by Mike Masnick
Mon, Feb 21st 2011 1:59pm
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 16th 2010 8:48am
from the reporting-by-getting-your-hands-dirty dept
Given that, it seems like the Planet Money crew has hit on a rather brilliant idea. Back when this whole thing started, of course, much of the focus was on the so-called "toxic assets," the derivatives made up of slices of mortgages that had been packaged and repackaged together in creative ways -- in theory to minimize the risk, but in reality, often putting all of the risk in one big basket made to look artificially safe. The focus on toxic assets has mostly fallen off the mainstream press radar, but the folks at Planet Money decided to check in on those toxic assets and dig into what a toxic asset really means. But they were having trouble getting their heads around what a toxic asset really is, how it functions and how to best explain it to their audience.
So they bought a toxic asset.
Literally, the four reporters on the team, along with their producer, each pooled about $200 of their own money, in order to buy $1,000 worth of toxic asset. They'll be tracking whether or not they make their money back, and if they make anything on top of that as well (any profits will be donated to charity). The podcast itself is fascinating, as two of the reporters spend a couple days with a company called Mission Peak Capital, based out in Kansas, which has been analyzing and buying up toxic assets. They go through the whole process of analyzing and bidding on a few of these things until they find the one they wanted. Mission Peak bought the whole asset for $36,000, marked down from $2.7 million, and then sold a $1,000 sliver to the team at Planet Money.
The Planet Money folks have set up a detailed interactive website that goes into great detail about what's in the asset -- probably a lot more detail than most previous owners of the asset knew about themselves -- as well as how much they've made and how long they have until the asset runs out for them (as more of the houses whose mortgages are included in the asset get sold, they get closer and closer to being kicked out of getting any of the remaining revenue).
The story itself is fascinating, but what really drew me to it is what a great example of modern reporting this is. This goes way beyond what we normally think of as reporting, and breaks down that mythical "impartial reporter" barrier in a very effective and useful way. Some people have suggested that the reason why journalism may be struggling these days is that people can go directly to sources themselves (or sources can broadcast themselves) without needing an intermediary to "write the story." Of course, that doesn't mean the role of a journalist goes away, but it changes drastically. In this case, the team at Planet Money has realized that in order to "report" on this story, they need to become the source themselves, and open that up wide to their audience. It's a fascinating and incredibly effective modern form of journalism, and I can't wait to see where they take it. They're already planning to try to track down some of the mortgage holders whose mortgages are in the asset, as well as homeowners and former holders of the asset. Even if you're not that interested in the details of a toxic asset, it's hard not to find the whole thing incredibly compelling. It's useful and educational interactive storytelling at its finest, which is what true journalism should be.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 2nd 2009 9:44am
from the good-for-them dept
While employed by The New York Times, you helped the newspaper stop charging for online content. Now it's reconsidering. Generally, why do you oppose paying for content?It appears that she's putting this realization to work in other ways, a bunch of readers have been submitting an NPR blog post explaining why it has stopped charging for transcripts of programs, and started offering them for free on its website. Despite being something of a cash cow for NPR, the organization realized that it was short-sighted to lock up the content, and went against what people wanted:
I am a staunch believer that people will not in large numbers pay for news content online. It's almost like there's mass delusion going on in the industry--They're saying we really really need it, that we didn't put up a pay wall 15 years ago, so let's do it now. In other words, they think that wanting it so badly will automatically actually change the behavior of the audience. The world doesn't work that way. Frankly, if all the news organizations locked pinkies, and said we're all going to put up a big fat pay wall, you know what, more traffic for us. News is a commodity; I'm sorry to say.
But the Times did get people to pay, right?
We far exceeded our expectation--225,000 subscribers paid $50 a year, in addition to the home delivery subscribers, who got all of the Web for free. But guess what, that's $10 million. Instead of 225,000 who pay the $50, let's say it's one million subscribers. OK. That's $50 million a year. That's not going to save any newspaper. It's going to kill your advertising base. The numbers don't work.
Why did we give up this revenue stream? First and foremost, the users expect to be able to come to our site and read the story they heard on the air. As rich as the radio stories are, reading is faster than listening, our users told us. Although we were writing Web versions of many radio stories, a number of stories still didn't have much text. Making transcripts free solved that.But a bigger realization was recognizing the basic trendlines. Paying for transcripts is a shrinking business. Getting more people to the website and making money in other ways? That's an opportunity:
There are solid business reasons for making transcripts free. Sales have been dropping over the years. As people search for, discover and share content, offering free transcripts will boost the traffic to NPR.org, traffic that can be monetized with sponsorship. Finally, search engines like text. Many of our stories could not be found by the search engines because they did not have enough text. Now it will be easier for the search engines -- and ultimately the users -- to find and enjoy NPR's stories.Now, of course, as a partially gov't supported non-profit, NPR has some different issues in how it operates, but those differences aren't nearly as big as many people might think. The gov't support only goes so far (hence the annoying pledge drives and pushes for corporate sponsorship). It'll be interesting to see what other business model ideas NPR and its new leadership comes up with in the future, and it'll be fun to see if the big newspapers put up paywalls, allowing NPR to increase its traffic, as planned.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Feb 29th 2008 6:29pm