Skip

The Future of Journalism
June 6, 2012 4:47 PM   Subscribe

How David Simon is wrong about paywalls, a lengthy response to David Simon's short comment and discussion that followed in the comments section.
posted by vidur (69 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a sweet little boy
posted by halekon at 5:11 PM on June 6, 2012


This whole thing made me think of nonprofit theatre. Welcome to the wonderful world of begging and guilt trips. NPR know what I'm talking about. As a society we agree that journalism or theatre or dance is important but not important enough to pay what it's worth directly. I guess this is actually a problem with the entire economy, labor is vital but expensive. With manufacturing you can outsource to lower income areas and save your $5/hr but some labor can't be outsourced and I as a theatre technician need to eat in America so I need more than $2/hr.
The thing that will save a few news papers is begging and guilt tripping. It won't save a majority of them and it sucks but I guess the only way people are paying anywhere near a living wage for skilled time consuming labor that doesn't look like work to some people is guilt.

(Please forgive me, I am drunk after opening a show for a nonprofit theatre)
posted by Uncle at 6:01 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Owens' ultimate problem with paywalls is way down at the bottom:
The basic notion behind a paywall is, “Journalism is expensive, therefore people should pay for it.” The notion ignores evidence to the contrary and locks in a mindset that believes the way we’ve always done it is the only way to do it. Paywall advocates are not innovators, and if you’re not an innovator in the fast-moving Digital Age, you’re dead.
Yes, there is evidence that journalism doesn't need to be expensive, just look at the Huffington Post. This is what Owens is referring to with the euphemism "innovation": cutting labor costs by not paying people. Under capitalism, this is tradition, not innovation.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:40 PM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


..and in the comments, to the response derived from the comments...
posted by Vhanudux at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2012


Yes, there is evidence that journalism doesn't need to be expensive, just look at the Huffington Post. This is what Owens is referring to with the euphemism "innovation": cutting labor costs by not paying people. Under capitalism, this is tradition, not innovation.

Yes, but this isn't the sort of journalism David Simon is talking about. Most of HuffPo's content is relatively cheap - commentary, reposting, cute cats, sideboobs - It's not a engaged, committed Metro reporting.
posted by Vhanudux at 6:45 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, there is evidence that journalism doesn't need to be expensive, just look at the Huffington Post.

Good journalism is and always has been expensive to produce. The problem is people were never really paying the full cost of good journalism because newspaper prices were not supporting most of that cost - advertising was. And the biggest problem is the price of a newspaper ad has permanently decreased, so now if you want quality journalism you have to be willing to pay for it and the math says its a lot more expensive then what people are anchored to.
posted by JPD at 6:51 PM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes, there is evidence that journalism doesn't need to be expensive, just look at the Huffington Post.

Christ, do I have to? If that represents the future of free journalism, who do I sign the cheque to???
posted by smoke at 7:06 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Investigative journalism is not necessary for a newspaper to survive. I have relatives in Iowa and north Missouri who own a string of local papers. They print city hall news, school board meetings news, social events, school events news, high school sports results, all local news. They have bylines by town people, their revenues comes from subscriptions (everybody subscribes) and ads. If you have a piano or a tractor to sell, you advertise in their papers.

They are not multimillionaires, but they are successful enough to own a couple of small planes so they can hop quickly from paper to paper (this is farm country, plenty of landing strips).
posted by francesca too at 7:07 PM on June 6, 2012


I love this. I love David Simon and I love the ongoing debate of the future of news reporting. This is such a phenomenal post, thank you for sharing.

And the biggest problem is the price of a newspaper ad has permanently decreased

I think you're right, I think Simon is right, and I think the CJR is right. Advertising drove a hell of a lot of revenue, but it's been a real "race to the bottom" these days with prices, and a lot of it has to do with just how much free content in general there is on the internet competing with these papers. Why would major advertisers buy space and create media plans focused toward newspapers if they can simply buy millions more impressions for a fraction of the price?

Do you know how much it costs to advertise on the homepage of a major city paper? It can be anywhere between $5-$20 per thousand impressions. Why even waste that kind of money when an advertiser can go to a digital ad network like Google or AOL and buy a $1.50 per thousand (CPM)?
posted by windbox at 7:11 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


those little towns are such small advertising markets no has tried to figure out how to disintermediate your relatives papers, but once the big game is taken down someone will come after them. I mean a newspaper w/o journalism is basically an advertising flyer. Its doomed because the marginal cost of web advertising inventory is functionally zero.

Now this might take years, but it'll happen
posted by JPD at 7:13 PM on June 6, 2012


What occurred to me while reading that is how antiquated the idea of massive metro papers is. I don't see any way of saving it. People have never paid more than a token amount for papers, and their advertising model is hopeless.

If you want to make money on advertising you'll have to cover sideboob and other trivial shit that generates page views.

If you want people to pay you to do journalism, you're going to have to actually be activist or partisan and report with a clear point of view that people are willing to pay to support.

And local, local news is probably going to end up covered by amateurs, to be honest. Do they really need to pay a guy $30k a year to sit at county board meetings and take notes?
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And local, local news is probably going to end up covered by amateurs, to be honest. Do they really need to pay a guy $30k a year to sit at county board meetings and take notes?

Empath, kindly link me to the amateurs who are presently doing that work for free, reliably, at every important meeting, at your local county or municipal board.
posted by bicyclefish at 8:04 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have to agree with this part: "There is also the problem of so-called objective journalism. Journalists have been trained to consider themselves apart from the community, delivering “just the facts” from on high. This has led to a journalism that is stilted, predictable, and boring."
posted by blue shadows at 8:05 PM on June 6, 2012


I think the broadcast news websites he brings up are what the future of metro news is going to look like. (online)Print will be subsidized by the TV news. I mean, the TV news killed the papers decades ago, the web just accelerated the bleeding.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:09 PM on June 6, 2012


David Simon: "The point is to preserve the Newsroom -- that place where careful, continuous coverage of a metro region's essential news was acquired, synthesized, analyzed, a nerve center with veteran editors who had institutional memory and ethical, professional standards, and as many good decisions are made about what not to publish as about what was worthy and important. That is worth preserving. It costs money."

What they do, these journalists, is keep watch, keep track, pay attention to the workings of government that take place every day. They are the eyes and ears of a citizenry that needs to be informed and has to trust someone for that information. For much of the last century, journalists held that trust because of the standards they set for themselves--factual, truthful, nuanced, balanced, in-depth reporting of the news.

Gradually I believe, we have swallowed the message that profitability is the primary, perhaps the only, criterion for evaluating whether or not an institution or public service is of value. If it doesn't make enough money, we have to let it go. What we get is things like privatized prisons, dismantled social services, disintegrating school systems, deregulated industries that institute treacherous practices; we get ignorance and a polarized populace. We get a new species of journalism that is based on profitability and personality and that nobody can easily trust to be factual, truthful, nuanced, balanced, in-depth and accessible news.
posted by Anitanola at 8:09 PM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


(And I'm not paying a subscription fee for the TV or radio news either)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:10 PM on June 6, 2012


Investigative journalism is not necessary for a newspaper to survive.

No but it's probably necessary for the town to survive.
posted by one_bean at 8:10 PM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Empath, kindly link me to the amateurs who are presently doing that work for free, reliably, at every important meeting, at your local county or municipal board.

Define 'important meeting?' There are plenty of bloggers covering school boards, etc...

And really, if anybody cared that much about their local zoning board, we wouldn't be having this discussion, because the money would be there.
posted by empath at 8:14 PM on June 6, 2012


What they do, these journalists, is keep watch, keep track, pay attention to the workings of government that take place every day. They are the eyes and ears of a citizenry that needs to be informed and has to trust someone for that information. For much of the last century, journalists held that trust because of the standards they set for themselves--factual, truthful, nuanced, balanced, in-depth reporting of the news.

Do sites like DailyKos and andrew sullivan and so on not accomplish this?
posted by empath at 8:15 PM on June 6, 2012


Do sites like DailyKos and andrew sullivan and so on not accomplish this?

Are you being facetious? Or do you not understand how intricate local government is?

I have to assume this is trolling, or otherwise my head is going to explode.
posted by purpleclover at 8:22 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Assume a locally focused site like Daily Kos (which offers more in depth coverage of washington politics than any local newspaper does). If the newspapers stop covering local news and people care enough, they'll crop up. There are already plenty of them.
posted by empath at 8:32 PM on June 6, 2012


And really, if anybody cared that much about their local zoning board, we wouldn't be having this discussion, because the money would be there.

Two of the most poisonous modern beliefs are that profitable things are ipso facto important, and that unprofitable things are ipso facto unimportant.
posted by Nomyte at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


local news is probably going to end up covered by amateurs

Yes, but these amateurs will probably be former or aspiring professionals who can't make a living.

One harmful myth about crowdsourcing is that it is done by amateurs and hobbyists who are working out of love, not money. But in a lot of cases (pdf), the work is done by professionals. All the rhetoric about bottom-up democracy is a carefully constructed corporate fantasy that is designed to cover up the fact that it's a convenient way of not paying for work by removing the higher wages that professionals have traditionally been able to demand. It's taking away incomes by rebranding them amateurs -- when they complain, you can shut them up by calling them elitists.
posted by AlsoMike at 9:04 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think so. I think it'll be covered by people with axes to grind and a surplus of free time, for the most part.
posted by empath at 9:14 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry but putting any amount of trust in amateurs (unpaid, untrained) to do serious investigative reporting is like trusting amateurs to be able to take over public education. Journalism may not be a public (tax-supported) institution like education, but it's on the same level as being an extremely socially important process. You can't put your faith in "if people really care enough it will fix itself" when it comes to the fate of something so important to a working democracy. There's tons of money flowing through city halls, state capitols, and Washington that's trying to keep government opaque; you need money working on the other side if you're going to force it to be transparent.
posted by palidor at 10:59 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Among the four pillars of democracy, three (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) are directly funded by the public in most (all?) democratic countries. Why can't we evolve a model to fund the fourth pillar in a similar fashion? Isn't that the sort of thing that BBC already is? Surely there are ways to do this for journalism in a wider sense.
posted by vidur at 11:18 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Paid journalists, overwhelmingly, do a shitty job of covering government right now. I don't see how amateurs could do worse, frankly.
posted by empath at 11:20 PM on June 6, 2012


I don't think so. I think it'll be covered by people with axes to grind and a surplus of free time, for the most part.

and that is why you should pay someone to cover them.

I've seen an attempt to produce a local paper with only amateurs and it was an ugly mess. It was filled with people with axes to grind, in particular it was founded and edited by a paranoid conspiracy theorist with no sense of journalistic standards. He was driven vendetta against the local government that arose from a complete inability to understand how it regulated business, less still they this might be a good thing. The combination of a vendetta, conspiracy mongering, combined with no clue as to things like getting more that one source proved really dangerous and it came close to doing some real political damage that would have had very bad effects. Thankfully it went under before it really got the chance, thanks to no business sense and some fairly underhand dealings by the existing local paper. This was a notorious right wing rag, which led to the involvement of a fair few well meaning people whose efforts got wasted, though spared worse perhaps -- it made the local paper start to look good in comparison.

I write this, ironically enough, as someone whose has spent a fair bit of time doing amateur journalism, though strictly partisan, but I glad to have had professionals to measure my self up against.
posted by tallus at 11:28 PM on June 6, 2012


Even if the paid, trained journalists working today are the worst in history, whatever "crowdsourced" cadre of journalists that replaces them in my dystopian dreams will be so much worse. I just want to reiterate my analogy about having amateurs take over public education, because it's really no different. It's trusting in untested charity to replace centuries old social institutions crucial to the functioning of a democracy.
posted by palidor at 11:54 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is somehow worse than trusting multimillion dollar corporations?
posted by empath at 12:03 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eh, I guess so. Arguing about the integrity of journalists at corporate chain-backed newspapers is a deep hole to get into, and I think dismissing the value of the entirety of the institution because of the corrupting influence of those corporations is (1) short-sighted and lacks nuance and (2) ignores the quality work certain individuals are still able to do. I suppose the point I'm making is that relying on the charity of amateurs is not a viable model going forward, no matter how shitty the current model might be.
posted by palidor at 12:26 AM on June 7, 2012


And how does "citizen" journalism reach folks who don't have access to the Internet, or who are otherwise unmotivated to dig for information on whatever issues that might be of interest to them? Newspapers have a method of distribution that is able to reach people at the margins, people who ostensibly care about their communities but don't have the time or resources to be "advocates" in any way. I'm sure there are plenty of people who are mostly motivated to open up a newspaper so they can read the sports section, but read through the pages surrounding it, too.

But what does Brother Mouzone think?
posted by palidor at 12:38 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what does Brother Mouzone think?

The automatic close captioning by YouTube on that video is hilarious. A "live brewery card"! Dangerous indeed.
posted by vidur at 12:42 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hahaha YouTube so racist
posted by palidor at 12:51 AM on June 7, 2012


I think it'll be covered by people with axes to grind and a surplus of free time, for the most part.

More liberal control of the media, in other words.
posted by three blind mice at 1:55 AM on June 7, 2012


It's worth noting that craiglist.org and similar have obliterated their classifieds revenue, simply because the internet lowers barriers to communication.

We might need more independent media groups that support themselves through endowments and donations, but our authorities often dislike really independent journalists.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:27 AM on June 7, 2012


The problem is that most people just don't give a crap what happens in their towns. Someone living in Baltimore is more likely to pay to get past the NYT's paywall then The Baltamore Sun. (And even more likely to just use incognito mode or private browsing to read the site for free)

Back in the day, you needed to get national news from somewhere, and it made sense to get a bundle that had world, national, state and local in the same package. You wouldn't care about the NYT's metro section, but you would care about your paper's. But mostly you probably just wanted to read national news.

For crap like city events and the like now, you can just go to your city government's website. For classifieds, you can go to Craigslist. For "news" around town you can just see what your friends are talking about on Facebook. News about an acquaintance's new boyfriend is probably more interesting then news about a wedding between people who live in your town but you don't know.

So yeah, now that people can easily get national, state, world, etc news for free -- why would they pay huge massive rates for local content alone (since everything else would be redundant with free sources, local would be the only additional thing they'd get by buying the local paper)?

What's the solution? Well, maybe there is none. It may very well be the case that large amounts of local reporting is not economically sustainable.
posted by delmoi at 3:47 AM on June 7, 2012


What they do, these journalists, is keep watch, keep track, pay attention to the workings of government that take place every day. They are the eyes and ears of a citizenry that needs to be informed and has to trust someone for that information. For much of the last century, journalists held that trust because of the standards they set for themselves--factual, truthful, nuanced, balanced, in-depth reporting of the news.

Ha. Uncritical parrots of recieved wisdom and cut and paste masters of recycled p.r. bumf more like. Newspapers are dying because newspapers are shit and you can get the same pablum for free, while if you want the truth it's better to read good blogs.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:56 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And how does "citizen" journalism reach folks who don't have access to the Internet, or who are otherwise unmotivated to dig for information on whatever issues that might be of interest to them?
Newspapers aren't free. From what I can tell the USA Today costs about $1 an issue. 30 issues a day and that's $30 a month, only $5 less then the cost of a dataplan for a 4G modem, and used computers and cellphones can be pretty cheap. (for clear.com you get a wireless modem for a one-time $39 fee. Again not too expensive)

Sure, they could go to the library and read the paper there, but most libraries have internet access now anyway.

Finally, do most of those people even really care that much? Local ordinances probably affect them more then the average person, but sitting around worrying about local government seems like a more upper class thing. People too broke to afford internet access probably have a lot of immediate concerns that draw their attention.
posted by delmoi at 3:58 AM on June 7, 2012


Definitely, but it would still be a pretty bad thing if local newspapers went extinct and those people were cut off from access entirely. And that whole point was just to bring up distribution as an issue, which seems to be glossed over when people talk about citizen journalism as if everyone everywhere has Internet access.

Newspapers are dying because newspapers are shit and you can get the same pablum for free, while if you want the truth it's better to read good blogs.

No one will claim that newspaper reporting was ever some bright shining light of truth exposing any and all civic corruption, but like David Simon has said, there's a huge amount of value in the traditional newspaper's investigative and editorial processes. I really don't want to be a dick, but it's starting to sound straight up ignorant at this point when blogs are put forward as some kind of alternative to traditional investigative reporting. You want the truth? The truth costs.
posted by palidor at 4:26 AM on June 7, 2012


And local, local news is probably going to end up covered by amateurs, to be honest. Do they really need to pay a guy $30k a year to sit at county board meetings and take notes?

Empath, kindly link me to the amateurs who are presently doing that work for free, reliably, at every important meeting, at your local county or municipal board.

Toronto has developed a whole subculture of municipal politics watchers who show up to virtually all the meetings and tweet or blog about the goings-on. I frequently find that local blogs are doing a better job covering these local issues than the mainstream media, which decided long ago that they'd rather try to shape politics than report on it honestly.

I've said this before, but newspapers are basically a form of entertainment, but aren't very entertaining compared to the other choices people have now.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:36 AM on June 7, 2012


Assume a locally focused site like Daily Kos (which offers more in depth coverage of washington politics than any local newspaper does). If the newspapers stop covering local news and people care enough, they'll crop up. There are already plenty of them.

This represents a kind of magical thinking about the internet I don't quite understand. It's always some version of: "Internet-enabled disintermediation and piracy are killing off this [thing that is held to be important] in its current form, but by the power of the internet something else will spring up to take its place and it will be even better. Bloggers will cover complex local politics for free! Musicians will make their livings by selling t-shirts! Wheeeee!" What's interesting about this to me is that this thinking is fundamentally not all that different from a certain kind of thinking about GM crops.
posted by slkinsey at 5:34 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Biased news is easy to come by for free. If all news is (somewhat) biased, we'll get it in proportion to the ability of the news source to pay. It's really a form of advertising. And then elections will be won by who can spend the most. Unlike now.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:57 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gradually I believe, we have swallowed the message that profitability is the primary, perhaps the only, criterion for evaluating whether or not an institution or public service is of value.

Nah this is over vilifying capitalism as a culprit here. The issue isn't the return to the capitalists, the issue is that on a cash basis newspapers cost more to produce then they earn in revenues, or are rapidly moving in that direction. Its hard to see why we should expect private individuals to bear the cost of underwriting those losses.
posted by JPD at 6:01 AM on June 7, 2012


Media companies of all stripes are rapidly finding that the business model wherein most revenue was derived from advertising has always been kind of weird. Paid advertising really only got started in the nineteenth century, so it's not as if the marketing profession is any kind of inherent part of human society in the way that, say, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and clothiers are. Human society has had those people just about forever, but the marketer is an invention of modernity.

It seems that's what's happening is that industries that depended on advertising for their revenues are finding that the internet is massively disruptive. It's not just that website space is cheaper than print. It's that the advent of the internet makes intrusive advertising less important. In the nineteenth century, manufacturers and other sellers faced the real problem of people simply not knowing that their goods even existed. This is not so much a problem for many things anymore. "Journalism" now involves so much discussion of product that actual ad spots aren't as necessary as they were in 1850 or even 1950. Correlating advertising spending with revenue has always been sort of dicey, so it wouldn't surprise me very much to learn that companies can cut their marketing budgets pretty significantly without actually hurting their profitability or even revenue all that much, if at all.
posted by valkyryn at 6:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Paid advertising really only got started in the nineteenth century, so it's not as if the marketing profession is any kind of inherent part of human society in the way that, say, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and clothiers are.

Is this a joke? Paid advertising in newspapers may have started in the mid 19th century, but compensated marketing has been an inherent part of human society a lot. What do you think bill posters were doing before that? How about town criers? How about pub signs depicting signature animals? What about advertisements on papyrus? What about all the political marketing found on stone and other durable media in ancient ruins? Do you suppose the guys making that stuff were doing it for free? If anything, marketing has been around human society a hell of a lot longer than doctors, engineers, lawyers, and clothiers. The first primitive human who acted to spread the notion that his napped-stone handaxes were available for trade was engaging in marketing (and it would have been a short step from that to spreading the notion that his napped-stone handaxes were better and merited a higher trade value than the napped-stone handaxes Throg on the other side of the river was making).
posted by slkinsey at 7:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This represents a kind of magical thinking about the internet I don't quite understand. It's always some version of: "Internet-enabled disintermediation and piracy are killing off this [thing that is held to be important] in its current form, but by the power of the internet something else will spring up to take its place and it will be even better.

Because it actually works that way in real life. There have always been lots of voices out there literally begging to be heard that couldn't, because of distribution bottlenecks. Those bottlenecks are now gone, and the institutions that profited from them are falling apart. Journalism, music, etc, existed long before the current business models existed, and they will continue to exist for long after they are gone.
posted by empath at 7:56 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Journalism as a short-form quick response medium is only a few hundred years old. Distribution of recorded musical performances about 100 years old.

Yes music is as old as humanity and writing about events is as old as the advent of writing, but they aren't exactly the same thing as what's being threatened today.

Music will figure it out. But investigative journalism? I'm not so sure - that only evolved because newspapers needed to differentiate themselves to garner higher ad pricing. The New York Times could charge a premium to the tabloids. On the internet everything is a Tabloid right now. The few guys that aren't (ProPublica for example) rely on subsidies from outsiders - and that is not a tenable long-term model.
posted by JPD at 8:05 AM on June 7, 2012


there's a huge amount of value in the traditional newspaper's investigative and editorial processes. I really don't want to be a dick, but it's starting to sound straight up ignorant at this point when blogs are put forward as some kind of alternative to traditional investigative reporting. You want the truth? The truth costs.
When did I say that blogs could replace newspapers? What I said was that it may not be economically viable in the long run. There may just not be enough people willing to pay the price they'd need too in order to have it produced.

There are tons and tons of people who never paid much attention to the local news even if they got the local paper.

Of course, it may be that some places are just intrinsically more interesting to read about. Writing about drug wars and corrupt cops in Baltimore might be more interesting then reading about -- whatever it is they talked about it my local paper growing up. It certainly wasn't very interesting.

In fact honestly, do you read your local paper? Do you have some examples of excellent reporting that you don't think could have been covered by blogs?
This represents a kind of magical thinking about the internet I don't quite understand. It's always some version of: "Internet-enabled disintermediation and piracy are killing off this [thing that is held to be important] in its current form, but by the power of the internet something else will spring up to take its place and it will be even better. Bloggers will cover complex local politics for free!
Has it occurred to you that in a lot of places, local politics is not all that complex?
What's interesting about this to me is that this thinking is fundamentally not all that different from a certain kind of thinking about GM crops.
Magical thinking on GM Crops? What? I realize there is a controversy about them but so far most of the "magical thinking" has turned out to be right, as far as I know. There haven't been any major health problems caused by them. What's the problem? This is what Wikipedia says:
A 2008 review published by the Royal Society of Medicine noted that GM foods have been eaten by millions of people worldwide for over 15 years, with no reports of ill effects.[122] Similarly a 2004 report from the US National Academies of Sciences stated: "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."[7] The European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010 report on GMOs noted that "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies."
You weren't very specific about what the supposed "magical thinking" regarding GMOs, but it's hardly a damaging comparison.
Gradually I believe, we have swallowed the message that profitability is the primary, perhaps the only, criterion for evaluating whether or not an institution or public service is of value.
If you think that something is a public good, then you should be arguing it should be paid for by the government with tax money or something. You can have something like the BBC or a beefed up NPR/public TV. Obviously there can be conflicts of interest, but there are obviously conflicts of interest in privately owned newspapers as well, and in theory you should be able to make it more transparent, independent, accountable, then a privately owned paper.

It doesn't make too much sense to me to say "This thing is a critical component of society: therefore we should leave it in the hands of private enterprise to do whatever they want to with it, and then force people to buy it"
How about town criers?
Pretty sure they worked for the government.
How about pub signs depicting signature animals? What about advertisements on papyrus? What about all the political marketing found on stone and other durable media in ancient ruins? Do you suppose the guys making that stuff were doing it for free?
What does any of that have to do with newspapers? It's entirely possible that a lot of that stuff was done for free, either by adherents to a cause or by the proprietors of a shop. Even if some retailer hired a sign maker to make a sign, there is a huge difference: They weren't funding the creation of other media to run those ads. They were just sticking them up on the wall.

It's not a question about the "concept" of marketing, but rather the concept of ad supported media.

---

Also, if you think this is a bad thing, what's the alternative? Mandatory newspaper subscriptions? A tax on craigslist to pay for local papers?

When I was a kid I used to be able to read the local university paper on the city bus or in highschool, for free. The paper was paid for by the university, but run by students, and it was just given away for free. So, I would actually read the opinion section of the paper on the ride to school. I didn't usually read the "news" but the opinions were kind of interesting.

Anyway, the actual local, private, for-profit newspaper in my city actually sued the city to get them to remove the free university paper from the busses and high schools. Because, apparently it was "unfair advertising". Anyway the city lost the suit, or folded, or something and as a result I could no longer read the free campus paper on the bus, or even at school.

Someone unthread mentioned how newspapers gave people who couldn't afford the internet access to information. But actually that was the opposite of what happened here: Free access to local news was cut off by a private, for-profit newspaper because they wanted more advertising revenue. The high school students and poor people who rode the bus and didn't want to buy the for-profit paper? Well fuck 'em, apparently. It was more important to lock down advertising revenue then actually let people access the news.

It seems like a lot of people really wish they could do the same thing internet wide. Get rid of all the free content that people actually like and replace it with boring garbage from corrupt local papers who feel they have the divine right to a monopoly over information distribution. And if you can't pay: you get nothing.

So don't tell me these private newspapers are trying to spread information. A lot of them want to restrict it so they can more effectively monetize it.

(The interesting thing is that we did have the internet at my highschool, and I had it at home. But once you were on the internet there was a lot of interesting stuff to read besides the local campus paper. On the bus though, those papers were pretty much it.)

The other question is whether or not local papers are actually any good. Maybe the Baltimore Sun was awesome but I don't really know how good a lot of local papers are.

There seems to be this automatic assumption that, while blogs are bad and don't do in-depth coverage local papers do. That seems to me to be just as much of a leap as the assumption that blogs do. Again, maybe the Baltimore Sun or the Dallas Morning News or something. But it's not all that clear that the paper in Podunk USA is actually doing a very good job to begin with.
posted by delmoi at 8:29 AM on June 7, 2012


Can someone give me an example of all this great investigative journalism going on that blogs can't do?
posted by empath at 9:33 AM on June 7, 2012


Working with the financial, legal and other resources that blogs have? What about the obvious: Watergate.
posted by slkinsey at 9:36 AM on June 7, 2012


When did I say that blogs could replace newspapers?

The part of my comment that you quoted was actually directed at the comment right before yours up there, sorry for the confusion.

I actually agree with most of what you're saying. A lot of local newspapers are probably worthless these days. Personally all I've been trying to say in this thread is that the traditional investigative and editorial processes, which are really only possible with paid and trained journalists, are pretty damn valuable. It just bugs me when I see somewhat fatalistic generalizations that amount to "modern journalism is corrupt and worthless anyway" followed by blind faith that the Internet will fix everything. I wish I could believe that.

It doesn't make too much sense to me to say "This thing is a critical component of society: therefore we should leave it in the hands of private enterprise to do whatever they want to with it, and then force people to buy it"

Yeah, it's hard for me to agree with David Simon's ideas about paywalls and what the wire services should do and so on. At the same time, though, it's hard for me not to trust his knowledge and experience when he dismisses public or non-profit models as not viable, even though that's where my mind automatically goes for a solution. All I really know is that you need money for good, healthy journalism and I don't want to live in a world without it (even if the institution is quite unhealthy these days).
posted by palidor at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2012


In the first journalism class I took we learned the names of the ten best newspapers in the U.S. We read those papers and learned why they were great. The Baltimore Sun, of course, was one of them. When Simon talks about the Newsroom he is talking about something of very high quality that took more than ten years to build. No blog has that gravamen.

Any time an argument is made for maintaining quality, the rebuttal seems to include an accusation of demonizing capitalism. I don't understand why this is.
posted by Anitanola at 10:07 AM on June 7, 2012


One example of a "Blog" that does investigative journalism is Talking Points Memo, which started out as an individual blog and gradually grew into a pretty solid political news site. At least while bush was in office. The site got pretty boring when Obama got into office, IMO.

If the conservatives in this country weren't completely dysfunctional you could probably find a "quality" equivalent to TPM to investigate democrats though.

No one is going to create a 'disinterested' blog on local government, but there could be quality blogs out there by people pushing their views and actually doing a good job of covering the facts, the way TPM did with with the political government.
posted by delmoi at 10:14 AM on June 7, 2012


Well first, watergate was 40 years ago, and second, wasn't that handed to them by a tip? Why couldn't deep throat have gone to, say a reasonably respected blog like talking points memo?
posted by empath at 10:17 AM on June 7, 2012


Any time an argument is made for maintaining quality, the rebuttal seems to include an accusation of demonizing capitalism. I don't understand why this is.
Well, a lot of the "newspaper defenders" seem to want to force people to buy a product they don't really want, for some reason. People don't want to pay for classifieds if they can get them for free, people don't want to pay much for local news, when they can get national news for free.
Working with the financial, legal and other resources that blogs have? What about the obvious: Watergate.
Some "Blogs" have grown up and do have a lot of resources. Gawker media got a mole inside of Fox news, and now they're paying $20 for any candid photo of Mark Zuckerburg to make some kind of point about privacy. But again that's national/corporate news not local. So obviously local news is more difficult to monetize.

But my theory is that a lot of local papers don't actually do anything very interesting. Watergate was a national story. It could have been broken by a large national blog (or Wikileaks, for that matter).

There are probably some papers who do great investigative work at the local level, but I don't know how universal that is.

Plus, there's also local TV news. Which is also free. It's not like newspapers are the only source of local news, and many of those TV stations have websites with text articles. They seem to be doing fine.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 AM on June 7, 2012


An example: Louisiana Inc.
posted by Anitanola at 10:24 AM on June 7, 2012


Why couldn't deep throat have gone to, say a reasonably respected blog like talking points memo?

Or the TV news? You know, that professional local/metro news source that can still grow their audience? That wins investigative reporting awards too?

Local TV News: After years of decline, local television news showed new signs of life in 2011. Viewership increased in both the morning (1.4%) and late evening (3%)—the first gains in five years. The audience for very early morning news more than quadrupled, but most of that came in time periods that have the smallest total viewership, including 4:30 a.m. And while local stations remain the No. 1 news source for most Americans, the same does not apply to their websites. A PEJ survey found that 10 times as many people turned to TV newscasts for breaking news and weather as relied on local stations’ websites.

If you want professional news of high quality, you want to figure out ways to make the TV news better and to get them to raise the quality of what they put online. There is a much more solid foundation to build on here than with the newspapers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:32 AM on June 7, 2012


@delmoi
"Well, a lot of the "newspaper defenders" seem to want to force people to buy a product they don't really want, for some reason."

Simon discussed bundling as the cable companies do it. He suggested that is being solved by some people by pirating the tv they want and that the end result will be the quality tv that people want but don't want to pay for will disappear.
posted by Anitanola at 10:36 AM on June 7, 2012


Well first, watergate was 40 years ago, and second, wasn't that handed to them by a tip? Why couldn't deep throat have gone to, say a reasonably respected blog like talking points memo?

I'm going to guess that you're less than 40 years old. This isn't a slam, but nothing else could explain this lack of understanding of the scope and complexity of the investigative journalism that went into the Watergate Scandal reportage. It's not like someone handed Woodward and Bernstein a bunch of documents, or that they got a couple of tips from Deep Throat and then turned around and put it out there Wikileaks-style. The Wikipedia article is a gloss with respect to the reportage, but it at least gives some idea of the complexity of the investigative reporting. I don't see how any blog today could possibly do something like this.
posted by slkinsey at 10:50 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This represents a kind of magical thinking about the internet I don't quite understand.

It's very simple! It's a belief that technological changes can only be good for society. If anything bad does happen, it's because of people, most often People Who Just Don't Get It, where "getting it" is the aforementioned belief that technology is always good. So the problem is non-believers.

In one of Vonnegut's novels: "If it weren't for the people, the god-damn people always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren't for them, the world would be an engineer's paradise."
posted by AlsoMike at 11:13 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you suppose the guys making that stuff were doing it for free?

You're missing my point. Advertising, as such, has been around forever, it's true. But the idea of paying someone else to do advertising for you is relatively new. Bill posters were generally hawking their own products or their employers' products. And there wasn't any fee for just putting a bill up on a wall somewhere. No one was selling advertising space as such. So one paid for the cost of materials, but there was no third party in the relationship between seller and buyer.

So yes, advertising has been around forever, but the idea that 1) advertising is something you have to pay someone else to do, or 2) one can make money simply be selling space for ads, are both modern inventions.

Think I'm wrong? Show me a counter-example. Show me an example of someone making money simply by distributing marketing materials much before the mid-nineteenth century.
posted by valkyryn at 11:26 AM on June 7, 2012


Show me an example of someone making money simply by distributing marketing materials much before the mid-nineteenth century.

Okay. From here:

"Handbills are recorded as being in existence from the 14th century onwards in Britain – and were used to publicise everything from wars to health concerns.

The opening of England's first public theatre in London in 1576 was announced with the use of handbills."

These were not people printing and distributing their own handbills, but rather paying others to do it for them. Others in the period would have employed street callers for similar purposes.
posted by slkinsey at 11:36 AM on June 7, 2012


Also, here.
posted by Vhanudux at 11:42 AM on June 7, 2012


One thing that high quality newspapers have always done is organize and prioritize news and other articles. A good newspaper could be relied on to give readers the most important news on the front page. The headlines had value and were not just teasers; the leads were capsules which expanded in the following paragraphs. The briefest scan of the front page was worthwhile.

That experience can't be replicated an online news reader, online versions of the newspaper, aggregate blogs or with television. There is plenty of information available, millions of words, but essential news as presented by a quality daily newspaper is no longer so readily available.

When television news meant journalists like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, maybe we trusted television news but they are gone and have not been replaced. We've gotten more photogenic, charismatic, profitable "talent" and the quality of the content is secondary, if that. If all you've ever known is products produced under planned obsolescence, you won't understand why your grandmother prefers her old kitchen appliances to modern "upgrades."
posted by Anitanola at 12:00 PM on June 7, 2012


An example: Louisiana Inc.

Is a report on a website owned by Reddit's parent company really an example of the kind of journalism being destroyed by the internet?
posted by delmoi at 4:30 PM on June 7, 2012


"Handbills are recorded as being in existence from the 14th century onwards in Britain – and were used to publicise everything from wars to health concerns.

The opening of England's first public theatre in London in 1576 was announced with the use of handbills."

These were not people printing and distributing their own handbills, but rather paying others to do it for them. Others in the period would have employed street callers for similar purposes.
They were not supporting the production of other media, though. That's the point. People may have been printing handbills, and they can still do that today. The collapse of the newspaper industry doesn't prevent you from printing and handing out hand bills, or paying someone to do it.

The key point is that the idea of ad supported media. You create a TV Show, radio station, magazine, newspaper, website, whatever and then people put ads there and that's how you make money. That is new. Obviously advertizing existed in the past. But that has absolutely nothing to do with newspapers, and whether or not they can get by on advertiser support.

If people can put ads up on search rather then the newspaper for less money and with better results, obviously they are going to do that. It's not Google's fault that they happen to have their own ad supported service that happens to to a better job of showing relevant ads to people.
posted by delmoi at 4:37 PM on June 7, 2012


@delmoi "Is a report on a website owned by Reddit's parent company really an example of the kind of journalism being destroyed by the internet"

The report on Nola.com was taken from an eight-part series published in the Times-Picayune. The Times-Picayune is definitely a newspaper and has been the leading paper in New Orleans for 175 years. It is currently being sold and when it was announced that the daily will in future publish on a three days a week schedule, Dirty Coastpromptly made a t shirt announcing "The Some-Times-Picayune" available, of course, in the obnoxious yellow background of Nola.com (since redesigned) and lettered in the archaic TP font.
posted by Anitanola at 6:23 PM on June 7, 2012


The Times-Picayune is definitely a newspaper and has been the leading paper in New Orleans for 175 years.

Yeah. They own the paper too
posted by delmoi at 9:45 PM on June 8, 2012


« Older The Horace Mann School's Secret History of Sexual...   |   The world's greatest comedienne. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post