How The Telegraph Was Supposed To Kill The Newspaper Business

from the yeah,-so-that-didn't-happen dept

It seems like the old telegraph system is suddenly getting lots of new attention. A few weeks back, we wrote about some lessons from the old telegraph system that could be enlightening in the net neutrality debate. And, now, James Gattuso points us to a fun read over at The Economist about how people freaked out that the telegraph was going to kill newspapers. There was concern about how this device would lead to destroying quality reporting, getting people to focus more on the quick hits, and that there would be less reason to do "real" reporting -- leading to more annoying opinion writing, rather than actual journalism. Sound familiar? Of course, it didn't work out that way:
What lessons does the telegraph hold for newspapers now grappling with the internet? The telegraph was first seen as a threat to papers, but was then co-opted and turned to their advantage. "The telegraph helped contribute to the emergence of the modern newspaper," says Ford Risley, head of the journalism department at Penn State University. "People began to expect the latest news, and a newspaper could not succeed if it was not timely."

Today, papers are doing their best to co-opt the internet. They have launched online editions, set up blogs and encouraged dialogue with readers. Like the telegraph, the internet has changed the style of reporting and forced papers to be more timely and accurate, and politicians to be more consistent. Again there is talk of news being commoditised and of the need to focus on analysis and opinion, or on a narrow subject area. And again there are predictions of the death of the newspaper, with hand-wringing about the implications for democracy if fewer publications exist to challenge those in authority or expose wrongdoing.

The internet may kill newspapers; but it is not clear if that matters. For society, what matters is that people should have access to news, not that it should be delivered through any particular medium; and, for the consumer, the faster it travels, the better. The telegraph hastened the speed at which news was disseminated. So does the internet. Those in the news business use the new technology at every stage of newsgathering and distribution. A move to electronic distribution--through PCs, mobile phones and e-readers--has started. It seems likely only to accelerate.


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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 22nd, 2009 @ 6:54pm

    Big Difference

    The business model of the telegraph actually worked well with that of the newspapers (once they realized it.) The problem with the Internet is that everybody has (essentially) access to the telegraph.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 22nd, 2009 @ 7:00pm

      Re: Big Difference

      Everyone (essentially) may have access to the intergraph but there's still value in having access to people who are experienced journalists. And many newspapers and other media outlets could exploit these resources by making them available. They just would rather get the government to make blogging illegal.

       

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      The Anti-Mike, Dec 22nd, 2009 @ 9:40pm

      Re: Big Difference

      You hit it. Very few people had access to a telegraph, and if anything it helped to make the news available to more rural and distant newspapers in a more timely manner. But it maintained the status quo of the system, news --> newspaper --> reader.

      The internet changes that process, so trying to compare these two things is just meaningless, a very poor example. I suspect this is just one of Mike's nice little place holder posts that he will link to later to support some other concept he has going.

      Instead of "buggy whip, buggy whip, buggy whip" we are going to hear "telegraph hater" or something along those lines. It's sad, because it is just a very poor parallel that doesn't even hold up to cursory inspection.

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 22nd, 2009 @ 10:24pm

      Re: Big Difference

      The business model of the telegraph actually worked well with that of the newspapers (once they realized it.) The problem with the Internet is that everybody has (essentially) access to the telegraph.

      The point of the piece, though, is that it actually did change the way newspapers got their news, and how newspapers had to act in order to take advantage of the technology.

      The fact that few people had access to the telegraph is a difference in this scenario but a meaningless one once you think about it.

      The larger point: newspapers can adapt to new technologies does stand. It's just that they need to change. In the past their business was very different, and the telegraph changed it. The same is true in the internet era.

      No one claimed that the internet was *like* the telegraph. Just that it similarly freaked out newspapers until they realized they could adapt.

       

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        The Anti-Mike, Dec 22nd, 2009 @ 10:49pm

        Re: Re: Big Difference

        It is still a poor example because of what the end results are.

        Telegraph ended up with the newspapers getting more timely news, which in the end bolstered their product. It may have also cost some people their jobs along the way.

        Internet? The newspapers end up being cut out of the news business entirely. It short circuits the process, making it that a very small group of people can report pretty much all of the regional, national, and international news.

        It isn't changing the way newspapers get the raw material for the newspapers, it's the process of eliminating newspapers as a news source. It isn't at all comparable.

        Well, unless you comparison is "some people freak out over change", which is rather broad brush approach to trying to make a point. Perhaps we can revisit this when you link this story from someone else claiming that you have shown that newspapers are freaking out for nothing?

         

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          vicson5, Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 3:02am

          Re: Re: Re: Big Difference

          The real problem that newspapers have with the internet is that nobody is buying the printed paper, not that readers are getting their news directly from the source and bypassing any form of journalism. Somebody still has to write a report about an event taking place. The difference is that this report will then reach the audience via means of the web and not via means of the print. Another thing that might be happening is that reporters on the ground may be getting more competition from ordinary people who are reporting via micro-blogging services.

          I personally have found out for myself that with the advent of RSS I'm not tied any more to any particular news source. I have a start-page, where I have a couple of different feeds. I might end-up reading an article in the Times, an article here, and an article in some other site. So far all is free, but if each of them made me pay, it would be a real pain in the neck. However, I would as much be sorry about if they go out of business and I had to read some blogs to get my news. Not that I'm not going to get the news, but I'm going to regret not enjoying the literary style of professional reporters.

          So what is the best business model? In my opinion there ought be some form of consortium -- say 50 to a 100 sites -- that all join in, and that you can subscribe to for a nominal fee and have access to everything. A single-sign-on type of thing. That way the papers are going to get their money and the audience is going to get on-line news without suffering a loss of quality.

           

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            Joshua Jones, Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 4:30am

            Re: Re: Big Difference by vicson5

            I personally have found out for myself that with the advent of RSS I'm not tied any more to any particular news source.

            I definitely have to agree with this statement. I hardly even read the news anymore except for on my RSS reader on my phone. It's gotten to the point that, even if you have regular news on events or subjects that I care about, if your full articles aren't displayed with your RSS feed, I generally won't bother reading your site much.

            So what is the best business model? In my opinion there ought be some form of consortium -- say 50 to a 100 sites -- that all join in, and that you can subscribe to for a nominal fee and have access to everything. A single-sign-on type of thing. That way the papers are going to get their money and the audience is going to get on-line news without suffering a loss of quality.

            I think there would be too many problems with setting up a system like this.

            1) I'm honestly not sure you could ever get enough newspapers, or news sites in general, to sign on to a deal like this. I think if I were the head of some news site, I would see this sort of system as signing my own death warrant. Not only would I still not be able to compete with free sites, but in a fairly short period of time, my site would be viewed as being somehow tied to any other site within that network, regardless of the content or quality of my site.

            2) Getting people to sign up. You use the numbers 50-100 sites. I say that, given that each of those sites were among the 100-200 most frequently viewed news sites presently, then you may be able to convince people to sign up. But at this point, many people have become used to the idea of getting news how, when, and where they choose. Or to be more precise, getting the news how, when, and where it chooses them. Because as has been pointed out before, people don't go out and find the news anymore, the news finds them.

            Now, if the same system could allow the users to maybe specify certain "tags" they are particularly interested in, and the system could automatically generate a custom RSS address for that user, that would update with all of the news articles with those particular tags... Well, that changes what the user is paying for. They would no longer be paying for the news, but paying for a customizeable, convenient news aggregating service. Then maybe add onto that some free multi-platform smartphone Apps (thinking Android, iPhone, WebOS, RIM), that can also act as an entry point to view those same articles, change your tag settings, and have access to reading and posting comments.. Toss in integration with Twitter and Facebook as some of the icing, and you may have a winner on that front.

            3) Money. How much do you charge for a service like this? How do you convince people it's worth the money in the first place? And once that first member signs up, how do you split up their subscription? Would it be view-based or would it be a straight up percentage to all participants? I don't want to keep asking questions that I don't know the answer to, but if I were the head of a news site, these are the answers and assurances I would need. Because, as has been discussed here before, once a news site puts up a paywall and loses that reader-base, it's very hard to get it back.


            I had some other points I wanted to discuss, like whether there would be licensing fees charged by each news site, with yearly contracts that could potentially have those fees go up every year (we know that's not out of the question) that could potentially doom a project like this to failure.

            But now my mind is racing about how awesome a system like I described in #2 could be. They could even set it up so that the users could, to a degree, crowdsource the tags on each news article, where if a percentage of the readers all suggested a particular tag, it would automatically be added right in with the tags defined by the author. You would also need to have a way to specifically ignore certain sources, preferably with your own personal input going directly to any source you ignore, to let them know what they're doing wrong..

            Okay, I'm done for now.

             

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          slander (profile), Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 11:42am

          Re: Re: Re: Big Difference

          Internet? The newspapers end up being cut out of the news business entirely. It short circuits the process, making it that a very small group of people can report pretty much all of the regional, national, and international news.
          The Internet isn't killing off the newspapers. The newspapers, by not taking advantage of the resources available on the Internet, are killing themselves. As an example, there are a number of people out there that are scooping the papers on a regular basis, especially on regional and local news. Instead of ignoring, or worse, spurning, them, they could try embracing them and (gasp) pay them for the scoop.

           

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    :), Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 12:16am

    Its killing newspapers

    Use Miro there is lots of news and they actually are very good they even have some ads LoL

    CNET praising MIRO the king(GOM would be in ASIA)
    http://download.cnet.com/Miro/3000-13632_4-10587758.html

    Others forms of news are sprouting
    https://miroguide.com/genres/News

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 1:51am

    Grain of salt people (some, a whole F*@$'n truck load)

    The point of the post, like several other posts, is to highlight a scenario where people are faced with a new technology or approach that "threatens" their way of operations. They see it as a threat because they realize it is incredibly more effective and they haven't a clue how they can adept or integrate similar ideas that will keep their service as a comparable competitor.

    The case of the telegraph simply highlights what the industry saw as a threat, and how they were able to adept to the changes in turn creating a new product that gave the consumer what they desired, more up-to-date content.

    Most importantly the "concern about how this device would lead to destroying quality reporting, getting people to focus more on the quick hits, and that there would be less reason to do "real" reporting -- leading to more annoying opinion writing, rather than actual journalism" is still valid today. However, there is an increasing majority of people who find that the newspapers are no longer the best sources to get that type of journalism.

    The problem isn't that people don't have access to the device which helps speed up the news dissemination, it's that they have more "newspapers" to choose from. Instead of having to rely upon the Washington Post or the New York Times to inform people whats happening internationally, people can access the international outlets themselves or various other reporting organizations.

    The greatest difference between these scenarios and the largest contributing hindrance to newspapers ability to compete with modern technologies is that anyone with access to a computer can be the journalist, not just the person hired by the news organization. In other words, a publisher is no longer required in order to produce news. If a major story breaks and someone with a half decent understanding of basic English can summarize up the events that occurred before anyone else is able to via a means like digg, youtube, twitter, etc... it then becomes nearly impossible to compete as the desired outlet.

    It's up to Newspapers to decide how they are going to create a reason for their customers to only want to obtain their news from a singular entity. It's going to be incredibly difficult, especially when they are charging premiums while others are giving away their content for free. Not to mention that in todays day and age if you're only reporting once every 24hrs, you better have some pretty exclusive content.

     

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      The Anti-Mike, Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 8:53am

      Re: Grain of salt people (some, a whole F*@$'n truck load)


      The case of the telegraph simply highlights what the industry saw as a threat, and how they were able to adept to the changes in turn creating a new product that gave the consumer what they desired, more up-to-date content.


      The telegraph didn't upset the apple cart, it didn't change the process, it didn't cut anyone out of the game (except perhaps a few home town reporters who were passing their time in Washington). It moved the news faster, but it didn't change where the consumer got their news from.

      The internet? It changes everything, because the newspaper is no longer required as the filter and distribution vehicle, everyone in the world can get the same news story from the same one source, without any other distribution required.

      The greatest difference between these scenarios and the largest contributing hindrance to newspapers ability to compete with modern technologies is that anyone with access to a computer can be the journalist, not just the person hired by the news organization.

      Nope, that isn't it at all. Citizen journalists are not the true issue, the true issue is the path of the news. Written by a citizen journalist or by a pro writer, the internet changes how it is delivered, and the scope of that delivery.

      Look at it this way: Reuters no longer needs newspapers, as Reuters can just offer direct access to their stories to everyone. There is no need to actually have the story typeset locally for distribution, all of those stories can be done in one place for everyone in the world. No local input required.

      Further, it reverses the process. Rather than local papers purchasing national and internation stories from reuters, the reverse could be true: Reuters could purchase local stories to fill out their service to offer local to International news for everyone in a single site.

      The difference between the effects of the telegraph and the effects of the internet is so huge as to be incomparable. It is laughable to try to draw any parallel.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 9:36am

        Re: Re: Grain of salt people (some, a whole F*@$'n truck load)

        "The telegraph didn't upset the apple cart, it didn't change the process, it didn't cut anyone out of the game (except perhaps a few home town reporters who were passing their time in Washington). It moved the news faster, but it didn't change where the consumer got their news from.

        And I said nothing to the contrary, why you can't derive that from a very easily understandable keyword of 'highlight' I don't know...

        "Citizen journalists are not the true issue, the true issue is the path of the news.

        Did you even read the rest of the paragraph much less th rest of my post you're arguing against here, because that's exactly what I said?

        "It is laughable to try to draw any parallel."

        A modern technology that comes along and revolutionizes the way humans can communicate, nope no parallels there.

         

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    Nickiler, Dec 23rd, 2009 @ 12:22pm

    Let me start out by saying I am a IT Network Admin and I do not own a printer !-)

    Although, I personally I enjoy reading on paper and not digital devices. This may have to do with prescription glasses and glare. Not sure.

    I would not compare written with verbal forms of News as a medium either. I believe the telegraph may have accelerated newspaper sales due to spurts of information causing the reader to read the paper for full stories. I can listen to an hour of speech and possible forget all the details and only remember the highlights. Reading for me uncovers details otherwise missed when listening to someone speak.

    Computing devices really do have the ability to replace paper, so I would see this as the only true threat the "paper" has seen as a form of sharing text. The computer screen what paper does and much, much more. The difference is the way we erase and share this “internet paper”.

    However verbal communications and reading cannot replace one another as they offer different solutions to difference people. Verbal is needed for blind people. Text is needed for deaf people. Brail is needed for blind and deaf people.

    I will always enjoy printing a twenty-five document and reading it with my yellow highlighter. My laptop cannot give me this experience in the same way.

    The newspaper business should focus entirely on online publishing and build their business up from there. The tablet PC explosion ius coming very soon. Offer newspaper versions to those that would like to pay the cost with maybe $50 annual billing cycles. They should be able to make money through advertising and special reports. If they can’t figure out how to make money online then they should walk over to Google’s office in San Francisco and hire the first fool that walks out of the building.

    Hope this helps “NewsPaper” people.

     

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