simply no reason (nor does he provide one) why other publications can't fill the gap. And, note (carefully) his metric: it's the amount invested in journalism. This is like when movie industry guys say "but how do we keep making $200 million movies." You should never trust anyone who tries to base output on the amount invested. Perhaps the answer is to invest smarter in journalism, rather than investing more.

That said, I should make a separate point that's important: I'm still an optimist and a believer that newspapers will figure this out. A lot of people falsely seem to assume I think all newspapers must or should die. I don't think that at all. I received a few emails from people who were surprised about my comments in a Guardian article about why I think newspapers will figure all this out. But, they won't do it if they continue to think that they have some sort of special quality that makes it impossible for other media to report the news.

Filed Under: journalism, newspaper association, newspapers

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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 2 Jun 2009 @ 12:38am


    Can you or anyone else provide one good reason why other publications will fill the gap?

    Because there's clear demand. And where there's demand, there's incentive to fill that demand. We're seeing new journalism startups practically everyday. Clearly there are lots of folks looking to fill that void.

    News gathering is a painstaking and expensive business, something that requires upfront investment. Who would want to engage in that sort of activity when the returns are not going to justify the investment?

    Bad assumption. The returns WILL justify the investment. Easily.

    When no one wants to read news on dead trees, online advertising revenue just doesnt' come anywhere close to print,

    Yet. And, more importantly, you seem to ignore the cost side of the equation.

    reporters and editors don't come is a news company to stay in business? That being the situation, who will be foolish enough to step in?

    As I said, we're seeing new startups in the space on a near daily basis. Clearly, plenty of folks are willing to step up. Just look around.

    But there is a minimum sum that has to be invested. $200 m may be too high for a movie, but that doesn't mean you can make a movie for 20 m. Likewise, there is a cost to producing news.

    Did anyone say otherwise?!?

    Yeah, Mike. It's so simple, I wonder why newspaper moguls haven't figured it out, yet.

    Because most don't know what business they're really in. A few do, though. And we're seeing more successes every day.

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