Join 3,436 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Eric Schmidt on journalism and the future of newspapers
October 4, 2009 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave a talk at the Newspaper Association of America convention on April 9, 2009 in San Diego. He speaks about how Google and newspapers might co-exist in the future.

Here is a transcript of Schmidt's April talk.

Schmidt also spoke at length with Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land recently about Google's responsibility to newspapers.
posted by reenum (78 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Co-exist? I know a lot of people at news papers have this weird negative view towards google but as far as I can tell google is actually pretty helpful for them. I mean, google news drives traffic to them, it provides an easy advertising system for them, etc. It seems like they're just mad at google because google makes a lot of money and they don't (or at least not as much as they did before, when they over-leveraged themselves based on their massive profits at the time)

They're also mad at craigslist for having the temerity to classifieds and not charge for it.

What's killing newspapers is that there just isn't any reason to package news items together in order to deliver them economically. Before the internet, there was no way to publish things a-la-cart, so people could read what they were interested in. Now there is. If anything, what google is doing now is helping newspaper companies more then hurting. If it wasn't for google news, well, someone else would have done it but it never would have gotten as popular, and people would get news articles from links in blogs, email, etc.
posted by delmoi at 12:15 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well from the newspapers' POV:
a) All your content ends up on a page alongside all your competitors
b) The revenue from Google isn't that great
c) The traffic from Google is nice, but with the online display advertising industry going through a rough patch you can't monetize the traffic that well
d) you have overheads to generate the content, Google has overheads to host your display your content as well, but Google has massive economies of scale that news gathering doesn't

So you know, if I owned a newspaper, I'd definitely be asking Google for a cut of the money they make from the textads they put next to my links in the search results. At the very least. Because if they don't my links won't appear there much longer (after I go out of business).

Look there's no doubt that newspapers need to get better at delivering content that people want, in all the formats that want it, but I also think Google and the other aggregators could take a harder look at what they are doing. Just because they CAN scrape the content off a site doesn't mean they SHOULD.
posted by awfurby at 1:08 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


So you know, if I owned a newspaper, I'd definitely be asking Google for a cut of the money they make from the textads they put next to my links in the search results.

If they don't want their results shown, they know how to setup a robots.txt file.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship, and the newspapers can opt out any time they choose. Of course, since it is mutually beneficial, google obviously has an interested in keeping them happy and healthy, and not pointing out how childish and entitled they are being.
posted by delmoi at 1:19 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Schmidt on newspapers is a waste of time. Google has vested interests in the future of information online, so he and Google are not innocent bystanders.

Spend your time with Clay Shirky's recent presentation at Nieman: Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good. Much better insight from an impartial perspective. Shirky is an academic, not a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar search engine.
posted by gen at 1:20 AM on October 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


If they don't want their results shown, they know how to setup a robots.txt file.

Well that would be a self-defeating gesture by the newspapers. Leaving that aside, the problem is this - I sat in an editorial office last week and listened as the journalist in the next cubicle worked his phone. He seemed to be working on the one story all day (and I'm not sure if he filed it that day or not). Anyway, it takes him a lot of time and effort to write the story and then in the blink of an eye Google turns his work into a commodity. And there's simply no way to make up for that. Perhaps the journalist can work faster, but some stories take a certain amount of time and there's no way to push them.

So here's my question (and I still haven't seen a good answer to it) - if Google takes the market out from under the newspapers' feet, who's going to pay for the time it takes a journalist to write a story?
posted by awfurby at 1:28 AM on October 5, 2009


Well that would be a self-defeating gesture by the newspapers.

That's the point. They are suckling from the teet of the gift horse and complaining about the taste.

Anyway, it takes him a lot of time and effort to write the story and then in the blink of an eye Google turns his work into a commodity.

No, the internet is turning his work into a commodity, Google is just providing a commodity exchange for the three way deals between readers, writers, and advertisers.

So here's my question (and I still haven't seen a good answer to it) - if Google takes the market out from under the newspapers' feet, who's going to pay for the time it takes a journalist to write a story?

Again you're making this fundamental misunderstanding when you say Google is "taking", it's not "taking" anything, it's a positive sum relationship, for both parties.

Furthermore, the newspapers are deeply in trouble now because they over-leveraged themselves based on their profit levels in the past. Newspapers used to be extreemly profitable, so they would borrow tons of money up front and use their profits to pay the interests on the debts. It makes a lot of sense as long as your profits are going to remain constant, but otherwise... uh, it doesn't. If they hadn't done that, likely they'd still be able to cover their operations.

So here's my question (and I still haven't seen a good answer to it) - if Google takes the market out from under the newspapers' feet, who's going to pay for the time it takes a journalist to write a story?

This is what I'm talking about when I'm talking about a "sense of entitlement" The idea that newspapers just deserve to get paid, by dint of their intrinsic awesomeness, rather then whether or not what they do is actually worth anything.
posted by delmoi at 1:52 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anyway, it takes him a lot of time and effort to write the story and then in the blink of an eye Google turns his work into a commodity.

Which everyone reads. With his name on the byline. Including quite literally millions who would never have read his story otherwise.

How could he ask for more?
posted by rokusan at 2:08 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


If Google takes the market out from under the newspapers' feet...

That's like saying Google robs me of the fun of finding my own way across town without a map.
posted by rokusan at 2:09 AM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


Matthew Yglesias had a throw away comment awhile back about how he wasn't afraid of the state of the newspaper industry because in the future most news would be provided by retirees and hobbyists who would do their own reporting simply because it was fun for them.

I can't think of any reason why this wouldn't work.
posted by afu at 2:44 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]



Which everyone reads. With his name on the byline. Including quite literally millions who would never have read his story otherwise.

How could he ask for more?


But if no one is paying for the content, does it matter how many readers he has? If his paper goes out of business, his readership drops to zero.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:54 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to say it again for the umpteenth time. The Newspapers' revenue model paid for journalism because people bought newspapers and advertisers bought space that had NOTHING TO DO WITH JOURNALISM. Comics, sports, crossword puzzles, tv listings; some people even bought newspapers to see the ADS (want ads, real estate classifieds, Sunday coupons, theater schedules, etc.). Journalism hasn't paid for itself in a very long time, if ever. Professional Journalism now needs a new gravy train to ride on, because in the era of 'ala carte' content, on the Internet and elsewhere, the other parts of the traditional newspaper are no longer there to support it. And that is not Google's or Craigslist's or anybody else's fault. The Newspaper was an odd construct with a business model that is rapidly becoming obsolete.
posted by wendell at 3:22 AM on October 5, 2009 [14 favorites]


You could say the same of network television. The networks have figured out how to monetize entertainment content pretty effectively.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:25 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here today to talk about how Google and newspapers might co-exist in the fu- WE'RE GONNA GOBBLE THEM WHOLE.

Thanks for your time. Questions?"
posted by fire&wings at 3:30 AM on October 5, 2009


As mixed metaphors goes, "suckling from the teat of the gift horse" could only be improved if the gift horse were dead, and being beaten.
posted by nonspecialist at 3:42 AM on October 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


Television has also monetized News Content a lot more successfully than Newspapers, and did so BEFORE it really needed to (back in the 1950s & 60s, News was a service, not a profit center... that changed soon after '60 Minutes' became a ratings smash and consultants developed the 'Eyewitness News' format for local news). Of course, that is also considered one of the reasons the journalistic quality of TV news is considered to be not nearly as good as that of newspapers...
posted by wendell at 4:11 AM on October 5, 2009


This is what I'm talking about when I'm talking about a "sense of entitlement" The idea that newspapers just deserve to get paid, by dint of their intrinsic awesomeness, rather then whether or not what they do is actually worth anything.

That's not a "sense of entitlement" - that's the newspapers saying there's a mismatch between the effort involved in creating the content and what Google's prepared to pay for it. No-one thinks that the journalist should get paid just for turning up to work - that's clearly crazy and that really would be a "sense of entitlement". But to turn around ask Google to pay their fair share - I think that's OK and that's a negotiation.

Again you're making this fundamental misunderstanding when you say Google is "taking", it's not "taking" anything, it's a positive sum relationship, for both parties.

Not necessarily - Google and the newspapers are in compeition for the same ad dollars. It's true that Google greatly expanded the online advertising market. Eric Schmidt actually makes this point in the interview.
posted by awfurby at 4:13 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


The idea that newspapers just deserve to get paid, by dint of their intrinsic awesomeness, rather then whether or not what they do is actually worth anything.

At their best newspapers provide a great public service. I think they are especially important in markets with few outlets for local news. It will be far too easy for local politicians to run rough-shod over the law without someone watching, and let's face it, in many communities bloggers simply aren't prominent and depend far too much on the MSM for anything they do to pass for a local news replacement to newspapers. I truly worry about the future of local government in the face of the dying newspapers of America.

Shirky is an academic, not a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar search engine.

The link provided by gen also has some great links in it, including a piece by Shirky from March 2009, "Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable", which I found quite a good read at the time.

And from a couple years ago there is "EPIC 2014", which I am almost sure I saw on the blue at some point in the past, also an interesting take.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:19 AM on October 5, 2009


I agree with delmoi and others that Google is, at least potentially, a net gain for newspapers. (It's also worth noting that there are no text ads on Google News, so some of the counter-argument loses its force.) What needs to be challenged is this silly, sneering notion that a "sense of entitlement" is pretty much the only argument in favor of policies to protect costly and time-consuming journalism. So what if this kind of journalism's always been subsidized, one way or another? If you think it is a public good, as I passionately do, then we need to be thinking about new ways to protect it — even if that looks, from the position of free-market zealots, like special pleading or protectionism. Healthcare is subsidized. Public education is subsidized. The military is subsidized. Baseball, as I understand it (which is not very well) has special exemptions from antitrust laws in the US. Etcetera, etcetera. Time to do the same for costly, in-depth journalism, if it can't survive independently in the market.

I don't know what explains this idea that if good journalism can't be monetized then we should all cackle in glee as it crumbles and dies. But then again, dumbass libertarianism and free-market extremism has always been, for reasons I've never fully understood, disproportionately represented among otherwise extremely clever and intelligent thinkers and innovators on the internet.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:25 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's not a "sense of entitlement" - that's the newspapers saying there's a mismatch between the effort involved in creating the content and what Google's prepared to pay for it.

What? When has there ever been a match between "how hard I tried" and how much reward I get? What is this, kindergarten?

The market sets the prices, based on what people are willing to pay by how much value they feel they derive from the product. These prices don't relate to how much "effort" went into creating the product.

Another way: ask a new, struggling journalist in Kansas City if they'd rather get paid more for each piece they produce, or if they'd rather have their work published on the front page of the New York Times... and receive no fee.

You see, one of those answers is short-term thinking.
posted by rokusan at 5:55 AM on October 5, 2009


Also, this equating of collapsing newspaper empires with "journalists" is deceptive and cheap.

Journalists make up, what, two percent of the newspaper industry? It's all swell to lobby around those few, because they have a human face, we can relate to them, and we don't want these poor journalists to be victimized. Also, they can write. This helps get sympathy.

But in an internet-only world where there are no print newspapers... guess what? We still need just as many writers. What we don't need are so many paper mills, printing presses, fleets of trucks, the labor to make it all work, the six layers of management who each take their percentage, and the shareholders receiving profits from the old mule.

Dressing up a dying industry in its most humane face is a cheap sympathy gambit, like arguing on behalf of the sickly-evil music publishing industry while calling it "artists who suffer."
posted by rokusan at 6:00 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


^I can't think of any reason why this wouldn't work.

Because, as with cops, soldiers, judges and teachers, (in fact everyone outside politicians whose job could be loosely characterized as service) there used to be an assumption that journalists had a specific set of ethical guidelines that the general public could trust. This line has been blurred if not obliterated by the ease of posting, and by the architecture of the internet. We will tend to gravitate to sources that support our own biases; if your information sources not only share but actively promote those biases, and suppress information that challenges it, and it's easy to ignore other sources because they aren't there, side by side on the page, then society is not as free. When journalism was a profession, with college degrees and paths to advancement and guidelines and expectations, you had an assumption that the writer had at least a passing acquaintance with the concept of ethics. This is no longer as clear.

I'm extremely torn about this development, because I tend toward a rather anarchistic politics, but I find the loss of the newspaper as an institution and a foundation to be disturbing. I'm not saying you can't find balance on line. I just think it's easier to lose it.
posted by nax at 6:08 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Before I got my iPhone, I bought the NY Times off the news stand every weekday morning on my way to work. It was pricey versus a subscription but I didn't mind. Nowadays, I just download it to my iPhone for free, a digital version that seems mostly devoid of ads. It's a great a service and I would gladly pay for it. So, why don't they charge me? And why don't they put in more ads?
They're a bankrupt company (or on the verge) so you would think they'd be doing more to make the business work.
posted by jimmymcvee at 6:15 AM on October 5, 2009


But in an internet-only world where there are no print newspapers... guess what? We still need just as many writers. What we don't need are so many paper mills, printing presses, fleets of trucks, the labor to make it all work, the six layers of management who each take their percentage, and the shareholders receiving profits from the old mule.

The point is that in the print era, various factors combined to safeguard solid, costly, time-consuming, in-depth journalism from a world in which every single article had to pay for itself by persuading readers to pay the full cost of what it took to produce. I see no reason to be optimistic that in the internet-only world, this kind of journalism will just naturally be protected because "we still need just as many writers".

What this all comes down to is whether you think that something as culturally essential as good journalism will find financial support just because it's culturally essential. But what if good journalism is something we should be supporting even if more and more people don't give a shit about it?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:33 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Matthew Yglesias had a throw away comment awhile back about how he wasn't afraid of the state of the newspaper industry because in the future most news would be provided by retirees and hobbyists who would do their own reporting simply because it was fun for them.

I can't think of any reason why this wouldn't work


Neither can I, since that seems to be pretty much how it's done now.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:40 AM on October 5, 2009


I'll be the first to admit, the newspapers have done themselves no favors: insistence, year in and year out, on ridiculous and ever-expanding profit margins, pandering to the lowest common denominator, and so forth. All of that aside, though:

I don't think you can call up your local electric utility and pay your bills with "Hey, lots of people read my stuff." I think we're in danger of abstracting the journalist concept into some kind of creative font from which articles flow that we're in danger of forgetting that each journalist is a person, and each person is a conduit through which fees, bills, rent, and so forth pass.

By all means, once we're reached some boundless utopia wherein resources are not constrained, let's revisit the issue. Until then, getting articles for free and then figuring that the money thing will just, I dunno, work itself out ... seems at best naive, and at worst greedy.

What's happening to television when we figure out that we "ought" to have stuff as cheaply as possible? Reality TV, five nights a week of Jay Leno, and so on. We'll see the same with journalism. Journalists are by no means magical creatures who automatically generate perfect, balanced prose, but my guess is that we'll see a hell of a lot worse as a replacement if we assume that folks will just do it for free.
posted by adipocere at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm somewhat amazed that people think quality journalism will remain after newspapers go bankrupt and disappear. Perhaps it will, but it is not at all clear to me that we will have writers and photojournalists around the world covering events or long-form investigative journalism. It's not clear to me that we will have quality editorial staff.

Maybe we will, and maybe a new model will come up that is even better, but I hardly feel like it is guaranteed. In fact, it seems like the quality of journalism may already be declining. The optimists probably believe that this is just a transitional period before journalism comes back twice as better as ever before (and free!), but it doesn't seem like a sure thing to me.
posted by snofoam at 6:44 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


nax: "there used to be an assumption that journalists had a specific set of ethical guidelines that the general public could trust"

We can agree that this assumption exists no longer? And where we can assign a majority of the blame for that change?
posted by Joe Beese at 7:04 AM on October 5, 2009


Well, let's blame the internet, and let's blame the uneducated citizen. The internet is a wild frontier that is still sorting itself out. And I don't think this is an entirely bad thing, just that we need more consumer education and a better way of sorting out who is writing from and for a biased viewpoint, and who is following old journalistic ethical standards of following the facts to the story, and not making the facts fit your desired outcome.

The uneducated citizen is the bigger problem. I'm open to suggestions.
posted by nax at 7:10 AM on October 5, 2009


> I don't think you can call up your local electric utility and pay your bills with "Hey, lots of people read my stuff."

Do you have any idea what Google's electric bill must be? If you can't leverage eyeballs into money, you probably should go out of business.

The newspapers' problem is that they think in terms of newpapers. They're really in the selling-a-community's-attention business.

John Temple (of the late Rocky Mountain News) had a good talk outlining the typical problems of a daily paper.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:27 AM on October 5, 2009


So you know, if I owned a newspaper, I'd definitely be asking Google for a cut of the money they make from the textads they put next to my links in the search results. At the very least. Because if they don't my links won't appear there much longer (after I go out of business).

I'm a huge supporter of newspapers and the work they do, but this Google stuff is total bullshit, and I've told more than one editor that. Suing Google for the money they make from ads is like suing the paper shop owner for the money he makes on Mars bars and putting job ads in his window. The reply "but if it wasn't for newspapers, he wouldn't be able to sell any Mars bars!" is exactly as stupid as "Google couldn't sell ads on news without newspapers".

The only problem is that newspapers aren't earning as much from their websites as they do from selling papers through newsagents. But that's their fault, it isn't Google's. It was understandable in the case of websites, because when the web got started it really wasn't clear how it was going to develop -- I'd have been sympathetic at the time to those who saw it as complementary, like AOL, rather than as a replacement -- and the crucial thing was to build an audience that could drive readers back to your home product.

But it didn't turn out like that, and yet they're still making the same mistakes! A rash of iPhone apps came out, and some after in-app purchase was introduced, but they still don't even try to charge for their stuff.

The realisation is finally beginning to dawn, however: Murdoch is thumping more of his tubs about charging for online news, but he has to thump hard as he realises that it doesn't work unless everybody charges for it. Everyone is starting to get scared enough that they might follow suit, until it's just the AP and BBC putting stuff out on the web gratis. The AP will fall in line with what its members tell it, however, and that's the end of Yahoo News. And if the entire British newspaper industry takes on a weak Conservative govt (which the next one is sure to be) over the BBC, I think news.bbc.co.uk could be dramatically curtailed.

Of course, charging for news websites gives you a much smaller reach, but it seems to be dawning on news execs that this doesn't really matter. You can have a very profitable paper with 35,000 readers and you can go bust with 2 million freebie hits a week.

So then what's left if they do go pay-only? Online news sites have had 10 years to get their acts together, and they really haven't done shit compared to what's being done by traditional media. A few biggish stories, but nowhere near the breadth and depth (and income) of their old-media rivals. This would be their chance to shine, but given their track record, I don't hold great hopes for them picking up the slack.

As far as I can see, we'll have two choices when this plays out: we'll either be able to pay for local news or choose sparse online coverage, which will be especially poor in local areas. Of course, if (when?) the newspapers fail, it'll be all we have.

But these are the only two options I can see now. The Winers and Jarvis's of this world have long been trumpeting the coming era when we get news coverage of equal or better quality than the best of the newspapers, for free, over the web. But time's almost up on those predictions, and it doesn't show any more signs of arriving than Jesus.
posted by fightorflight at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


"how Google and newspapers might co-exist in the future": Google owns you and runs you as a hobby.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:27 AM on October 5, 2009


The truth of the matter is, newspapers should have started working on this kind of thing long before Google even existed. Newspapers started going online in the late 90s, and quite a few news sites predate Google. But it seems that none of these sites have really ever had a direction. They haven't been looking to the future other than to say that, "well, we'd better be online because everyone else is."

The biggest problem for newspapers going online is simple: Online doesn't pay the bills. As I've mentioned before, the amount of impressions online that it takes to equal the revenue of just a single run of a quarter page ad is staggering. Quality journalism does not come cheap. They've got to pay the reporters, photographers, editors, and so forth. For so long print advertising paid those bills and left the news companies with a massive profit. But now the circulation is down, the advertisers are fleeing due to many factors*, and Craigslist has dropped a 16-ton anvil on classified ads. So it's understandable when a paper creates content and then says, "look, they're mooching off of our content."

But that leaves this question open: What is your business model? If you're not putting up a paywall, then you're relying on online impressions to pay for your operations. Yet you're going to fuss at Google for driving people to those impressions. If Google was getting readers around a paywall, this would make much more sense. But right now, it's evidence of an industry that doesn't have a direction.

(*Some of the reasons that advertisers are leaving is that many of these advertisers simply don't exist anymore. For example, when Macy's bought Robinsons-May and eliminated the Robinsons-May stores, that meant two advertisers became one. For many papers that meant several hundred thousand dollars or more of lost revenue. Those mergers hurt. Mervyns, Circuit City, Linens N Things, Comp USA and many of the other retailers that either went out of business or scaled back were also big advertisers. Combine that, Craigslist, a hellishly bad economy, way too much debt, and Wall Street's insistence on more profits at any cost, and you've got the perfect storm that's hitting an industry.)
posted by azpenguin at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2009


it takes him a lot of time and effort to write the story and then in the blink of an eye Google turns his work into a commodity.

Not quite sure I see what you mean. What was it before google came on the scene? And why does a wider audience change that?

"there used to be an assumption that journalists had a specific set of ethical guidelines that the general public could trust"

When? Where? My take on media outlets has always been that even with the best will in the world, there is an angle. In that sense, I appreciate the outlets that are at least up front and obvious about it. But I always assume that there is more to the story and that the questions I really want answered probably never will be.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2009


there's a mismatch between the effort involved in creating the content and what Google's prepared to pay for it

For thirty years newspaper business writers never met a tough CEO they didn't like or a layoff or offshoring the efficiencies of which they could refrain from salivating over, but now all of a sudden when it's their ass hung out to dry they discover a latent fondness for labor theories of value. There are a bunch of steelworkers out there who'd like a word.
posted by enn at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


> The realisation is finally beginning to dawn, however: Murdoch is thumping more of his tubs about charging for online news, but he has to thump hard as he realises that it doesn't work unless everybody charges for it.

And not everybody will. So that's not going to work.

It's increasingly obvious that the real problem with newspapers is that they long for their glory days, and are unwilling or able to shed their overhead. It's going to be web-based startups that provide the mammals to fill their ecological niche.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2009


Honestly, I could care less about the newspapers. Or TV stations, or movie companies, or record labels.

Let them all burn, and let a thousand smaller seedlings take their place.
posted by empath at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another way: ask a new, struggling journalist in Kansas City if they'd rather get paid more for each piece they produce, or if they'd rather have their work published on the front page of the New York Times... and receive no fee.

You see, one of those answers is short-term thinking.


I'm generally not a protectionist towards traditional newspapers, but this is BS. The reason journalists want to get on the NY Times is not just the prestige, but the fact that it translates into $$. The Times pays you, and then you get more paying gigs, and if you're very lucky, you get a cushy columnist post and get called by NPR every week to come on and comment and you write popular and profitable books, ala David Brooks.

Prestige doesn't pay your rent.

Sadly, being David Brooks does.

And that's what's wrong with traditional journalism, right there. But it's not Google's fault.
posted by emjaybee at 8:44 AM on October 5, 2009


Also: There's a bit of misunderstanding about the figures involved. Google made $7bn in profit in 2008 on $21bn in revenue. US Newspapers in the same period made $68bn in revenue, on costs of $55bn, and compared with previous years this was a figure that had them howling and checking the struts that support the sky.

Yes, Google makes a lot of money, but not enough to support all the working journalists in the US, let alone the world. $55bn in costs -- even though perhaps 20% of this is newsprint and plant, which are costs that will disappear shortly -- are three times Google's income for 2008. It's not going to run news "as a hobby" at any time in the coming decade at least.
posted by fightorflight at 8:44 AM on October 5, 2009


And not everybody will. So that's not going to work.
Globally? I guess not. But I can see markets where they all will. The UK's paper market is one of the most competitive in the world, and since not one of their dailies has a website that washes its face (get buttloads of viewers? Yes. Make money? No), I don't see them staying free for very much longer. And they'll take down the BBC when they go.

It's going to be web-based startups that provide the mammals to fill their ecological niche.
Going to? Have been hearing this for too long, with scanty evidence. The newspapers are folding right now. The niches already exist. The scalps claimed by web-based startups? Not too many at all.

As for Shirky: Yes, there's something to that, though he makes the mistake of taking newspapers as they stand today as his model, instead of what they once were. Newspapers are already on their knees. I bet every one of the six reporters at his model paper are worked off their asses and complaining about how little real news they get to do. If your entire reporting staff is published in the paper, that means nobody is working on specials, projects or investigations. You're struggling to stay above the water there.

Further: since Shirky doesn't have a model yet he can point to and say "here, this will support just six reporters plus support staff in a town of barely 100,000 people" only "maybe we should look into some ideas of how this could possibly work" it's yet more new-media hot air. The sort of hot air that keeps empath's seedlings afloat. It's when they fall to earth that you realise they're just weeds.
posted by fightorflight at 8:57 AM on October 5, 2009


Leveraging eyeballs into money sounds really nice, but at best it is a placeholder for "A Successful Business Plan." The problem is that nobody knows what this is.

Say I write an article and publish it in the newspaper. All someone has to do is copy that article and recycle it elsewhere — suddenly, they have the eyeballs, and I do not. And we know that people love to copy share music, movies, etc. Right now, it's a little bit of a traffic issue, but it will be a copying issue before long. Think news aggregators, which are the real threat to newspapers, not pushing traffic around, although that's a part of it.

Google pays its electric bills, and more, because they get the first catch of eyeballs. Sure, a few squirm through to the newspaper proper (this metaphor is getting kinda icky), but once you start copying news articles out to the news aggregators, saying "A Successful Business Plan" might as well be waving a magic wand.

It's quite simple. People are cheap. If they can get away with not paying for something, most of them will do so. We've been relying on advertising dollars to foot the bill for television and news for a long time, but if that money goes to Google in the case of newspapers, it isn't going to the content producers.
posted by adipocere at 9:03 AM on October 5, 2009


Globally? I guess not. But I can see markets where they all will.

I think you're wrong there. The UK is the first major market (sorry Danes) where online ads outpace print ones. For narrower markets, like finance, it could work. The WSJ has managed it here.

The newspapers are folding right now. The niches already exist. The scalps claimed by web-based startups? Not too many at all.

Are folding, yes. Their replacements are still in their infant stage, but they're coming. TalkingPointsMemo is a good example.

... Shirky doesn't have a model yet he can point to and say "here, this will support just six reporters plus support staff in a town of barely 100,000 people.

That's not really fair. He's pointing out the bloat in a legacy newspaper. It'll take an innovator to come up with the replacement.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:17 AM on October 5, 2009


Leveraging eyeballs into money sounds really nice, but at best it is a placeholder for "A Successful Business Plan." The problem is that nobody knows what this is.

...Think news aggregators, which are the real threat to newspapers, not pushing traffic around, although that's a part of it.


Hmmm. Isn't AP a news aggregator?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:19 AM on October 5, 2009


I guess a good part of my worries about the downfall of the "newspaper as institution" is that good journalism is a public good, so the transition to the new wave of seedlings/innovations/citizen journalism/2.0 is really costly, and more so than other industries which have felt the effects of disruptive technologies. I'm probably wearing glasses with a rosier tint than most when I think that newspapers can hold governments (both local and national) to account better than web based resources. Am I wrong to worry that we are heading into a period where we have dismantled the most effective mechanism we have to hold authority to account but have not yet worked out any kind of viable successor? I suppose the answer is that we get the media we deserve.
posted by patricio at 9:23 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


ChurchHatesTucker's "overhead" link is very interesting, and it really confirms my suspicion about the industry. They probably could survive in an online-only world, with much narrower profit margins than they're used to. But to do that, they'd have to cut everything but the people actually generating content, and maybe a very small IT staff to run the website. (Of course, you can outsource that or have much of it done remotely by a specialized company.)

Newspapers are dying because they refuse to change, and I suspect that they refuse to change because the people who are in charge—management—are the ones who, in any rational universe, would be the first to get pink-slipped. They're the overhead, or at least a big part of it. (I'd love to see a cost breakdown of exactly how much money goes to the salaries and benefits of journalists, photographers, and editors, and how much goes everywhere else. I'm willing to bet that most of the costs are elsewhere.)

Employing 50 or 60 people from online impressions is obviously a no-go, at least for all but a few news outlets. But employing 5 or 6 reporters or photographers, one web programmer, and paying for server bills? That doesn't seem totally unreasonable.

The traditional newsroom is dead; it ought to be pushing up daisies right next to lifetime employment, pensions, and the three-martini lunch. It was nice while it lasted, but no amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth is going to bring it back. But there's a demand for news, and as more newspapers fail that demand is going to get bigger. The future belongs to whomever can strip away all the bloat and create content with minimal overhead.

Our attention should be devoted towards searching for and supporting those who are trying new business models, trying to find things that will work in the modern economy, rather than on traditional newspaper companies who are effectively holding journalists and the entire concept of "news" hostage for their own benefit and preservation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:25 AM on October 5, 2009


Prestige doesn't pay your rent.

Is this really true? I think if you play it right, mere notoriety can pay the rent. Look at Ken Rockwell, a photo-nerd turned consumer photography journalist, just on the popularity of his oft mocked website.

Hell, look at Matt Haughy. I probably get at least half of my news through metafilter, it really does serve a similar place in my daily life as reading a newspaper used to. But even though he is in the "news" business, Matt's financial well being is only connected to the popularity of the website. If newspapers went down it would be great news for metafilter, as people came to look for new sources of information filtering.
posted by afu at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


afu, since "prestige" is still not a recognized form of currency, yes. Now if you mean "famous people get stuff comped a lot, and some of them live off of that" sure. But just getting a byline in the NYTimes is not usually going to have that effect, going back to the original comment in question.

For those who keep saying "but we must preserve journalism!" I don't think there's any dispute about that. But what keeps many of us from crying over the death of corporate newspapers is 1) they haven't been all that good at actually practicing journalism for some time, if ever and 2) while a BBC-style subsidized setup could work, it won't happen in the US anytime soon.

As per 1), there's an additional feeling of deep resentment for many of us at the idea of propping up, for example, all the papers that cheerleaded us into Iraq and were so terrified of appearing "liberal" that they failed to do much besides be PR arms for the Bush administration.

There are many good reporters and good work that has been done out there, but much of it either seems to be in spite of the wishes/direction of the parent paper or happening in fringe weekly outlets, in magazines, or online. Or am I the only one who remembers that Firedoglake.com was the sole outlet, to the point of being used by the newspapers, to do truly detailed reporting during the Scooter Libby trials?

I don't get my news from traditional media (unless you count Ezra Klein's move to being a WaPo columnist) because increasingly, there's no news there. Or what there is is buried as deep as possible.
posted by emjaybee at 9:55 AM on October 5, 2009


I think you're wrong there. The UK is the first major market (sorry Danes) where online ads outpace print ones. For narrower markets, like finance, it could work. The WSJ has managed it here.

Ad bookings outpace them, but revenue doesn't, not by a long, long shot. Not one of the UK paper websites is paying for itself, let alone for its parent paper. They make colossal sums off print, and will do what's required to protect that. The Mirror wants to beat the Sun, and it'll find it has an easier time if the Sun website goes pay-only or Sun+ or whatever, but they're not going to go all-out to beat them if it means no additional income. Hell, the Guardian's got an online readership in the millions and is still losing cash. The extra readers the Mirror could get from the Sun will amount to a hill of beans, and then they'll go pay-for too.

TalkingPointsMemo is a good example.

It both is and it isn't. It's a goodish example of how you could supplant national news (although it still leans on the wires and on print). But the Clay example is about a local newspaper: six reporters, covering a town of 100,000. TPM isn't going to replace that. It doesn't even have that many staff. This is the really important kind of news that's going to go missing. It's not about watching Obama, it's about watching some unknown politician feathering his nest in an unknown town.

Kadin2048 is right that we should be looking for things like this, but a lot of journalists have been trying (they see the future coming even if their companies don't) and the sums just aren't adding up. You can support 10 people from a web-wide special interest website, maybe, but one of interest to fewer than 100,000 people? Seems like unwarranted optimism. MeFi has 50,000 users, doesn't it? Could Matt afford a full-time staff of 10?

News is a river, and the big outlets are fed by many small tributaries upstream. If they die, the drought heads downriver. Small-town newspapers are really kind-of amazing, actually. 100,000 people supporting a decent newsroom and 20-odd journalists. (Shirky's 6 is really is a misnomer. It has to be about 10, plus 5 or 6 editors and other editorial support types. Say 20-25 for reasonable work to be done, and that's extremely parsimonious). Haven't seen a web model yet that can do the same thing.
posted by fightorflight at 10:04 AM on October 5, 2009


adipocere: "Google pays its electric bills, and more, because they get the first catch of eyeballs. Sure, a few squirm through to the newspaper proper (this metaphor is getting kinda icky), but once you start copying news articles out to the news aggregators"

The metaphor doesn't work because it's not true. Go look at Google News, which is the thing that's apparently giving everyone so much heartburn. They're not copying articles; it's a list of headlines (which are linked) and opening sentences, and a few photos here and there that are also linked. That's about the bare minimum you could possibly have on that page and still convince anyone to click on the links.

And how many ads are there on that page? Zero. The argument that Google is somehow ripping papers' content off and profiting from it just doesn't hold water. Google is profitable, yes, but Google News looks like it's almost certainly a cost center.

That page is a goddamn gift to every paper that's on there. Because of that page, I might end up going to 3 or 4 different news outlets every morning that I'd otherwise never go to. Heck, there are local news outlets that I'd never heard of or even knew existed, until they came up in the "Local News" section of GN.

And, of course, if some paper doesn't want Google to link its articles on GN, they can do so trivially, with a simple addition to their robots.txt file. One line is all it takes; suddenly no more worrying about getting accidental linkage from Google. But they don't do that, because what they really want is to have their cake and eat it too: they want to get the benefits of having Google link to them, but they also want—and think they somehow deserve—Google to pay them for the privilege. Ridiculous.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:09 AM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Anyway, it takes him a lot of time and effort to write the story and then in the blink of an eye Google turns his work into a commodity.

And do you know how much time it takes to make a decent buggy-whip???
posted by GuyZero at 10:15 AM on October 5, 2009


I think people are misrepresenting the newspaper overhead here. Not only are people like editors an integral part of creating high-quality content, but any business has administrative overhead. I don't see why newspapers should go without a receptionist or HR manager or what have you, unless we assume that in the Internet age every business should go without these. This mostly just shows how little many people know about journalism.

And it is obvious that Ken Rockwell's livelihood has nothing to do with the viability of online journalism. He isn't a journalist, and the NYT isn't going to finance their Afghanistan coverage with affiliate links to airlines that fly there.
posted by snofoam at 10:17 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


So here's my question (and I still haven't seen a good answer to it) - if Google takes the market out from under the newspapers' feet, who's going to pay for the time it takes a journalist to write a story?

I am not a journalist. In my life I have had close personal exposure to a couple of stories that ended up in the newspapers. This was an eye opening experience as before I had thought there was information in the newspapers. (Actually there is some information in the newspapers; the texans did beat the raiders 29-6 and the high temp yesterday was 80 degrees and the newspaper got both of those correct.)

The newspapers are filled with complete and utter horseshit. To hell with them.
posted by bukvich at 10:20 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


But the Clay example is about a local newspaper: six reporters, covering a town of 100,000. TPM isn't going to replace that. It doesn't even have that many staff. This is the really important kind of news that's going to go missing. It's not about watching Obama, it's about watching some unknown politician feathering his nest in an unknown town.

This is an honest question, does anybody have any examples or evidence of these wonderful small town newspapers? Because every small town paper I have ever seen doesn't impress.
posted by afu at 10:30 AM on October 5, 2009


It strikes me that I'm in a unique geographic position. I watch the Baltimore Sun go to complete hell, while the Washington Post continues its sycophantic relationship with The Village, and the WSJ continues its sycophantic relationship with Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I check blogs/independent sites for actual, y'know, news.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:32 AM on October 5, 2009


> Ad bookings outpace them, but revenue doesn't, not by a long, long shot. Not one of the UK paper websites is paying for itself, let alone for its parent paper

Yeah. One, the website shouldn't be expected to support its "parent paper." That's the problem that cripples newspapers' websites.

Two, the web enables a lot of competition. For consumers, that's an awesome thing. For any particular "paper" not so much. Sorry 'bout that. (not really.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2009


Hell, look at Matt Haughy. I probably get at least half of my news through metafilter

Oh, so Matt writes all the articles linked to?

Matt posts all the links to the front page?

Matt writes all the comments?

Boy, Matt sure does generate a lot of that content you're relying on.
posted by rodgerd at 11:38 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


afu: Clay seemed to think his was pretty good. One example that comes to mind is The Glasgow Herald (though I'm not linking to its embarrassing website). It has a circulation of about 50,000, but has brought down two leaders of the Scottish government, busted open the sham of the Lockerbie trial and thanks to its campaign for devolution, arguably led to the creation of the Scottish parliament in the first place. It claims a lot of scalps, but is being strip-mined by corporate owners and faces a very short future.

ChurchHatesTucker: By paying for its parent paper I really mean "paying for the journalists that produce all the content it inherits for free", which it should be expected to pay for.

Also: I fail to see how the sort of competition that results in all the players being wiped out is "awesome" for consumers. A website run from San Francisco can now destroy a newspaper from Glasgow, but while that means the Glaswegian is now able to sell his Ibrox tickets, he can't find out what's happening in the council offices. (Not that it's the SF website's fault btw, Mr Exec.).

This isn't competition between substitutes (so goodbye to all the carts->automobile analogies, sorry), it's ... well, I can't think of a good parallel, actually. It's virtually uncharted territory.
posted by fightorflight at 11:41 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


ChurchHatesTucker: By paying for its parent paper I really mean "paying for the journalists that produce all the content it inherits for free", which it should be expected to pay for.

In most of these cases (where a paper starts up a web offering) the web scoops the hell out of the dead tree edition. That's not a surprise, given their respective timelines. What is surprising is that the legacy print guys tend to clamp down on the web edition to support their current (dead tree) milk cow.

That cow is dying. Sorry, but it's true. They've got to get a lot more nimble to continue forward. I just doubt that they're actually capable of it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:01 PM on October 5, 2009


Newspapers: Google is stealing our thunder.
Google: We are aggregating your thunder.

As a consumer and not a publisher of news, I still buy the paper every now and then. Before the internet, I was rarely the person that bought the papers, instead reading the leavings my friends had or the coffee shop had lying around. There are a lot of people like that out there, whether they use the internet for news or not.
Now, I use Google news as a supplement to the myriad of news sites I visit on a regular basis. I do not use Google as my primary news source, although I'm almost certain that I'm a minority on that score. Overall, I benefit from Google's aggregate news more than I would were all news not collected into that handy little site.

Perhaps that's selfish of me. Perhaps that's also the point.

Let's say that news outlets - all of them - stopped allowing aggregators to pick up content from their site. Let's also say that all news outlets stopped providing free access to their online content. Would that hurt or help the outlets?

Ultimately, Google isn't the larger problem. It's the poor business model of the newspapers combined with their decision to provide free content online. Rather than stand around complaining about it, do something about it.
posted by neewom at 12:03 PM on October 5, 2009


Ultimately, Google isn't the larger problem. It's the poor business model of the newspapers combined with their decision to provide free content online. Rather than stand around complaining about it, do something about it.

I am mystified about this idea that google can monetize *links* to websites, but the websites themselves are completely unable to make any money at all off it.

You want to disassociate from Google? robots.txt is your ticket out of that oppression. Good luck with that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:10 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am mystified about this idea that google can monetize *links* to websites, but the websites themselves are completely unable to make any money at all off it.

Well, there is a difference. When people go to Google, they're often expressing intent and interest. And when they see an ad it may well be for what they were interested in, so they click on it. Google makes money. Because Google auctions off ad slots, people compete to pay for the privilege of having their ads shown. Thus Google doesn't even have to set prices, it just collects the money.

If you're on a content site, you're already where you were going. That's about it. You know what you wanted and now you have it. If you can prove you have enough eyeballs you can run display ads and/or brand ads, but for many sites that's not as much money and it's not always sold via auction. And how much do you charge for a non-actionable ad impression?
posted by GuyZero at 12:21 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, there is a difference. When people go to Google, they're often expressing intent and interest. And when they see an ad it may well be for what they were interested in, so they click on it. Google makes money. Because Google auctions off ad slots, people compete to pay for the privilege of having their ads shown. Thus Google doesn't even have to set prices, it just collects the money.

If you're on a content site, you're already where you were going. That's about it. You know what you wanted and now you have it...


So surely the second one is much more valuable than the first? You've already narrowed down the possibilities.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:25 PM on October 5, 2009


Nope. People pay to influence other people making decisions. I type "new cellphone" and a lot of people would like me to go to their site. I go to the NY Times to check the sports scores and... so what? Who is the Times going to get to pay for that? They can show a display ad for Charmin or Ford or some other brand advertiser, but those things are pennies per impression at best.
posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on October 5, 2009


I type "new cellphone" and a lot of people would like me to go to their site. I go to the NY Times to check the sports scores and... so what? Who is the Times going to get to pay for that? They can show a display ad for Charmin or Ford or some other brand advertiser, but those things are pennies per impression at best.

Damn, dude. I never go to the NYT for scores, on account of I'll probably have to sign in, or get some ad, or some such shit.

I use iPhone apps for that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:36 PM on October 5, 2009


In most of these cases (where a paper starts up a web offering) the web scoops the hell out of the dead tree edition. That's not a surprise, given their respective timelines. What is surprising is that the legacy print guys tend to clamp down on the web edition to support their current (dead tree) milk cow.

"Business attempts to sway customers to pay-for product instead of free one" is a surprise to you?

When you see print guys doing that, it's because they can. The stories are exclusive to them, and nobody else has them. They don't try to do it on breaking news, because everybody has that, and indeed you'll see their websites scrambling to be first or updated with it.

But not everything newspapers print is, as Paul Graham laughably puts it, "a printout of yesterday's news". Newspapers break exclusive stories (and more of them than any other medium). This is the whole and sole reason their passing is lamentable. Those are the ones they try to keep off the web until after print time, quite rightly and sensibly. Why give away the *only* thing you have left to sell, for free?

That cow is dying. Sorry, but it's true. They've got to get a lot more nimble to continue forward. I just doubt that they're actually capable of it.
Everybody knows the cow is dying. Making it dance isn't going to prevent it. Newspapers have pretty much had it.

Like Shirky has said elsewhere: it's not newspapers we need to care about, it's reporting. Newspapers have just been pretty much the only bodies able to pay for large numbers of reporters working at a very local level. That's what we need to replace, and nobody anywhere has come up with a workable model, much less a demonstration, so far. It's all "going to" and unfounded hoping.
posted by fightorflight at 1:10 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


One thing is clear from this thread: people who don't understand or care about journalism won't mind if/when newspapers disappear.
posted by snofoam at 1:11 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Schmidt on newspapers is a waste of time.

Favorited for truth. I'm glad somebody wrote up a transcript, because if I listened to that whole speech I'd be pissed off. What a waste of time.

Question: You've been quoted as saying a number of times that there should be a "flight to quality," that there's an awful lot of garbage out on the Internet --

Schmidt: Let me just say precisely: It's a sewer out there.

Question: Recognizing that the brands in this room for the most part are credible brands and --

Schmidt: I would say 100% are credible.


OH REALLY? TELL ME MORE!
posted by mrgrimm at 1:53 PM on October 5, 2009


> Newspapers break exclusive stories (and more of them than any other medium). This is the whole and sole reason their passing is lamentable. Those are the ones they try to keep off the web until after print time, quite rightly and sensibly. Why give away the *only* thing you have left to sell, for free?

Because if you don't, someone else will.

The only way you can prevent it is to make serious encroachments into free speech.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:31 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you missing the part about "exclusive"? If you've spent time researching and investigating a story that only you have, the chances are insanely high that you're not going to be scooped in the 10 hours it takes to print and distribute it while your own website is under embargo. It may surprise you that most information not only doesn't want to be free, it just wants to stay asleep in a locked and darkened room, far away from the light.
posted by fightorflight at 3:40 PM on October 5, 2009


And how many ads are there on that page? Zero. The argument that Google is somehow ripping papers' content off and profiting from it just doesn't hold water. Google is profitable, yes, but Google News looks like it's almost certainly a cost center.

I'll tell you now - on the paper I work for the traffic generated by Google News is negligible compared to the traffic generated by Google Search.
posted by awfurby at 6:31 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


One thing is clear from this thread: people who don't understand or care about journalism won't mind if/when newspapers disappear.

I'm a pretty voracious consumer of journalism. I just don't think newspapers are critical as producers of it, nor is cable news. They were constructed to sell readers to advertisers, not to sell news to readers. I think maybe if they reported on news that people care enough about to pay for, they'll start to make a profit again. In the meantime, they produce whatever makes their advertisers happy.
posted by empath at 6:50 PM on October 5, 2009


I just don't think newspapers are critical as producers of it, nor is cable news

Newspapers are incredibly critical to journalism. It's relatively simple to see why: consider the number of daily newspapers. Each of them has competition, and each of them has at least one edition a day. To be of any relevance and to beat their competitors, each newspaper *has* to have at least a few exclusive stories, and hopefully some good ones. There isn't a newspaper published worth the name that doesn't have a story unique to them inside. This is surprising to some people, but the exclusives and scoops aren't all major exposés of corruption or the like, they're just unique reporting on a story nobody else has covered.

But it does mean employing a host of journalists, and setting them to work finding a story every 24 hours. No other media outlet is under that same pressure.

The TV/Cable news: can run the same story all day if required on a quiet news day, with little freshening up. It doesn't even need to originate that story: it can cover a story broken that morning in a newspaper, without shame. (Few newspapers will have as their page one story a rival's old one, unless it's monumental). Even at best, they only need about 10 stories to fill an hour, if that. They of course need presenters and cameramen, but investigative journalism is wholly optional: they can simply report happening events and the outcome of other people's investigative journalism forever.

Radio: Hardly needs any reporters at all. It certainly used to have some crackers -- think of the excellent reporting on the second world war -- but they were optional and now radio news teams are painfully small (with the notable exceptions of the public service teams at NPR and the BBC). Even so, there is no pressure at all for a radio station to get exclusive stories; none at all for investigations.

Other print (magazines): These do have a need for exclusives, but they don't have the time pressure, so can make do with much smaller staffs. They are also usually national, and so only cover events of broader interest, unlike the courthouse-watching local press.

Web: There's a degree of pressure for exclusives, but few websites are employing any notable number of journalists, and linking is totally acceptable. What's more, there's no pressure for daily updates of exclusive content (though there's a huge pressure for minute-by-minute refreshing). It's funny to think that newspapers are faster than websites, but think how often any website you care to name gets a scoop -- in my experience even the best are rarely more frequent than weekly -- whereas a newspaper will have at least one every morning, without fail.

It's not something notable about newspapers or their staffs, and it's definitely not because of their management. It's just a fact of their existence that if they want to survive, they need to generate and publish exclusive stories frequently. If the news reporters weren't required, the corporate owners would have stripped them long ago -- and some have even though it's cutting into the meat. (It's a lamentable fact of US journalism that many papers have monopolies, and thus have been able to rest on their laurels and more able to chop staff. The UK market is more frenzied, and thus you almost have over-scrutiny, not all of it in the right place, but also fewer news reporting layoffs).

So: because they're the ones hunting for all this exclusive stuff, newspapers are being left to it by all the media that can happily follow in their wake. Accordingly, a vast amount of the journalism you see or read ultimately comes from reporting done by a journalist paid for by a newspaper. They are incredibly important to journalism, and have been for as long as we have known it.

Once again, this is isn't any special feature of newspapers per se, but until another media arises where a) daily or better exclusives are vital and b) the income generated is enough to support largish staffs of journalists working in small places, they are critical to journalism. It may be that the death of newspapers would mean TV would finally have to step up to the plate, but if current US shows are any indication, they'd just fill the vacuum with op-ed and fluff.

They were constructed to sell readers to advertisers, not to sell news to readers.
This is true. But they get the readers with the exclusives.

I think maybe if they reported on news that people care enough about to pay for, they'll start to make a profit again.
That would be a bad thing for journalism. Notice that celebrity lifestyle magazines aren't under any pressure, and none of the paparazzi has been bewailing his income. The great trick of newspapers was that they got advertisers to pay huge amounts to subside the creation of content that few of their readers really wanted. Hardly anybody is willing to pay for a report of a fire downtown, or a minor court corruption case. But the amount of people willing to pay for that, and sports, and a crossword, and job ads, and property ads, and general classifieds, and good opinion writing, that's huge. It's just the web has cherry-picked all the money-makers, so now only the news is left and the trick is failing.

Nobody wants to pay for news directly. To be honest, a lot of it is deathly dull. Hey Buddy, want to buy 1500 words on a follow-up over allegations about the deputy leader of a social housing programme holding leases back six weeks during a temporary lull in construction by a developer run by his wife's sister's brother-in-law? No? Shit. But everybody wants to live in a country with the sort of fully independent scrutiny that a free press provides. The newspaper "trick" provided the answer. None of its proposed replacements do.

Anyway, I'm turning this thread into a blog. I'd best go.
posted by fightorflight at 7:36 PM on October 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm a pretty voracious consumer of journalism. I just don't think newspapers are critical as producers of it, nor is cable news.

Well, you own posting history includes links to the New York Times, the Washington Post and various other newspapers. On top of that, it includes links to Yahoo News, which gets articles from newspapers. To broaden the scope a little, magazines are essentially facing the same issues as newspapers and your posts include links to many magazines. If one were to dig deeper I would be very surprised if the various links to wikipedia and online media in your posts are devoid of quotes from or facts cited from traditional print news media.

Or in other words, whatever.
posted by snofoam at 8:16 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Felix Salmon, the Reuters blogger, has some interesting insights into the "tyranny of the CPM", in which he quotes Jim Spanfeller looking at why the current model of online advertising isn't working for web media properties:

"In other words, if you’re looking at your clickthrough rate, you’re not participating in the web equivalent of an advertisement, you’re participating in the web equivalent of junk mail. If publishers don’t want to be in the junk-mail business, they should be very wary about going down the clickthrough path."

He also has a good piece on why micropayments for newspaper articles are not the way forwards for newspapers:

"Newspapers have always made money not by selling content but by building a strong relationship with a large number of readers, and then monetizing that relationship — mainly by charging advertisers large amounts of money for the privilege of inserting themselves into it. If readers become resentful of their newspapers, because they have to pay for every article they read and because they can’t easily pass that article on to others, then that’s a great way of destroying a valuable relationship."

The problem now is that there simply doesn't seem to be a way to monetise the relationship any more, at least not to the extent required to support "traditional" newsgathering operations that can perform the traditional accountablility function of the media (and, no, that's not the same thing as publishing photos of celebrities on the beach - though that can effectively cross-subsidise a print operation...)
posted by patricio at 2:31 AM on October 6, 2009


empath: I'm a pretty voracious consumer of journalism. I just don't think newspapers are critical as producers of it, nor is cable news. They were constructed to sell readers to advertisers, not to sell news to readers. I think maybe if they reported on news that people care enough about to pay for, they'll start to make a profit again. In the meantime, they produce whatever makes their advertisers happy.

As you point out, good journalism hasn't traditionally been funded by people being willing to pay what it costs to produce good journalism. So where do you get your glib certainty that this is all about to change, just because the medium of publication is changing? This is what's most frustrating about the anti-newspaper grave-dancers. If you just don't give a shit about living in a society with good journalism, that's at least consistent, much as I disagree. But don't pretend that you do care about good journalism if all you can come up with is the vague, hand-wavey assertion that the free market will find a way to support it outside of newspapers, when as you yourself say, good journalism has never paid for itself.

Let them all burn, and let a thousand smaller seedlings take their place.

I think the tone of this comment (not to mention the echo of Chairman Mao) precisely illustrates my point. The question is how to create a situation where "a thousand smaller seedings" truly do take the place of newspapers, by performing their crucial democratic role in their place. Got any ideas? Sweeping statements sell books for Jarvis, Anderson et al, but they will not save journalism.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:12 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It doesn't even need to originate that story: it can cover a story broken that morning in a newspaper, without shame.

And newspapers have never done that.

Radio: Hardly needs any reporters at all. It certainly used to have some crackers

Fuck you, black trash. Oh wait, you meant that differently. Nevermind.

Web: There's a degree of pressure for exclusives... there's no pressure for daily updates of exclusive content (though there's a huge pressure for minute-by-minute refreshing).

Fortunately, us Big Paper consumers are never treated to these things. But when we are, they are undoubtedly exclusive to the Big Papers and not cribbed at all.

(And snarky as I am, I think your post was a good one.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:17 AM on October 6, 2009


The CBC has some amazing radio reporters who break very original "hard" news. Perhaps the future of journalism is happening in the UK and Canada - making it state-funded.
posted by GuyZero at 11:22 AM on October 6, 2009


The CBC has some amazing radio reporters who break very original "hard" news. Perhaps the future of journalism is happening in the UK and Canada - making it state-funded.

We've got a few good ones down here. It's just that they're not likely to get the benefit of the shield laws.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2009


I think the tone of this comment (not to mention the echo of Chairman Mao) precisely illustrates my point. The question is how to create a situation where "a thousand smaller seedings" truly do take the place of newspapers, by performing their crucial democratic role in their place.

We won't know until the marketplace is allowed to shake itself out.


But stuff like this (and I'm not a big fan of Greenwald, but he has a point) is why I could care less what happens to newspapers. They aren't actually serving the purpose they purport to serve. If they ceased to exist tomorrow, we'd lose nothing.
posted by empath at 5:30 PM on October 6, 2009


« Older RunMan: Race Around the World is a donationware PC...  |  "X or Y" Quizzes have been an ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments