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Blogs Versus The News: “Rough First Draft of History”

May 13, 2009 - 2 Comments

There is lots of talk in the news industry about business models and the future of news. At a conference that I attended yesterday, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and “D: All Things Digital” said the focus shouldn’t be on saving newspapers, but on saving quality journalism. I didn’t see Craig Newmark’s reaction (he, of Craigslist), but I’m sure he agrees, as his site has been accused of being a vital component of dwindling newspaper revenue since people can now list their classifieds for free rather then going to their local newspaper. Not to mention, of course, Google, the Associated Press and more.In thinking about a panel that I am sitting on this afternoon with Chris O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News (and his side project Next Newsroom), Robert Scoble of Building43, Liz Gannes of NewTeeVee, and moderated by our friend (and CEO) at Text100, Aedhmar Hynes, I read this interesting Frank Rich article in the New York Times, “The American Press on Suicide Watch”…as well as this essay by Kathleen Deveny on “Reinventing Newsweek.” The essence (from my point of view) is that the business model of news is currently broken, but that quality journalism IS important and many bloggers, pundits and pontificators generally offer opinions on the news that is created by real newsrooms. This is not a ding at very smart and very good bloggers who do report and write original and thoughtful and important news. But, in my mind, these bloggers who do good work have simply done what Chris O’Brien’s project with Next Newsroom is doing. They are lean, online only and don’t have to worry about printing press, delivery and subscriptions. The vast majority of them are free and advertiser supported…and, generally, niche. Deveny, in her Newsweek essay about the “new” Newsweek, writes:

“In some ways, the changes that readers don’t see will be even more profound. For decades, NEWSWEEK has succeeded because advertisers wanted to reach our vast audience. That strategy is no longer working. Advertisers are seeking more targeted demographic groups. We will drop our guaranteed circulation from 2.6 million to 1.5 million by next January. We will focus on a smaller, more devoted, slightly more affluent audience. Over time, we will increase subscription prices. Right now, we’re charging about 47 cents an issue for a product created by hundreds of people around the world, some of whom have risked their lives in places like Baghdad. Good journalism is expensive to produce, and we need to make our business profitable in order to continue producing it. “Repairing NEWSWEEK the business is more than an intellectual challenge,” says (Newsweek Chief Executive Tom) Ascheim. “As corny as it sounds, I really believe that our republic will not thrive without healthy, self-sufficient journalism.”

Niche is important, but so is reaching a large audience with quality, thoughtful journalism. There is clearly room for both, but it is also important to note that Newsweek is reaching way more people online than they are in print. Something that Robert Scoble, Chris O’Brien and Liz Gannes clearly recognize. Monetization, of course, is vital here, but as Deveny says, targeting is more and more important to advertisers. And, if that model breaks down, well, then there are a lot of Plan B’s, but none so far that have been proven to work…non-profit, pay-as-you-go, etc.As our CEO says, it is during times of transition that the biggest market shares can be gained. The news business is not any different. There is only so much time in the day and many, many, many news sources available. The sources that “win” will offer a quality product that offers value…and, very likely, that people are willing to pay for. (Something that Walt Mossberg and Rupert Murdoch likely agree with.)It will be an interesting discussion this afternoon and I don’t expect us to solve the woes of the newspaper business, but I, for one, for our communities and “connectedness” am hoping that we don’t reach the point in the near future when our local newspapers can no longer publish..either offline or online. As Joni Mitchell (and then Counting Crows) sang: “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”I would be very interested in your thoughts on this topic as well.

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  1. We're in general agreement for a change, son John. Hope the panel discussion proved useful. Your mom and I are saving several newspapers, 1959 to the present, for grandson Jack so he'll know what they once looked like. Dad

  2. Video courtesy of @scobleizer of this panel hosted by @Text100. Also with @sjcobrien and @lizgannes. And me.