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Saturday, May 02, 2009

King Kaufman: Newspapers’ fatal error

Uhh…you mean it wasn’t the decision to give Dick Young’s “Clubhouse Confidential” gig to Phil Pepe?

If I had known about the Internet, I would have thought, “Who is better positioned to take advantage of a new text-based information medium than newspapers? We have a giant roomful of people who report, write and edit.”

It was my first night on the job. I hadn’t yet learned how hidebound, how slow, how downright stupid newspaper management could be.

The Web came along as a medium to be reckoned with about five years later. As an industry, newspapers failed to see it as an opportunity and instead treated it, almost unanimously, as a threat, something to be fought and vanquished. It was a mistake the industry made not for weeks or months, but for years. It was the newspaper industry’s fatal error. The way the kids say it now: its epic fail.

My old boss at the Examiner, Phil Bronstein, has been marketing himself as this sage statesman of journalism now that he’s no longer piloting the Chronicle. A few weeks ago, writing on his SFGate.com blog about newspapers in general, he said the industry had been “marched to the gallows by an uncaring and unappreciative public, sentenced by shifting technological and cultural habits and a few bonehead moves of [our] own.”

Oh, brother. Marched to the gallows by an uncaring and unappreciative public? More like reluctantly left behind by a public that had been ignored for more than a decade as it screamed, “This is how we want information delivered to us! Not the way you’re doing it! This other way! Look! Over here! We’re over here now! Hey!”

Repoz Posted: May 02, 2009 at 03:32 PM | 98 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, community, history, media, obituaries, online, site news, special topics

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   1. rr Posted: May 02, 2009 at 03:53 PM (#3161351)
Kaufman is clearly wrong. Newspapers died due to liberal bias.
   2. Flynn Posted: May 02, 2009 at 03:56 PM (#3161354)
Would you perhaps like to suggest some alternative ideas, King? It's like the 347th newspapers are dying article that talks about all these mistakes newspapers made and how they held the Web in contempt, yet doesn't actually offer any solutions or really any specifics as to how they held the Web in contempt, beyond something pretty trivial like "they had continued on Page A3 in the copy!"
   3. TVerik, who wonders what the hell is "Ansky" Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:05 PM (#3161360)
It's good to see the man with his own site. Is he officially separated from Salon at this point?

The reason that newspapers couldn't compete with Internet news sources is simple, in my mind - newspaper infrastructure included a lot of costly things that have nothing to do with dissemination of news - from printing presses to delivery trucks to HR departments. King suggests elsewhere in the article that there's no reason that a newspaper couldn't have conceived of Craigslist misses the point. The reason for the breakaway success of CL is that it's completely free. An up-and-coming newspaper man would have been laughed out of the executive offices had he suggested a virtually revenue-free way to destroy a major revenue source for the newspaper business.

From Wikipedia:
Under the stage name the King Teen, Kaufman was the singer for the Smokejumpers, "purveyors of hampster-slappin' punk rockabilly in San Francisco from 1996-2000."


is that really true?
   4. booond Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:11 PM (#3161366)
The Internet was the final straw but newspapers died when television replaced them as the source for news. As children of the television age (1960's-1970's) grew into adults they walked away from newspapers. The Internet pushed the old man down the stairs but he was stumbling anyway.
   5. Rickey! No. You move. Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:11 PM (#3161367)
To follow on #2, how exactly should the entrenched industry have responded differently? I'm not saying they didn't react poorly; like the RIAA and file-sharing, they most certainly did. But I'm still not sure what a "proper" reaction would have been. Unless the web had been far more severely regulated there's no real profit making scenario for newspapers online. If they put their content behind a firewall, they're lambasted for failing to grasp the "freedom of information" in the new techno-world. Think of the old Primer days when this community, aghast at the idea of having to *register for content, even though that registration was most often free*, passed around "bselig@mlb.com" as universal login. How does a newspaper make a profit in that environment? How does it turn a profit when their most interesting content will be "excerpted" and hashed out for free on 1000 blogs less than an hour after posting?

Again, I'm not arguing that newspapers didn't make major error in their business models. I'm not saying they weren't slow moving behemoths hopelessly trying to outrun a meteor-impact. What I'm asking is, how exactly, otherwise should those dinosaurs have reacted? You can turn and fight, or turn and run, or stand rock still and try to ride it out; either way you're going to get disintegrated by the shock wave you never had a chance against.
   6. Repoz Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:12 PM (#3161369)
is that really true?

Damn straight...and has the Groovey Joe Poovey tat to prove it!
   7. ekogan Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:19 PM (#3161371)
The Internet killed the classified business, a major bulwark of newspaper revenue, the story goes. But there’s no reason Craigslist, for example, couldn’t have been invented by a newspaper. No reason except newspapers’ years-long refusal to compete on this new playing field.


I'm sick of hearing this. It's simply not true.
If a newspaper wanted to invent Craigslist, it would mean killing a major revenue stream for itself without gaining much profit potential.

Craigslist has only a dozen employees and makes a very small profit. And if they tried to start charging money, they would start losing users. It doesn't come close to the revenue generating potential of pre-Internet newspaper classifieds.
   8. Repoz Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:20 PM (#3161373)
passed around "bselig@mlb.com"

Hey...ESPN the Magazine interviewed me about the bselig/bselig rage.

Don't think they ever published it...prolly because I swung into the R. Budd Selig bit.
   9. McCoy Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:20 PM (#3161374)
The next ten years for all mediums should be really interesting. Nowadays you just don't have to pay for anything to get it. You don't have to sit through commercials to watch something. Unless the government forms a huge new level regulation and enforcement the end of media as we know is coming soon.

What network is going to pay 1 million dollars an episode when anybody who wants to watch the episode can simply download it for free? Same with movies and music. Not even books are safe anymore.
   10. ?Donde esta Dagoberto Campaneris? Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:25 PM (#3161375)
I'm not sure how exactly it ties into this debate but one of the things that continues to amaze about the newspaper people is how poorly they are at putting together websites. I'm an Angels fan who wouldn't be adverse to using the LAT Sports page as my homepage. I don't do that however because their offering is terrible. No links (of course) to any site that would provide me any competing ideas, no links to reference sites, and no utilization of the money advantage that the LAT should have over a regular blog. For instance, if the LAT doesn't want to do links- how about hiring a scout who breaks down all Dodger and Angel ABs. You could post video to illustrate certain points, compare videos from previous seasons, or compare video with other players. How about hiring (it won't cost much) a decent statistical analyst who puts out content a couple times a week. How about anything that might have the faintest whiff of value to your reader.

That's just a particular example (which may not be the best) but it just seems to me that the "old media" isn't even making a decent effort to embrace the new media. That's not really a winning method for success.
   11. TVerik, who wonders what the hell is "Ansky" Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:26 PM (#3161376)
It pains me to go here - my first job was in the newspaper business - but is it possible that physical newspapers are the telegraph, the horse-drawn carriage industry, the courier service? In each of those three cases, a new technology presented the public with a faster and cheaper alternative, and the old industry went almost completely away. I'm sure it was economically painful at the time, and I'm sure one could argue that a certain something went away forever with the change in technologies.
   12. Rickey! No. You move. Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:33 PM (#3161378)
...is it possible that physical newspapers are the telegraph, the horse-drawn carriage industry, the courier service?


I think it's not only possible, but extremely likely. Newspapermen are, in a very real sense, this year's model of whale oil salesmen after the advent of highly accessible electricity. I'm not celebrating it - these are real people with real families to feed, and an unemployed line editor is just as down and out as an unemployed line worker for an auto assembly plant. And I'm honestly concerned about the niche markets that local newspapers serviced that seem to be getting left behind in the brave new inter-world. I'm concerned about the inability or unwillingness for anyone to fund true, long-form investigative reporting in year one after newspapers. Probably those corners of the market will eventually backfill, but that doesn't make their current disappearing any less disturbing, IMHO.
   13. ?Donde esta Dagoberto Campaneris? Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:39 PM (#3161385)
Newspapermen are, in a very real sense, this year's model of whale oil salesmen after the advent of highly accessible electricity.

I would think it's more like a guy who sales natural gas tanks in a community where natural gas is piped in. People still want his product, just not his delivery method. If he can show that his method still has value, people will buy, though perhaps not as many. Providing that value will be very difficult however and will force him to deliver goods/services/solutions that he hasn't previously.

To date, he's not adjusting well.
   14. Greg Pope Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:39 PM (#3161386)
either way you're going to get disintegrated by the shock wave you never had a chance against.

I think the key here is "never had a chance". Newspapers don't have a God-given right to exist. They were useful and filled a great need for 300 years, and then became obsolete. OK, that's both exaggeration and jumping the gun. But this is the equivalent of saying, "What should the buggy manufacturers have done once the car was invented?" Once the car was invented there was no way to save the horse-and-buggy industry, no matter what. Now a buggy company could have switched to making car parts. A blacksmith could switch from horseshoes to engine parts, etc. But either the company goes under or it changes its business to adapt. But if it adapts, it's no longer the original business. So you still didn't save it.

Tribune Corp will either disappear or morph into an Internet information provider in some way. Or maybe they'll invent something new, who knows? But they won't be newspapers. And does it really matter if it's Craigslist or Tribune? IBM saved the company by switching over from typewriters to PCs*, but they didn't save the typewriter industry and for all intents and purposes it might as well be a different company. Is IBM any better than Dell for having been around for longer in the pre-PC world?

*This is just an example and is obviously a lot more complicated than just switching one product.

EDIT: Well, that's what I get for spending too much time writing a post. I started this before post 10.
   15. McCoy Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:40 PM (#3161388)
Newspapers very quickly computerized their classifieds but their problem as it relates to Craigslist is that it wasn't free and it wasn't one stop shopping.

If I am in Chicago and I am moving to New York or want to live in New York I can simply go to Craigslist and click on their NYC section to access all of the stuff for NYC. For me to do that with online I first have to find online New York newspapers and then navigate around their site looking for the classifieds and what are in them. Obviously in bigger metro areas that is a little easier but moving to smaller areas it gets to be a bigger problem.
   16. McCoy Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:42 PM (#3161390)
Do they still make typewriters or word processors?

They as in anybody.
   17. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: May 02, 2009 at 04:55 PM (#3161402)
If you're going to keep linking to "Newspapers are dying!!!!" articles, can you at least link to one that has one new idea?

I work on the web side of a newspaper. I don't have a lot of grand ideas, but one thing I do know is that we have to wean people off the idea that everything in the paper should be available online, in full, at no cost, by birthright.

There are a ton of emails to which I would love to respond, "You get what you pay for." People ######## because the free thing that used to cost money inconveniences them in the slightest way.

It's going to take a while to instill in their minds that it might just cost some money to get something that takes money to produce.
   18. Rickey! No. You move. Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:15 PM (#3161410)
I think the key here is "never had a chance". Newspapers don't have a God-given right to exist. They were useful and filled a great need for 300 years, and then became obsolete. OK, that's both exaggeration and jumping the gun. But this is the equivalent of saying, "What should the buggy manufacturers have done once the car was invented?" Once the car was invented there was no way to save the horse-and-buggy industry, no matter what. Now a buggy company could have switched to making car parts. A blacksmith could switch from horseshoes to engine parts, etc. But either the company goes under or it changes its business to adapt. But if it adapts, it's no longer the original business. So you still didn't save it.

This is true, but it should be considered that those 300+ years of newsprint is a longer duration than our nation's history. That's a lot of history to fold into the dustbin of history. Add in that the folding in seems to be occuring in a few months (yes, it's been brewing for years, but the tipping point and collapse is very new to most people's minds) and you've got a cultural phenomenon that will deeply unsettle some portions of society.

To switch gears somewhat, ignoring "God-given right(s) to exist" or lack thereof; William F. Buckley famously described his understanding of the conservative project as "standing athwart history, yelling stop." Of course, that's half euphemism and half too-clever-by-half pretension, but Yogi's remaining half contains some useful nuggets of truth. Cut through the standard mysogyony and patriarchial sense of entitlement underlying the conservative backlash to the cultural revolution and you can find a meaningful question or two. Even if you're not driven soley by a desire to keep women in their "rightful place" you can still ask "what, in our bold rush for sexual freedom, are we leaving behind? What will we arrive at our new, liberated paradise of free love and casual hook-ups and think, 'Oh, I should have remembered to bring that along even if it had slowed my arrival a bit'?" Or to pivot off of your example above, what in the bold new free-information, no staid old newspaper fogeys world, might we one day look back upon and think "You know, the horse and buggy was slow, but it didn't turn the planet into a giant microwave."

That's my interest here, and I think it's why a lot of people continue to be drawn to the "newspapers are dying!" stories. This is a venerable institution that is collapsing in front of our eyes. I think we'd do everyone a disservice to not sift the wreckage for both cause and useful artifacts that might be plugged into something else along the line. I don't see a lot of usefulness to come out of doing a little dance just because the mediots of our sports-addled youth are finally being knocked off of their perches.
   19. Golfing Great Mitch Cumstein Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:16 PM (#3161411)
Kaufman misses in another way. I remember soon after I "found" the internet that The Boston Globe was a good site and this weekend the Globe is on the edge of a cliff (I don't think it is going anywhere soon, though and there are a lot of other reasons the paper is losing money).

So if this early adapter didn't survive who could have? And a lot of other people have pointed out the reasons.
   20. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:23 PM (#3161417)
The issue isn't that everything "should be available online, in full, at no cost" it's that it often is. I think most people are willing to pay for good content whether that content be news, music, video or porn. The problem I see with my local papers is they do a lousy job.

I generally like boston.com (the Globe's online arm). Last night I was at a dance recital for my goddaughter and tried to follow the Red Sox game on their Extra Bases site on my iPhone. For four innings I got informative updates every half inning. It was great. For some reason they then went 48 minutes, two full innings, without an update. In that time the Sox scored once to go ahead 2-0 then gave up six runs to fall behind 6-2.

I wanted to follow the game this way because I liked getting the detail besides just the "single to left", "groundout 6-3" that MLB.com would give (I don't have the MLB At Bat app). In the end the information I wanted to try to get from the newspaper entity was available from MLB.com so I went there. People are paying for content in plenty of formats, the issue for the papers is that they aren't providing content to make it worth paying for.
   21. bads85 Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:27 PM (#3161421)
It's going to take a while to instill in their minds that it might just cost some money to get something that takes money to produce.


Oh boo ####### hoo. Start producing something worth paying for, and maybe people will start forking out some money. No one is going to pay for newpaper conten ton th einternet because in large, almost all newspaper content on the internet is indistinguishable. Just because something takes money to produce doesn't mean it is worth paying for.
   22. Swedish Chef Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:28 PM (#3161423)
It's going to take a while to instill in their minds that it might just cost some money to get something that takes money to produce.

And people will shrug and get their local news off TV instead.

If anything is going to save local news on the web (newspapers or whatever), it must be because it's a compelling place to advertise for local businesses. Why wouldn't they pay much more for local eyeballs that actually might shop there?
   23. Golfing Great Mitch Cumstein Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:36 PM (#3161433)
I think most people are willing to pay for good content whether that content be news, music, video or porn.

You're not looking hard enough.
   24. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:40 PM (#3161436)
And people will shrug and get their local news off TV instead.

Most of local TV and radio news is lifted, in some way or another, from newspapers. When our site experienced an outage, we had people from stations calling us because they couldn't do their jobs.

EDIT: Also, in a lot of markets, local TV affiliates are having greater economic difficulties than the papers.
   25. Howie Menckel Posted: May 02, 2009 at 05:55 PM (#3161446)
As for new methods, it's always interesting when three zillionaires get together (this got lost quickly in another recent thread):

http://www.editorsweblog.org/analysis/2009/04/journalism_online_llc_saving_newspapers.php

"New start-up company Journalism Online LLC has caused a significant stir in the media industry, and probably more behind the scenes. Founders Steven Brill, Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery have put together a proposal including promises to facilitate payment for online news, making it simple for publications to offer joint subscriptions as well as articles on a single basis using micropayment. They are also offering to negotiate on behalf of its members for licensing fees from search engines and other websites, and to provide member publishers with information on what tactics are working best in terms of building circulation and revenue."

The decision to push paid online content is arguably the most ground-breaking element of the company's proposals. Journalism Online will create a system whereby consumers will be able to purchase "annual or monthly subscriptions, day passes, and single articles from multiple publishers" all through one website. Brill told PaidContent that the site will have "a fair amount of complexity, including, for example, publishers who want to make sure their print subscribers get a discount or don't pay for the online subscription."

............

FYI, Hindery was the first CEO of the Yankees' YES Network in 2001, and a major cable TV mogul for many years. Brill founded CourtTV. Crovitx was the publisher of the Wall St Journal.
   26. CFiJ Posted: May 02, 2009 at 06:03 PM (#3161457)
I think you guys are missing Kaufman's point. It's not that newspapers didn't create Craigslist, but that their whole attitude towards the Internet was self-defeating. Craigslist might be a bad example, but then there's Google, Yahoo, Broadcast.com, YouTube. The current form of the Internet was not inevitable; the newspapers could have been in on it at an early stage, shaping it, creating new technologies and finding new ways to provide information, and at a profit. As it is, they find themselves playing catch-up, shoehorning their print style dissemination into an environment that's been created by other people.

An Internet wherein newspapers played an active part in developing might look very different from the Internet we have today.
   27. Steve Treder Posted: May 02, 2009 at 06:28 PM (#3161475)
An Internet wherein newspapers played an active part in developing might look very different from the Internet we have today.

I agree. Fundamental change was inevitable, but the particular form the change has taken so far wasn't. Newspapers, faced with a bad situation, actively made it worse for themselves.
   28. Rich Rifkin I Posted: May 02, 2009 at 06:29 PM (#3161477)
In the last few years most newspaper Web sites have added a few blogs and photo galleries and such, but they’re still essentially the newspaper, online.
I think Kaufman is right here. However, what I find interesting is that even internet-only magazines, such as Slate and Salon, are doing the same thing -- replicating the print format of a magazine on-line.

My guess is that in the next 15-20 years, these media will be replaced by those which figure out (as the technology improves) how to turn digital words into audio (and video, where appropriate). On-line customers won't read a 3,000 word magazine essay. They will click on it (or have it automatically download onto something like an I-pod) and it will be read to them with any visuals included. The advertising for this method will be far more effective, as it can be imbedded in the audio in small snippets. ... It surprises me, still, that this has not yet become the norm in on-line presentation of content. But I am quite sure it will.
   29. Bill McNeal Posted: May 02, 2009 at 06:30 PM (#3161478)
Start producing something worth paying for, and maybe people will start forking out some money.


Maybe they won't. Maybe they'll just find a way to take it for free, like music and movies.
   30. plink Posted: May 02, 2009 at 06:40 PM (#3161487)
On-line customers won't read a 3,000 word magazine essay.

Why, exactly, is this true? I may not be typical, but I partake of online text much more than I partake of online video & audio. I've never quite understood why many sites are trending toward audio & video as opposed to text. Maybe it's because I don't have a commute?
   31. Rich Rifkin I Posted: May 02, 2009 at 06:44 PM (#3161491)
Craigslist has only a dozen employees and makes a very small profit. And if they tried to start charging money, they would start losing users. It doesn't come close to the revenue generating potential of pre-Internet newspaper classifieds.
Your general point that the profits may have been sucked out of the classifieds no matter what newspapers did may be true. (I presume, though, that Craigslist is worth more than all the print newspapers in California are combined, at this point. Is that wrong?) However, if the newspapers could go back 20 years and knew what was coming, they might have figured out a new way to make the classifieds profitable and attractive. They might have started services like e-Bay, creating a marketplace for the junk that was being sold through their print classifieds. They might have (as the technology developed) offered more value to their electronic classified sellers with photos, videos and such things, so that a buyer of that "used bike" could see it. They might have created a service for job seekers to post video resumes to future employers who bought classified advertising. The larger newspaper chains might have developed their own national (or global) craigslist by combining the classifieds they were offering on-line before an entrepreneur like Craig came along.

Hindsight is always clearer, so my ex post facto suggestions should be taken with a big grain of salt. (I, for example, and I'm sure many other people, thought of an on-line auction site -- a la e-Bay -- in the late 1980s, before there was a world wide web, when I was working in real estate development in San Francisco. Like most others, I failed to follow through and am a billion dollars poorer for it.) But what the inaction of the newspapers suggest to me is that, as old, cash-cow businesses, they had all lost their entrepreneurial spirit at the time the internet came around. If someone like a Mark Cuban had been running Hearst or Knight-Ridder, newspapers might be in a better position now. Instead, the people at the top of newspapers were (business) conservatives, and being cautious in a time of rapid change can be disastrous.
   32. greenback changed his travels Posted: May 02, 2009 at 07:15 PM (#3161508)
They might have started services like e-Bay, creating a marketplace for the junk that was being sold through their print classifieds. They might have (as the technology developed) offered more value to their electronic classified sellers with photos, videos and such things, so that a buyer of that "used bike" could see it. They might have created a service for job seekers to post video resumes to future employers who bought classified advertising.

Greg Pope already addressed this in #14, that once they become eBay or Craigslist, then there isn't a whole lot of point to being a newspaper. I make no claims of being an expert, but ISTM the real issue here is that advertising in a newspaper is no longer cost-effective compared to the alternatives and, in a given city, too few people are willing to pay $X a week for in-depth local coverage (beyond what they get on TV) and/or investigative journalism. For whatever reason, we don't regard that kind of reporting as a valuable service, and that's probably a bigger concern here than the death of a poorly-run industry.
   33. GregD Posted: May 02, 2009 at 07:22 PM (#3161516)
It's going to take a while to instill in their minds that it might just cost some money to get something that takes money to produce.


Listen, I wish this were true. I used to work at a newspaper; I subscribe to two different papers. I wish the solution involved yelling at people until they woke up to the value of newspapers.

But that seems to get the economics exactly wrong. I think you're saying: a newspaper is worthwhile, a newspaper costs X to make, therefore it should work out that a newspaper charges Y in order to raise revenue equal to X + 10% and realize a steady profit. But that isn't the way anything works. That's labor theory of value right there, which was a nice way to look at the world but turned out to have issues as analysis.

My suspicion is that journalism will look like the rest of writing. Worthwhile and celebrated but not economically viable on its own. Poetry is valuable, but unless you win a Macarthur, you're going to be teaching at some college or another, I don't care how many Pulitzers you win. Short stories, ditto. Novels are a slightly different story, but only slightly. Most novelists can't support themselves, even though there is a market for their books. Very few literary novelists live off their work forever, no matter how many prizes they win. You'll find them at their office at the local university, teaching to support their writing habit. Even many non-fiction writers find this to be true.

As newspapers and magazines slip away, there will still be a demand for good articles and essays. The demand simply will not produce enough money to support many people, much less an industry. So either someone will figure out a different model, or journalism, like novels and poems and literary non-fiction and documentary films, will be done on the side by people who are teaching or waiting tables or proofreading legal documents. It stinks, and I'd love to be wrong, but that's what it looks like to my dim eyes.
   34. Walt Davis Posted: May 02, 2009 at 07:24 PM (#3161519)
It pains me to go here - my first job was in the newspaper business - but is it possible that physical newspapers are the telegraph, the horse-drawn carriage industry, the courier service? In each of those three cases, a new technology presented the public with a faster and cheaper alternative, and the old industry went almost completely away. I'm sure it was economically painful at the time, and I'm sure one could argue that a certain something went away forever with the change in technologies.

This has been the story of the press itself. The printing press pushed scribes and book illuminators out of business (along with having a few other social effects). The telegraph made long-distance reporting much more feasible. The combustion engine changed the distribution economics. Typewriters and especially computers destroyed the typesetter occupation. Satellite/internet transmission of copy allowed USA Today (and the NY Times and others) to print a daily edition across the entire country stealing some business from local papers.

The people who own newspapers have never been shy about leveraging technology to reduce their labor costs, gain an advantage in the marketplace, etc. Nobody now sheds tears over the typesetters and, even at the time, they didn't have a lot of defenders because everyone could see that it just made more sense to automate all of that.

So if this early adapter didn't survive who could have?

Early adopters usually fail or at least get passed by those who come later so that's not really surprising.

The fact is none of us know what the future of news looks like -- it's still being worked out. However we're getting news 10 years from now will probably be significantly different than how we do now and the major players might mainly be companies that don't exist now.
   35. Steve Treder Posted: May 02, 2009 at 07:29 PM (#3161521)
For whatever reason, we don't regard that kind of reporting as a valuable service, and that's probably a bigger concern here than the death of a poorly-run industry.

Absolutely. The only real issue at this point is what business model, if any, will emerge to be able to financially support investigative journalism, particularly that which challenges governmental institutions at the local, state, and national levels. That's the degree to which journalism is the "fourth estate," fulfilling an essential role in the healthy functioning of democracy.
   36. Colin Posted: May 02, 2009 at 07:37 PM (#3161527)
And I'm honestly concerned about the niche markets that local newspapers serviced that seem to be getting left behind in the brave new inter-world.


Are smaller local newspapers suffering with the same degree of severity as the larger city newspapers? I've been figuring that at least in the foreseeable future smaller local papers will be fine, mostly because the internet isn't offering an alternative at the most local levels. For that reason I still subscribe to my local paper, but I don't subscribe to a larger-city paper. Frankly I don't know why my local paper makes its content available online.

Like sam, I worry about the implications of this transition for the future of news reporting. Bloggers don't impress me much when it comes to gathering new information. They can fact-check the hell out of stuff, can analyze it to death, but actually getting the information to begin with has usually been the job of someone who is getting paid.
   37. McCoy Posted: May 02, 2009 at 07:57 PM (#3161546)
While we are at it we can also say that newspapers should have invented a functional electric car and fat free frozen yogurt that tastes just as good as the regular stuff.
   38. McCoy Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:03 PM (#3161558)
In the early days of E-bay how many other ebays were there? If i remember correctly there were something like one or two others.
In the early days of Amazon how mnay other Amazons were there?
In the early days of Craigslist how many other craigslists were there?
   39. shoelesjoe Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:06 PM (#3161566)
Woodward and Bernstein killed the newspaper. From that point on reporters and editors saw themselves as crusaders for their agendas rather than as chroniclers of current events. These days the people who run papers spend as much time deciding what not to report as they do deciding what to report. A politician you like has a child by his mistress? You not only don't pursue the story, you have your reporters work to cover it up. Another pol that you don't like? Put an anonymously sourced rumor about him on your front page above the fold, and then pretend you're just doing your job. This kind of crap is the daily policy of most big city papers. You think if the Washington Post got wind of a Watergate type scandal out of today's White House they'd investigate it? Hardly.

As bad as all that is their sports reporting is even worse. The big dirty secret wrt sports reporters is that about 98% have no clue what they're talking about, and they never have. The Net has essentially allowed anybody with a keyboard to join the party, and most of them offer much more insight than all the Wilbons, Boswells, Lupicas, and Stephen A. Freakin' Smiths of the newspaper world put together.

The sooner newspapers are put out of our misery the better off we'll all be.
   40. Sean Forman Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:12 PM (#3161576)
The whole issue for newspapers is the desire and need for them to be generalists. We get one big newspaper with 100's of articles, and any one user read about 20% of them. Why read about the Phillies or politics in the paper when I can read much more indepth stuff on both subjects in two different places online. Clay Shirky's column on this a month or two back hit the nail smack on the head. Newspapers format and function is an artifact of the processes needed to produce them.

Now, a student living with his parents named Aaron Gleeman can become the foremost and one of the most widely read experts on the Minnesota Twins producing five times the content that a newspaper can fit in online. Pre-internet he would have been known as a Twins expert by his small circle of friends. Gleeman could not have produced his content and distributed in a timely fashion without the massive infrastructure investments made by the Star Tribune. Post-internet he can be read by thousands daily instantaneously.

News that people want to read (local, national, sports) will exist. For example, Talking Points Memo's coverage of the U.S. Attorney firings was every bit as good and investigative as anything done by the NY Times.

It now just makes a lot more sense to create companies like Politico, Daily Candy, Yelp, Craigslist, and Sports Blog Nation rather than expect the Washington Post to provide the best reporting on Politics, the Nationals, D.C. Social events, D.C. shopping trends, D.C. classifieds.
   41. McCoy Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:26 PM (#3161604)
I would say eventually it will be housed under one roof again at some point. It is simple economics really. Just like ebay has purchased companies that benefit from having ebay around and Amazon owns companies that benefit from Amazon so too will will there be a point where once again few companies will once again own massive amounts of news generating sites.
   42. Dolf Lucky Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:28 PM (#3161608)
Absolutely. The only real issue at this point is what business model, if any, will emerge to be able to financially support investigative journalism, particularly that which challenges governmental institutions at the local, state, and national levels. That's the degree to which journalism is the "fourth estate," fulfilling an essential role in the healthy functioning of democracy.


A) In theory, I agree with you.
B) My local newspaper, the largest in the state, ran a poem on the front page on inauguration day, 2009. The poem was masturbatory back-slapping to the nth degree: Hey-aren't-we-a-great-country?
C) So, in reference to (A) and at the risk of letting one piece of anecdotal evidence support my entire argument, in practice, it's time to let the dinosaurs die. Either someone will or will not backfill the necessary role of watchdog, but it's not a job that's currently being done by the newspapers.
   43. bob gee Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:36 PM (#3161619)
my take? (40, i typed this in, and then just saw your post; argh, it's what i typed, but clearer. but i've now just typed the whole thing in, damn if i'm getting rid of it).

i've felt newspapers are at their best when focusing on local news, and launching investigations.

i grew up in northern nj, and would read the bergen record and daily news every day. i quickly found that i wouldn't even read most of the sportswriters, because i - even as a teenager - saw how full of it they were. if these guys' predictions were so awful and consistently poor when it could be verified (ie. world series, playoffs, regular season, etc.) why should i think they'd be remotely decent when it couldn't be verified? and then the disdain for anyone who wasn't a member of their small little universe..

combine that with bill james opening up my mind to verify and research, and it's safe to say i think most sportswriters who do more than report the game / conduct interviews do a poor job.

that was 25+years ago. if you open up the newspapers today, at least in the sports section, it's STILL THE SAME PROBLEM. idiots who aren't experts, thinking they are experts, and everyone who isn't part of their club is a doofus.

i'm obviously excluding king, rob neyer, joe pos, etc. from the group. quick take on if you're a member of that group: if you are on any of the espn roundtables, or write columns like those people, you're a member of the idiot group.

i've found the same thing in the financial world; people who don't know how to trade, have never traded, can't do anything worthwhile regarding trading, telling people what to do with their money, or what others 'will' do with their money.

unfortunately, the local news has diminished over time at least in the papers i read now. and as can be seen from part of the last few years, so has the investigative reporting. if 1/10 the amount of time had been spent investigating the iraq war as (pick a gossip scandal; the teenage girl in bahamas or wherever, the oj murder, etc.), or the housing bubble, or...well, i think the papers would be in better shape now.

the internet allows me to eliminate the terrible writers, and read those who are good.

(EDIT: good does NOT mean "only what i agree with". )
   44. Steve Treder Posted: May 02, 2009 at 08:42 PM (#3161629)
Either someone will or will not backfill the necessary role of watchdog, but it's not a job that's currently being done by the newspapers.

It's not being done by all newspapers, and never has. But it's being done by some, and it's something that broadcast news -- a medium lacking the space to be able to develop and sustain long-running, complicated investigative series the way newspapers can -- has never really done as effectively as newspapers.

It's important. As others have said, the blogosphere is great for opinion pieces and fact-checking and all such, but it's close to 100% dependent upon the press as its source of original content. While no one should lament the plight of old-school businesses succumbing to the inevitability of technological progress, we dismiss at our peril the very critical "watchdog" function that newspapers have uniquely traditionally fulfilled.
   45. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: May 02, 2009 at 09:18 PM (#3161696)
I wish people would stop saying that end users get web content for free. End users pay for the internet, in all sorts of ways.

It's ISPs that get web content for free. The fact that none of that money ends up in the pockets of content providers really isn't the problem of the end user, IMHO.
   46. villageidiom Posted: May 02, 2009 at 09:18 PM (#3161698)
I work on the web side of a newspaper. I don't have a lot of grand ideas, but one thing I do know is that we have to wean people off the idea that everything in the paper should be available online, in full, at no cost, by birthright.
The only viable way to do this, AFAICT, is to provide content they want or need, but can't get anywhere else.

I have no worries for the AP; if newspapers aren't around to fund them, radio & TV can still do it, as well as internet sites (such as Yahoo!) that are using their feed. But many newspapers aren't adding significantly more value than the AP feed. They need to provide something unique - and by unique I don't mean "this columnist here, nobody is like him". True, but there are 300 million other people who would LOVE to share their opinion, and can do so in a more readable, entertaining fashion, for no additional cost to the reader.

Newspapers, if they are to survive*, must provide something that is inefficient for larger content providers to get. Local coverage is it. If the Boston Globe is to survive, they'd better cover what's going on in Burlington and Braintree and Billerica better than anyone else can; nobody in NYC or Chicago or DC or London or Beijing can afford to do it. They should build the infrastructure to get local stories from the reporter to the consumer as quickly as possible, even if it means circumventing print entirely. They should do more in-depth work, including collaborative analysis with their readers. Look at this site - we all came here to talk baseball, yet there's no shortage of people trying to figure out the best path to the future for newspapers. But we're here at a global level; locally, there's a void. And that's an opportunity newspapers should take, while they still can.

* They won't. People still use newspapers because they still can. Were they to disappear overnight those people would adapt. We do need to focus on what the next stage is for these organizations.
   47. Repoz Posted: May 02, 2009 at 09:33 PM (#3161711)
the internet allows me to eliminate the terrible writers, and read those who are good.

Rubs evil hands together...
   48. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 02, 2009 at 09:38 PM (#3161715)
It pains me to go here - my first job was in the newspaper business - but is it possible that physical newspapers are the telegraph, the horse-drawn carriage industry, the courier service?


Yes, but there's no reason a brand needs to die with the passing of technology. Wells Fargo survived the obsolescence of stagecoaches, and Western Union survived the end of the telegraph.
   49. Steve Treder Posted: May 02, 2009 at 09:52 PM (#3161744)
Wells Fargo survived the obsolescence of stagecoaches, and Western Union survived the end of the telegraph.

Yes, newspapers needed to understand that they weren't in the newspaper business, they were in the information-generation-and-distribution business.
   50. Howie Menckel Posted: May 02, 2009 at 11:06 PM (#3161838)
"Woodward and Bernstein killed the newspaper. From that point on reporters and editors saw themselves as crusaders for their agendas rather than as chroniclers of current events."

ah, an overgeneralization at a truly epic level.

.............

Anyway, many newspapers - especially mid-sized ones (the smaller ones in many cases already got this) - already are adapting to the very sage observations here in terms of local, unique news being the key, including/and especially investigative/watchdog.

How many papers around the US should have any foreign news on the front page, short of a volcano that kills 150,000 people somewhere? 5? 10?
And even in that case, the best play is to find local people who are from there, have visited there, are in contact with people there (ok, this can be done really poorly, I'll assume a legit localizing angle).... anything but running the same AP copy that all of you who care about it read 12-18 hours before the paper landed on your doorstep. Of course you can run a foreign story inside anyway, maybe even with a photo out front. But don't make it the "is this paper worth picking up off the store counter today" decision, compared to a flood in the next town over or the jury verdict on the local allegedly corrupt elected official.

Newspapers are now able to tell at a very micro level how many people click every link on their Website. Things like high school sports and investigations of government abuse of power are now confirmed as "must reads" for many. Papers are figuring out what online readers want (and by other methods, reasonably well learning what hard-copy readers want).

Newspaper readers from age 45-50 are proving to be quite loyal in many markets. A business model is needed to garner revenue from those under 40 who care about the local news but don't want to read a newspaper. But aside from the most poorly-managed ones (some of them huge), the hard copy may have a couple of more years left than some think.

Even so, at some point it seems almost certain that print will not be the main distribution model; it's being rejected by a young but always aging population. Hard-copy readers are dying and not being replaced very well. Once that core is 70-90 instead of 45-90, basically, the jig is up for good.
   51. GregD Posted: May 03, 2009 at 12:03 AM (#3161929)
"Woodward and Bernstein killed the newspaper. From that point on reporters and editors saw themselves as crusaders for their agendas rather than as chroniclers of current events."

ah, an overgeneralization at a truly epic level.


Not only an overgeneralization but a wrong generalization. Newspapers in their heyday were much, much, much more committed to crusading for their agenda than they ever have been in the last 30 years. Woodward and Bernstein changed journalists; the big influx of Ivy Leaguers into newspapers other than the Times and a few other really came on their heels. The day of the 9th grade dropout who was savvy and fast was passing. That had good and bad effects, but it definitely did not cause newspapers to suddenly think of themselves as crusaders. Read the old NY Herald or the old Chicago Tribune from the 19th century if you want to see newspapers that thought of themselves solely as crusaders.
   52. Danny Posted: May 03, 2009 at 12:35 AM (#3161941)
Somewhat unrelated, but I've been reading through old NYT articles for a project I'm working on. One of the funnier ones was from 1909 titled "Senate Laughs at Crane." Senator Crane had introduced a bill calling for the creation of the Children's Bureau (which became law 3 years later):

The dignity of the Senate could not stand the strain.

“Oho!” said one of the most dignified members, “so Crane is coming to the assistance of the stork. The stork brings the babies and Crane provides for their subsequent care. Let me see, isn’t Crane a sort of second cousin to the stork?”


And from a NYT editorial in 1897:

We think that in general and on the average poverty is due to the natural differences in men. It is not true that all men are created equal, even though the Declaration of Independence does say so. Every man is created with an equal right to show what there is in him in competition with all other men having the same right. And, taking mankind as a whole, or even the City of New York as representative of all mankind, the man who has the most in him, or, in other words, who is best equipped for the struggle, gets on the best. There is a multitude of exceptions to the operation of this law, and some of them are heart-rending, but on the average—and that determines the law—the man with the sound body who is intelligent, industrious, foreseeing, and ambitious gives a better account of himself than the weakling who is dull, lazy, short-sighted, and content to end his life no better off than when he began it.
   53. TerpNats Posted: May 03, 2009 at 03:27 AM (#3162020)
Woodward and Bernstein changed journalists; the big influx of Ivy Leaguers into newspapers other than the Times and a few other really came on their heels.
I've been in the news business for more than 30 years, and the number of Ivy Leaguers in journalism remains minimal. They can make plenty more money somewhere else. And believe me, the quality of writing of those Ivies I've seen isn't inherently better.

I must also commend the writers of this thread for avoiding the obvious snark -- or maybe people weren't aware that the Phil Bronstein whom King Kaufman refers to was married to Sharon Stone for several years. (Since the Examiner was a Hearst paper at the time -- several years ago, the company sold the Examiner and bought the stronger Chronicle, and I'm sure old W.R. is still rolling in his grave -- does this mean Sharon Stone secretly wished she were Marion Davies? If only Sharon had made a film as good as "Show People"!)
   54. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: May 03, 2009 at 03:29 AM (#3162022)
It has always been advertsing revenue not subscription revenue that has allowed newspapers to survive and be profitable. Until newspapers can come up with a way to replace all of the revenue they have lost from the disappearance of classified, department store, and supermarket advertising over the last decade they will never survive.
   55. Tripon Posted: May 03, 2009 at 03:34 AM (#3162023)

It has always been advertsing revenue not subscription revenue that has allowed newspapers to survive and be profitable. Until newspapers can come up with a way to replace all of the revenue they have lost from the disappearance of classified, department store, and supermarket advertising over the last decade they will never survive.


And yet it is the subscription service that allows a newspaper to charge higher rates to the advertisers. Raising subscription rates and lowering the content of a newspaper is just going to piss off your customers.
   56. fra paolo Posted: May 03, 2009 at 04:29 AM (#3162041)
I've found all these 'newspapers going the way of the dodo' discussions to be very US-centric. It might be the case that newspapers in the United States can't compete with the Internet, but in Europe it's a different matter.

British newspapers rely on display, not classified, advertising and a much higher cover price, easily double or treble what US newspaper-readers pay. They're also much more obviously biased. Some of them have turned into daily Entertainment Weeklies, with sports news thrown in. They've had declining circulations for quite a while, which has been a cause for concern, but while it's expected a few will go to the wall, the number of survivors will probably exceed the lost. If U.S. newspapers a re looking for a formula for survival, they will probably have to become more like the foreign press — more biased, more display advertising, higher cover price, circulating through a wide region rather than a city (the Northeast Times, the Midwest Tribune, the Chesapeake Post).
   57. Jeff K. Posted: May 03, 2009 at 05:03 AM (#3162052)
Re: #40

You may not like him as much as I do (did), you may not think he's written some of the no-question best baseball pieces of all time, but putting Boswell with Lupica (who used to be okay), Wilbon (was underrated, has been overrated since PTI), and Screamin' A is quite close to a slap in the face.
   58. Shock Posted: May 03, 2009 at 07:02 AM (#3162063)

Do they still make typewriters or word processors?

They as in anybody.


I didn't know the term "word processor" had a meaning before modern computers.
   59. CW Is Carving The Goddamned Turkey Posted: May 03, 2009 at 07:31 AM (#3162064)
I think you guys are missing Kaufman's point. It's not that newspapers didn't create Craigslist, but that their whole attitude towards the Internet was self-defeating. Craigslist might be a bad example, but then there's Google, Yahoo, Broadcast.com, YouTube.


And what's the point of this list? Broadcast.com made Cuban and some other people a lot of money as an IPO during the dot-com bubble but I don't think has really been successful in any other way. YouTube is fantasticially successful in a lot of ways, but "as a business" is really not one of those ways as far as I can tell. Yahoo and Google are making money but not as much as one might think.

And in the wake of the handful of success stories you have the Alta Vistas and the Excites and the Inktomis and the HotBots and the Dogpiles and the Northern Lights of the world. For the handful of success stories there are scores of failures to capitalize on the new paradigm for information transmission. And the successes are qualified successes - Craigslist and its kind are probably costing newspapers hundreds of millions in revenue yearly but I doubt seriously they're pulling in all of that "lost" revenue themselves.

It's really easy to sit here and criticize the newspapers for not marching out to conquere the Internet in the early days, but it's useful to point out that most of the pioneers died. It's hard to blame them from seeking their inevitable deaths at home in bed with hospice, rather than dying cold and alone in the dark and snowy night.
   60. Jeff K. Posted: May 03, 2009 at 09:00 AM (#3162069)
I didn't know the term "word processor" had a meaning before modern computers.

It did. And to answer the question you quoted: Yes, they still make typewriters and they even still make expensive word processors. I don't know exactly who they sell the latter to, but someone must be buying them.
   61. CFiJ Posted: May 03, 2009 at 10:03 AM (#3162070)
And what's the point of this list?
The point is that there was (and is) revenue to be made from the Internet, revenue streams that cost relatively little in terms of development and overhead. As Steve Treder pointed out in #50, the newspapers forgot that they were in the information dissemination industry, not the print newspaper industry.
   62. GregD Posted: May 03, 2009 at 07:32 PM (#3162338)
Well, but success for a major newspaper wouldn't be an overinflated IPO for a business model that ended up failing, right? Nor would it be craigslist, which is profitable because it doesn't pay to do any of the things a newspaper does. This seems akin to saying that newspapers should be in the highway billboard business (not a few of them are, actually.)

It's easy to say that they were in the information dissemination industry, until you think about the newspapers themselves. They were in the printing industry. They had massive presses; the Times key investment was not its old building but its incredible printing operation, upgraded at massive expense. Some newspapers made money off of printing rival newspapers or weeklies at off hours. They spent a great deal of money on those presses, used them to charge more to advertisers for better-looking color copy, and employed skilled and semi-skilled staffs to run them. At many papers, the printers had a great deal of respect and authority. If a call came from production to demand a story, no reporter or night editor could tell them to stick it. It took someone well up the food chain. And that was because printing on time meant a lot, and the people who controlled that process therefore had a good deal of authority.

Could heroic efforts by newspapers have made a difference? Probably. But you have to ground yourself in the moment. They had massive expense and massive revenues. Many of them were paying off loans for large upgrades of their presses. It would take not only great vision but also an excellent relationship with your banker to suddenly switch to an initially expensive model that did not increase advertising revenues at the start and which guaranteed to make obsolete capital upgrades you were still paying for. Geniuses do that, but most companies of any type don't do it.
   63. Gaelan Posted: May 03, 2009 at 07:51 PM (#3162355)

the internet allows me to eliminate the terrible writers, and read those who are good.


The next good writer I find on the internet will be the first. Honestly, the quality of writing found on the internet is bad. Now it's not going to matter because, as Rifkin pointed out, we are becoming a post-literate society.
   64. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: May 03, 2009 at 07:53 PM (#3162362)
I have to agree with CW and GregD here. It's easy to say that newspapers "should have done" this or that, but nobody has actually presented any evidence that any of those things would have worked. Newspapers make money from (a) subscriptions, (b) classifieds, and (c) retail advertising (particularly car dealerships and department stores).

The internet destroyed (b). You can't say, "Newspapers should have anticipated that and should have done what Craigslist has done," because Craigslist doesn't make much money. Craigslist doesn't capture newspaper classified revenue; it mostly eliminates that revenue.

The internet severely hurts (a), because lots of people get their news online for free. Newspapers could have tried charging for their content. but so far pretty much everyone who has tried that has failed. People don't want to pay for online content unless it's extremely specialized, and newspapers by definition have to be generalists.

And the internet hurts (c), as well, as e-commerce takes a bite out of brick-and-mortar.
   65. Jeff K. Posted: May 03, 2009 at 08:10 PM (#3162389)
Is anybody really arguing that newspapers are solely, or even the great majority, at fault for their demise? I've excoriated the industry around here as much as anyone the last few months, but that's because what they *did* do, and continue to do, is not learn from their own mistakes. Hell, not just not learn, it's almost like they learn anti-lessons and double-down their mistake the next time. In the end, however, upthread has it right: they forgot they were in the information business, and that the information business is ruthless.

Already getting their asses kicked by TV, instead of murdering each other down to one newspaper per major city, they could have at least tried banding together. Who knows what they could have done with a united lobbying front? If you had told me in 1996 what the copyright lobbies would get in return for relative chump change campaign donations, I'd have thought you were crazy. Newspapers are going to go out much more beloved than the RIAA/MPAA constituency will, but they'll all go out having learned the lessons (for the umpteenth time throughout history) that:

1) Information really does want to be free...and that basically the only long-run successful strategy is to have better information than the other guy.
2) Intellectual property as a corporate prop is dicey over the long haul. Sure, someone could figure out tomorrow how to cut down trees cheaper than P&G;and hence get their paper towels/toilet paper/everything else to market cheaper. After years and untold capital. I can go out and compete with the Austin American Statesman right now, because 80% is from the wires.
3) Following from that, it's a ####### ##### when your product gets commoditized. Even worse when you're the dumbasses who made it that way, just in time to get blindsided by the truck.
   66. BDC Posted: May 03, 2009 at 08:40 PM (#3162447)
People don't want to pay for online content unless it's extremely specialized

Indeed. The only Internet content I pay for is B-Ref PI. I used to pay for the Guardian crosswords while they charged a fee, but apparently there aren't many people as addicted to crosswords as I am, because they made them free again. When the NYT put their columnists behind a subscription wall, I discovered that their columnists were not essential to my happiness, and pretty soon they became free again, too.

The Internet fascinates me in the way that it allows people to form vast information co-ops, bartering time and expertise with one another. Wikipedia alone is astonishing – how could proprietary print encyclopedias ever compete with it?
   67. Ray (RDP) Posted: May 03, 2009 at 09:22 PM (#3162501)
Indeed. The only Internet content I pay for is B-Ref PI.


I pay for PI too, plus Baseball Prospectus (for Sheehan), ESPN (for Neyer), and James's site (though I somehow never remember to actually read it). That's all.
   68. Astro Logical Sign Stealer Posted: May 03, 2009 at 09:22 PM (#3162502)
The Wall Street Journal has had a successful pay model for its wsj.com for years now. It apparently has about 1.1 million subscribers, and is adding some 100,000 per year (another statistic I saw reported was a May 2007 subscriber figure of 931,000.

http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2009/03/case-for-charging-to-read-wsjcom.html

One day last month, a Columbia Journalism student asked me in class why WSJ.Com had started as a paid site.... I turned to my co-instructor, Peter Kann, former CEO of Dow Jones and the person ultimately responsible for the paid strategy. “I made the site paid because I was ignorant, “ Kann told the class. “I didn’t know any better. I just thought people should pay for content.”


You can't give away something for free and then start charging for it (unless maybe its addictive), but wsj.com is a model of a successful, profitable web presence for a traditional newspaper, even if it did happen by accident.
   69. Jeff K. Posted: May 03, 2009 at 09:27 PM (#3162508)
An appeal to authority. I'll tell you right now that the Wikipedia of dictionaries could come out gangbusters, get tons of media attention, lauded in the press, you name it. I'm still looking for my OED.
   70. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: May 03, 2009 at 09:30 PM (#3162511)
but wsj.com is a model of a successful, profitable web presence for a traditional newspaper, even if it did happen by accident.

Is the Wall Street Journal really a "traditional newspaper", though? It's not trying to appeal to the kind of mass audience that other dailies do - it's strictly a business paper.
   71. Jeff K. Posted: May 03, 2009 at 09:36 PM (#3162518)
Yeah, except WSJ.com has slowly whittled down what's behind the pay wall. A friend from college worked for WSJ.com and moved over to the print side. Listening to her stories about the experience, and combined with the slow creep of stuff over the wall that's led to where we are now (now, the only things left behind the wall and hence what you're paying for are rapid news updates during the day and the data center), whatever instructiveness WSJ.com had for others is all but gone. You're looking at someone who subscribed to print, then as I went to the web more and more, I dumped my print for web, and eventually web for free. I don't need bi-minute market coverage. I want business/commerce/financial news, and I can get it. For free.
   72. McCoy Posted: May 03, 2009 at 10:21 PM (#3162545)
I actually met quite a few people in the media business over the weekend (ESPN, CondeNast, web desingers, and so forth) and they were saying that pay walls don't really work. Hits when compared to free are really low and tend to decline over time.
   73. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: May 03, 2009 at 11:32 PM (#3162601)
I think that at some point, a more profitable business model for news delivery over the internet will emerge. It will probably need to have a few components:

1) Advertiser supported, as people do prefer to get news for either very low cost, or for free. Even a newspaper is very cheap for the consumer, and other news sources don't directly cost anything. Expensive subscriptions won't work, except in very special cases.

2) Revenue from ads will have to be better than what you normally find on the internet. To do this, you would need to provide greater value for the advertiser than what is traditionally provided on the internet.

3) Ideally, the presentation is either really compelling or convenient for the user, and attracts enough market share to make the higher value ads profitable.


It might look something like what was suggested in post #28 by Rich Rifkin. A news podcast with newspaper level reporting might satisfy these criteria. I would definitely listen to a podcast with in depth reporting. (I already do. I like Planet Money, a lot.) If a good news podcast was commercially supported through ads, that would cause no bother to me. I might even pay a small fee to listen, as long as the podcast provided information that I could not get on another podcast. Having an audio version on the podcast adds some value for me, as I can listen during my drive to and from work; I might pay a small amount if the quality was very high.
   74. Jeff K. Posted: May 03, 2009 at 11:52 PM (#3162615)
Wel, that ignores the fact that ads, in the way we know them, are much younger than newspapers themselves. I was a finance major, but I was the rare business major that took three advertising courses (at UT, it's in the College of Comm), all about the business side of things and not creative. Many people know that advertising in basically every form, and I mean the CPI type that covers newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, etc. is based on numbers and assumptions so handwaved that a video of the process could land a jet on an aircraft carrier. Most people don't know quite how far it goes. Media companies are *desperately* trying to keep up with client requests for slicing markets thinner, because it's quite literally a house of cards built on a Ponzi scheme. At some point, someone like a P&G;or Budweiser or Coke are going to take a serious look at past ad spending and metrics, and at that point, it might be nuclear. To me, it's bad enough that it nearly rises to the level of out and out scam.

Just my two cents, but I wouldn't proclaim revenue model that's basically entirely based on ads as the wave of the future.
   75. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: May 04, 2009 at 12:19 AM (#3162630)
Just my two cents, but I wouldn't proclaim revenue model that's basically entirely based on ads as the wave of the future.


Network TV seems to manage. Of course, they have content that people want. That is the real trick.

Edit: BTW, I guess you took classes in that big thought police building without any windows.
   76. Jeff K. Posted: May 04, 2009 at 12:41 AM (#3162641)
Network TV seems to manage.

To an extent, but I don't think anybody's pointing at the networks as a paragon for print media to follow.

Of course, they have content that people want. That is the real trick.

Actually, I'd say that the real trick is having content that people want that others can't reproduce. It's not a new point, but the reason Hulu would possibly work as a for charge service is because random people on the internet can't reproduce The Office, or Lost. Driving to the point made by someone earlier that they forgot they were in the information business. They threw their innovation and business process work behind distribution arms, printing costs, and the like. That's all well and good if the printed word remains the king. It isn't going to.

Edit: BTW, I guess you took classes in that big thought police building without any windows.

McCombs? Naturally, though when I started 9 years before I finished, it was still just CBA then. They just finished renovating it, actually.
   77. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 04, 2009 at 01:19 AM (#3162655)
One huge problem that prevents newspapers from making money off internet advertising is that for the vast majority of people, web ads are little more than a colossal annoyance that are clicked on only by accident. As a result, if the website charges for page hits the advertiser gets discouraged. And if it charges for clicks, then unless the conversion rate is fairly high it can be like pouring money down the drain. If newspaper websites are ever going to turn the corner via advertising, they're going to have to find a way to get readers to pay attention to them, and I don't see how that's ever going to happen. People go to newspaper websites to skim and click, not to look at ads.

As for making newspaper website readers pay, one possibility might be to include full web access in the price of a print subscription, but make the moochers pay a small fee for mooching. Of course this would then reduce the circulation base and hence the ad rates, but at least for a change you'd have a coherent working principle as a starting point. And in truth, I don't really see any way to make web newspapers pay---with a tiny handful of exceptions, they simply provide little or no important information that can't be found elsewhere.
   78. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: May 04, 2009 at 01:27 AM (#3162661)
McCombs? Naturally, though when I started 9 years before I finished, it was still just CBA then. They just finished renovating it, actually.


I was talking about that weird communications building. Are there classes in there? In reference to this:

(at UT, it's in the College of Comm)
   79. The Ghost of Sox Fans Past Posted: May 04, 2009 at 02:12 AM (#3162673)
I am not surprised that the WSJ successfully charged for content. It has a loyal following of businessmen whoe companies pay for it, plus they are used to getting e-info while traveling.
   80. Craig in MN Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:05 AM (#3162691)
The problem seems to me that local newspapers used to be THE source for people who wanted information. TV took the lead there at some point, but couldn't provide as much depth and breadth as newspapers, so they were both necessary. And local advertisers needed to advertise, so they went to TV and newspapers. But then information started to become available in other ways. And commerce started to become less local. And we all became more like a part of the global economy and global market rather than our distinct local market and local economy. And the newspapers just weren't special anymore....people can get information from a lot of source now on the internet....and do. And people can buy stuff on the internet from anywhere, and do. I don't need to buy a paper that is printed in my city to see ads from the neighborhood widget seller. The chain is broken, and probably can't be put together again.

To make newspapers viable, they would either need to start to undo the globalization of commerce or undo the spreading of available information sources, or they need to find a way to accumulate and provide more of the information to more people in their areas. The first two don't seem at all possible. But if they could expand their information providing footprint in an area...maybe by merging with a tv station, radio stations, providing a top notch integrated website that embraces new technologies and streaming video, audio, blogging, interactive media, community involvement, etc....maybe they could go from (making up some numbers) selling 10% of the local ads to 30% if the local ads...and cut a few redundant jobs in the mean time allowing them to increase revenue enough to may the merger worthwhile. That's not really saving the newspaper industry, but it is providing a resource people would appreciate more and give them something close enough to a monopoly that they could gain the reputation of the "go-to-source" that people in this city need...which is the reputation that they had before that allowed them to sell the ads and make money.
   81. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:08 AM (#3162693)
One of the incorrect assumptions that people are making in this thread is that local newspapers are failing. In fact, it is small, local newspapers that are the last bastion of profitability in the industry. They're hurting right now just like every other business, but most haven't seen mass layoffs or outright collapses like the larger, regional papers that specialize in national news and opinion-making on a broad level. I don't know how long this will last, but to date, nothing has really replaced the smallish, local paper in the niche of supplying news tailored to a market. Bigger papers are suffering in part because a lot of what they had their revenue streams invested in -- any kind of reporting that doesn't focus on things in the immediate area -- has been usurped by outfits that can be accessed at a distance on the internet. The New York Times has essentially voided the viability of the national desk of nearly every newspaper in the country by taking its content to the internet.

Local news on television did whittle away at local papers, but television is extremely limited as a method of purveying news, due to time constraints, lack of choice for the viewer, and so on. It had a big enough impact to kill a lot of extra papers in markets like the Twin Cities or Portland, but the fact is that the papers that remained continued to turn profits fairly regularly until the explosion of digital technology. It's partially for this reason that I'm not sure that video and audio are totally the wave of the future: a big portion of what kept newspapers viable was portability, and the fact that they could be consumed essentially privately in a public space: two different people could sit in the same room reading different sections of the paper, a person could read it on the train or in the office, it could be picked up and put down at will. With the advent of portable digital technology, the newspaper ceased to have a monopoly on that sort of thing. I guess what I'm saying is that I see the era of print journalism ending, but not necessarily the era of text journalism.
   82. Jeff K. Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:14 AM (#3162695)
The New York Times has essentially voided the viability of the national desk of nearly every newspaper in the country by taking its content to the internet.

And had they not been dumbasses about it, and this here is where I do blame them, they wouldn't have blithely pushed on with same-old same-old since NYTimes.com went up in what, '95?

I was talking about that weird communications building. Are there classes in there? In reference to this:

Oh, if you're thinking about the one that's south, the one with no windows as you said, I don't think there are any classes in there other than Radio/Television/Film courses that are done in actual sets. Texas Student Media is in there, so the Texan, Austin City Limits, etc. I just heard they're tearing up the parking lot across 26th (so also across Whitis from Kinsolving) and the buildings past it towards Scottish Rite to build Comm a third building. Hard to believe that slightly more th an 10 years ago, there was a way greater than zero chance that the whole program was going to be decertified.
   83. The Ghost of Sox Fans Past Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:23 AM (#3162699)
One of the incorrect assumptions that people are making in this thread is that local newspapers are failing. In fact, it is small, local newspapers that are the last bastion of profitability in the industry.

This guy bought several community papers in Washington plus the larger King County Journal and reorganized them into a profitable company. He has similar ventures in Canada.
   84. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:30 AM (#3162702)
But if they could expand their information providing footprint in an area...maybe by merging with a tv station, radio stations, providing a top notch integrated website that embraces new technologies and streaming video, audio, blogging, interactive media, community involvement, etc....maybe they could go from (making up some numbers) selling 10% of the local ads to 30% if the local ads...and cut a few redundant jobs in the mean time allowing them to increase revenue enough to may the merger worthwhile.
Ah, but blame liberals who think the federal government can run an economy: FCC rules generally prohibit cross-ownership of a newspaper and radio or television outlet in the same market.
   85. Jeff K. Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:45 AM (#3162714)
Of course, under David's watch, we wouldn't need to worry about radio and TV 'markets', as the spectrum would be unregulated. Imagine the fun when any schmuck with the cash can toss up his own tower or even just blast from his garage and effectively cut you off from other communication by overwhelming you.
   86. The Ghost of Sox Fans Past Posted: May 04, 2009 at 03:48 AM (#3162715)
Local news on television did whittle away at local papers, but television is extremely limited as a method of purveying news, due to time constraints, lack of choice for the viewer, and so on.

Local TV news is desperately trying to grab the viewer's attention with disaster footage and tragedies in the area - "if it bleeds, it leads" - unless they are chasing young widows with microphones to ask "how do you feel, now that your husband was decapitated in that accident" or, the local favorite in Seattle for a couple years,teacher-seductress Mary Kay Letourneau.
   87. Steve Treder Posted: May 04, 2009 at 04:04 AM (#3162722)
it's quite literally a house of cards built on a Ponzi scheme.

This word, "literally?" I don't think it means what you think it means.
   88. Rich Rifkin I Posted: May 04, 2009 at 05:02 AM (#3162753)
One of the incorrect assumptions that people are making in this thread is that local newspapers are failing. In fact, it is small, local newspapers that are the last bastion of profitability in the industry. They're hurting right now just like every other business, but most haven't seen mass layoffs or outright collapses like the larger, regional papers that specialize in national news and opinion-making on a broad level.
That contradicts what I am seeing on my local level--very deep cuts in personnel and a reduction in days per week of publication and reduced wages; losses, not profits. Do you have a source to prove what you allege about local papers on a broader level across the country? I hope what you are saying is correct. It just isn't what I am seeing anecdotally.
   89. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: May 04, 2009 at 05:21 AM (#3162763)
Media companies are *desperately* trying to keep up with client requests for slicing markets thinner, because it's quite literally a house of cards built on a Ponzi scheme. At some point, someone like a P&G;or Budweiser or Coke are going to take a serious look at past ad spending and metrics, and at that point, it might be nuclear. To me, it's bad enough that it nearly rises to the level of out and out scam.

Right. It's potentially harder to hand-wave on the internet, as there is much better data about the effectiveness of ads (it's easy to measure click-through, conversions, etc.).

Google's been working really hard to produce this data, first for itself, then to share with advertisers, content sites, etc. Their goal is to make the advertising more effective. And where Google is effective is by capitalizing on the long tail, by enabling low-cost transactions, even for small content sites and small advertisers.
   90. bob gee Posted: May 04, 2009 at 04:01 PM (#3163026)
local papers aren't doing well in mid hudson valley area. the daily has had layoffs, cutback hours, etc.

and the weekly papers around here had to close up shop:
http://www.dailyfreeman.com/articles/2009/02/10/news/doc4991a25bf3532468754961.txt
   91. BDC Posted: May 04, 2009 at 04:27 PM (#3163062)
the Wikipedia of dictionaries could come out gangbusters, get tons of media attention, lauded in the press, you name it. I'm still looking for my OED

In a sense, Jeff, as you probably know, the OED is the Wikipedia of dictionaries. James Murray got hundreds of people around the English-speaking world to collaborate on the documentation. In fact, you can still contribute: if you see a word, or a sense, or a "postdating" (a use of a word after the current OED had deemed it obsolete), you can e-mail it to the editors and they will use it. People seem to have this irrepressible need to share information, even if they don't get individual glory for it: this is how a lot of baseball data has been assembled too, of course.
   92. TVerik, who wonders what the hell is "Ansky" Posted: May 04, 2009 at 04:29 PM (#3163065)
The next good writer I find on the internet will be the first. Honestly, the quality of writing found on the internet is bad.


I found SG on the Internet. I think he's a good writer.

Not your cup of tea? That's fine with me. I found the King on the Net, and liked the cut of his jib. Others on this thread have mentioned writers for b-pro. I argue that there's actually a fair amount of Internet-first content out there.
   93. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 04, 2009 at 07:25 PM (#3163318)
Do you have a source to prove what you allege about local papers on a broader level across the country? I hope what you are saying is correct. It just isn't what I am seeing anecdotally.

Other than the fact that I own part of a company that operates a few smallish newspapers and our board sees numbers that show small newspapers doing, if not well, certainly a hell of a lot better than larger metro dailies, not really. Look, nobody's rolling in dough in this business anymore, not really, but competition at the moment for smaller markets is considerably lower. Retail news is still selling, at least at some level; we're still turning a (very small) profit, and our two biggest papers are in places that were annihilated by the housing bubble. We haven't laid anybody off yet.

Part of the problem is that there were a lot of smaller papers that weren't healthy to begin with -- there are some markets that are just too small to sustain even weekly or bi-weekly products these days, so when the economy crashed, so did they. But the paper in, say, Green Bay, Wisconsin (to take for example a smallish-market paper that was still reporting very large profits as late as early 2008), has an easier time weathering the storm because it doesn't have a big national desk to soak up money and not produce any revenue, it doesn't have dozens of far-flung suburbs to cater to, and it can operate with a fairly small newsroom and backshop.

This isn't going to be true everywhere; some papers are run poorly, some markets won't bear the weight, and things are bad enough in both the economy as a whole and the industry generally that nobody's very happy at the moment. But if you pay close attention, you'll find that there are a number of smaller papers that are doing all right -- while there's almost no big paper that isn't bleeding freely at the moment.
   94. SoSH U at work Posted: May 04, 2009 at 07:40 PM (#3163336)
How are classifieds doing at your places Voxter? Depending upon location, it would seem some papers could be fairly isolated from serious craigslist competition.
   95. McCoy Posted: May 04, 2009 at 07:42 PM (#3163339)
This word, "literally?" I don't think it means what you think it means.

There was a comedian that used to do a routine about peoples usage of the word literally. It might have even been Norm McDonald. In the routine the comedian would say the sentence with the word literally in it and then repeat the word "literally" a bunch of times. Mildly amusing, but it caused my friends and I to always repeat the word "literally" every time we heard someone use it. We've caught a bunch of profs using it and we find it like the routine mildly amusing.
   96. vortex of dissipation Posted: May 04, 2009 at 07:49 PM (#3163351)
This guy bought several community papers in Washington plus the larger King County Journal and reorganized them into a profitable company.


Yes, by shutting down the King County Journal, the only broad-based general interest daily newspaper in the bunch, and turning to smaller weekly papers that cover a specific community, and that community only. I have nothing against the Redmond Reporter, but a weekly newspaper that reports on the Redmond High baseball team, and who's playing the Old Firehouse Teen Center this weekend hardly makes up for a daily newspaper that covers the world, the nation, and the local scene...
   97. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: May 04, 2009 at 07:58 PM (#3163363)
a weekly newspaper that reports on the Redmond High baseball team, and who's playing the Old Firehouse Teen Center this weekend hardly makes up for a daily newspaper that covers the world, the nation, and the local scene...

But this is the crux of the issue, isn't it? The people in that area don't need national and global coverage from a local newspaper - they can get AP wire feeds from lots of places. They need local coverage, the kind of stuff that's of interest to citizens of Redmond, but that the Seattle media wouldn't bother with.

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