Techdirt Podcast Episode 201: Can Journalism Survive A Free Market?

from the no-business-like-news-business dept

It's no secret that journalism outfits are struggling, and have been for some time. There are lots of competing ideas about why this is the case, and who to blame, but the ultimate question is the same: how do we fund good journalism going forward? This week, Mike is joined on the podcast by someone whose opinions on this question differ significantly from his own — Columbia Journalism professor and former online editor-in-chief of the Guardian Emily Bell — to talk about whether journalism can survive the free market, and what the alternatives are.

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Filed Under: business models, economics, emily bell, journalism, podcast


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  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 26 Feb 2019 @ 3:07pm

    You Have to Give the People What they Want*

    During the interview there was a lot to talk about Facebook and Google siphoning advertising revenue away from legacy media outlets. FYI the legacy media was losing advertising revenue long before Facebook and Google became relevant on the intertubes.

    When a reporter becomes beholden to the persons/entities they base their reporting on in order to gain favorable treatment and access they are no longer a journalist they have genuflected into the realm of sycophancy.

    What came first journalists or media outlets?

    Does a journalist need a media outlet to survive? Ask Sy Hersh

    Does a media outlet need a journalist to survive? Ask BuzzFeed

    When a reader peruses a media outlets finished product the reader needs to be assured that the information imparted within has been properly sourced/vetted.

    Unfortunately all to often legacy media outlets publish reports that are not factual (ie Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, acting as government stenographers in transcribing talking points as factual analysis, Trump Russian stooge hoax, human CO2 released since industrial revolution is mechanism for climate change on Earth, etc).

    To ask users to pay to read/watch/listen to poorly sourced reports or jazzed up government talking points (ie propaganda) is a non-starter.

    All successful businesses have one common denominator:

    They all give their customers what they want - that is the secret to their success.

    People will happily pay for something they desire.

    If you serve steaming piles of shit in lieu of candy your customers will not be back for seconds.

    Many of today's legacy media outlets are dinosaurs of a bygone era they just do not realize it. Prior to the internet the legacy media had a complete monopoly on reporting the news they acted as gatekeepers. No longer do they have the luxury of being the sole source for local/regional/national/international news they must compete across the entire news medium spectrum and they are failing brilliantly.

    What will replace them?

    Which came first journalists or media outlets?

    Why do journalists report? Profit? Accuracy? Accountability?

    * A big thanks to the Kinks

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0hWhCOx4U8

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  • icon
    Zgaidin (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 3:29pm

    Building a Community

    When you were talking about building a successful and healthy community, while I assume in many ways what you were talking about was what you've accomplished here at TD, the thing that it sounded most like were good Twitch channels. Not necessarily the big-money channels, though some of them would certainly qualify, but the good ones. The ones were you go not only to watch the content and listen to the streamer's commentary, but to actively engage with the regulars.

    Sadly, I think your guest had you on one point. At least for now, the pendulum may swing, the concept of geographical communities have lost a lot of relevance. I'm not entirely sure why that seems to be the case, but local politics haven't taken a back seat to national politics so much as they've been stuffed in the trunk and forgotten. People don't engage their physical neighbors. One reason for this, I think, is that the internet is amazing at helping people find online communities of people that share their niche interests, and it's on demand. You can engage when you want, how you want, with people that share your interest/concerns, and ignore everything else. The community principle at work in TD, or any given subreddit, or a Twitch channel works because it's oriented around a common interest. For geographically local news providers to create a community, they'd have to first re-engender an interest in that local community.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 3:41pm

      Re: Building a Community

      the concept of geographical communities have lost a lot of relevance. I'm not entirely sure why that seems to be the case,

      The Internet allows communities with common interests and tastes. It also allows a person to belong to several such without the peer pressure to belong to the same set of communities that exists in in local areas.

      As to politics, local politics is often more petty that national politics, which prevents a lot of people from engaging in politics, do you really want to spend a lot of tine engaging with people like Blue of John, who argue from a position of conviction rather than reason?

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

      • icon
        Zgaidin (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 4:02pm

        Re: Re: Building a Community

        I agree with those points, to be sure, but there seems to be more to it than that. I get why people don't engage in local politics, but people don't seem to engage locally at all beyond very superficial things. Sure, you shop at your local grocery store, you go to your local restaurants, etc. But, when I grew up we at least knew in passing everyone living on our street. Now, I don't know any of my neighbors at all. People were actively engaged in local organizations (churches, boy scouts & girl scouts, rotary club, etc.) People are still involved with those organizations, but it's no longer as prevalent as it was. Your neighbors, both individuals and businesses are strangers. That's what I'm not sure about. I'm not sure what the catalysts for that cultural shift were, but without it, I don't see much hope for locally focused news outlets.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 4:29pm

          Re: Re: Re: Building a Community

          I'm not sure what the catalysts for that cultural shift were,

          Television filled in a lot of the time that people would otherwise spend socialising with each other, while cars, and then the Internet make it easier to associate with people you choose, rather than people that live near you.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 27 Feb 2019 @ 7:41am

          Re: Re: Re: Building a Community

          "I'm not sure what the catalysts for that cultural shift were"

          I'm a little wary of the rose coloured recollections, but there's numerous things, I think. I'd suggest the following among others:

          Employment shifts - one person working while the rest of the family stay at home is largely a thing of the past, so obviously when people spend less time at home they spend less time in their immediate local area. Also, the increased rarity of stable long term jobs mean that people are more wary about putting down proper roots as they can often get laid off and need to move far away.

          Transportation - people more often don't live anywhere near where they work, which not only reduces time to participate with the local community but places a hard shift between the people they work with and the people they live near. If you're commuting an hour each way to work, that not only reduces the interaction at home but reduces the likelihood you'll spend the workday talking to anyone you live near.

          Economy - the effects of both of the above are increased by the fact that more and more people rent rather than buy. You likely invest more in a community when you know you'll be there for 20+ years than if you know you could be leaving the state next year.

          Communication - let's face it, a lot of people stuck in small communities often hate having to participate in those things. They may well do because they have to, but they would much rather seek out people who share their interests than have to suffer day after day dealing with people they have little in common with other than the area they live.

          Crime perception - while figures show that violent crime has decreased in most places since the 80s, the perception is that it's higher. That combined with greater knowledge of things like pedophiles leads parents to be less willing to let kids play outside and do the random dangerous crap that many of us did when we were kids, leading to less community mingling as a whole.

          There's also the idea that many of the things you mention were things people were forced into out of either peer pressure or boredom that people don't have as much of any more. If you can go online and talk to people about your actual interests rather than joining a general purpose social club in your area you'll do that instead, while if you don't live in a religious community you won't feel like you have to go to church, whereas previously you'd feel you have to whether you believed or not.

          Sadly, when it comes to local politics, it's too often the people who have nothing better to do or feel the need to preach to everybody else who get involved. The people with more interests and more open minds often don't bother.

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

          • icon
            Zgaidin (profile), 27 Feb 2019 @ 9:28am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Building a Community

            That resonates with me. As I said, I don't know my neighbors, and have no particular interest in knowing them. I like the fact that I'm not pressured into participating in my local community, so I don't think it's rose colored glasses so much as noting a difference between my parents and their peers and myself and my peers.

            In the context of the podcast, though, if there's no participation in the local community in general, then getting them to engage about news of the local community the way we do here is a non-starter. To use the example from the podcast of the polluting factory, if I work an hour away (as you suggest) why should I care more that 500 people near me will lose their jobs if the factory closes than I would care about 500 people hundreds of miles away? Their proximity may have knock-on effects (increased crime, decreased revenue for local services, etc.) but I can always just move and maybe reduce my commute if it becomes an issue. While the 500 people who work at the factory may have a personal incentive to pay attention to that news, by your own admission, probably plenty of them don't live in that same community.

            Is it possible we've outgrown the need for local/community news and what we should focus on instead is issue news so that everyone can seek out news that matches their interests?

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  • identicon
    Glenn, 27 Feb 2019 @ 1:35am

    I'm OK with paywalls. Just don't make it so expensive to subscribe. Make it possible to add specific articles to one's reading list (a la carte news) as opposed to having to buy into everything. (Has the decline of pay TV taught them nothing?) Like the old carnivals--cheap to get in and each attraction costs something more.

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


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