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Inconceivable!
November 28, 2009 12:34 AM   Subscribe

WANTED: EDITOR OF A SUCCESSFUL LIB-LEANING BLOG AND NEWS ORGANIZATION LOOKS TO HIRE A PUBLISHER. Say what you will about the relative merits of Talking Points Memo or whether or not it's the triumphant example of why we don't need "real" newspapers or journalists any longer (previously on Mefi [1] [2]), but it does seem we've turned a corner (or perhaps jumped the shark?) when editors hire publishers instead of the other way around.
posted by bardic (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. Wave of the future.
posted by joedan at 12:56 AM on November 28, 2009


TPM actually got an investment recently from Marc Andreessen, I'm guessing this is coming from that money.

What would someone in a "publisher" even do in the context of a web publication? Run the business side?
posted by delmoi at 12:59 AM on November 28, 2009


I remember when Talking Points Memo broke stories. I also remember that their lead story on popurls yesterday was "Tiger Woods seriously injured in car accident".
posted by srboisvert at 1:54 AM on November 28, 2009


I remember when "bottom up" referred to the flow of newsworthiness instead of a sexual position.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:58 AM on November 28, 2009


I remember when Talking Points Memo broke stories. I also remember that their lead story on popurls yesterday was "Tiger Woods seriously injured in car accident".

You can't really blame TPM for popurls choices.
posted by delmoi at 3:00 AM on November 28, 2009


TPM is real journalism, but then I guess that is to be expected when Josh, a Yalie and professional journalist, decided to take his talent to a new medium. All the best to him.
posted by caddis at 6:19 AM on November 28, 2009


I remember when Talking Points Memo broke stories. I also remember that their lead story on popurls yesterday was "Tiger Woods seriously injured in car accident".

The Tiger woods story is kind of weird for them, but TPM has always been interested in the tabloidish breaking news stories with a political twist. I guess people just love to hate on success.
posted by afu at 6:35 AM on November 28, 2009


This is not particularly new: Penny Arcade did this a number of years ago when Gabe and Tycho hired their business director (Robert Khoo), who functions for them as a publisher. It was also an excellent move for them, as I expect it will be for TPM, provided Josh hires the right person.
posted by jscalzi at 6:47 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, we've definitely "[spun] off into absurd story lines or unlikely characterizations."
posted by Eideteker at 6:50 AM on November 28, 2009


delmoi: What would someone in a "publisher" even do in the context of a web publication? Run the business side?

From the Awl article:
This publisher will be responsible for making the publication hum and grow. The first duty in the listing is "audience growth." This is what a publisher should do: ensure the ongoing financial success and growth of his or her publication.


I assume they're looking for someone to work the business and help TPM gwow without getting involved in the editorial content. This seems like a great move forward to independent journalism. I hope the model works enough to be copied.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:22 AM on November 28, 2009


[Spits out tea, drops monocle into scotch.]

Newspaper editors still drink scotch and tea and wear monocles, right?

The fact is that with news, as with most sectors, the internet has introduced a ton of competition and free speech. No longer are newspapers regionally distributed things that are printed daily. Nor do we have to see our stories sequentially deliver on TV, from the perspective of the studio.

Change or die, and all that. It's tragic that it's ruining the long-running newspaper businesses, and I really do like reading a newspaper every once in a while, but we're in a free market and a disruptive technology has caught on. Newspapers now need to find a way to pay the bills and still deliver the kind of content that makes them great, including things like embedding journalists with troops. Social media can't quite fill that void, as you don't get the informed perspective of a reporter (citizen journalism is great, but journalists understand the history and how the news relates to their audience better, so they are definitely different things), and many countries limit internet access, especially in times of crisis. And some places are so underdeveloped that it's laughable to suggest they could tweet about current events.

My suggestion is that newspapers offer current events for free, but then start selling subscriptions to access the supplementary sections (like Food, Fashion, TV, etc). Those sections are usually quite good in a large city paper, and they aren't the same between papers like the news is. If you charge for news stories, no one will buy so long as one outlet online provides the news for free.

Of course, as a fan of Mark Bittman's Minimalist column, I'd be pretty upset. But I'd rather pay for his section than see the Times go under.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:41 AM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


TPM has never done very much actual reporting. Their major successes (the US attorney firings and the Abramoff scandal) were mostly due to picking up patterns in local newspaper coverage that the big boys weren't seeing.
posted by empath at 9:24 AM on November 28, 2009


TPM is certainly not an example of why we don't need newspapers any more.

It's basically an online newspaper-- it hires and pays people to write and report. Its success shows that newspapers can succeed online-- not the opposite. Yes, it made its name with a crowdsourced investigation-- but it wouldn't be doing well or would degenerate into a mass of self-promotion if it wasn't paying people to edit, write and report.

Journalists are cheering TPM-- not worrying about it because it shows that you can pay people for content and make money.
posted by Maias at 9:32 AM on November 28, 2009


TPM is certainly not an example of why we don't need newspapers any more.

It's basically an online newspaper--


Now I get it: blogs will never replace newspapers because they don't do do any original reporting and they never will, except when they do - at which point they become newspapers! QED!

I can now go about my day comforted in the knowledge that there's no new thing under the sun.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:00 AM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


[Spits out tea, drops monocle into scotch.]

Newspaper editors still drink scotch and tea and wear monocles, right?


Not at the same time, generally.
posted by Drexen at 10:05 AM on November 28, 2009


Journalists are cheering TPM-- not worrying about it because it shows that you can pay people for content and make money.

Oh, good, a bowl of cornflakes. Good thing I'm wearing my button-fly 501s.

Where is the second TPM? Where is the third? The 10th? The 100th?

This is simple math, really. Online ads pay about 1/10th as much as print ads. The way in which this technology is disruptive is that is has decimated the local monopoly of attention that newspapers used to expolit. There will be something left, but it will be employ maybe 1/10th of the journalists that used to be employed. Investigative journalist will be among the rarest and most exotic of the surviving fauna, because good investigative journalism often means devoting resources full time for weeks or months to a project that doesn't work out, that doesn't leave you with enough for a story. Web sites demand continuous updating; they of all services can least afford to dedicate serious resources to stories that need such deep digging. ProPublica exists and god bless 'em. Three cheers for TPM too. But if you think that simply because there was good in what is dying someone will find a way to replace it you're blind. There is now much less profit in it, and so we will have much less journalism. Cue the choirs, please, to complin that what was wasn't worth saving.
posted by Diablevert at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cue the choirs, please, to complin that what was wasn't worth saving.

Fair enough. What is dying is not journalism. It's corporate controlled propaganda meant not to inform the populace, but to deliver eyeballs to advertisers and manufacture consent. As far as I'm concerned, the major news organizations lost any claim to the moral high ground when they failed to report the Iraq War properly. Let them die. Ideally, the Washington Post and the New York Times first.

People will continue to report on the news. They just won't be paid to by large, profit-seeking corporations. Which is a vast improvement, to my mind.
posted by empath at 10:24 AM on November 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, the major news organizations lost any claim to the moral high ground when they failed to report the Iraq War properly. Let them die. Ideally, the Washington Post and the New York Times first.

Yeah and a doctor once committed malpractice which is why I burned down that hospital!

:-/

That's dumb, those papers do lots of real and important reporting that isn't being replicated online yet, whatever their mistakes were, they were made in good faith. Three cheers for TPM and others who are hiring reporters and making it work. I pray that they one day manage to become as flawed those evil liars who work tirelessly to bring us lazy comment-box jockeys the truth.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:14 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Does TPM actually make money?
posted by Avenger at 12:19 PM on November 28, 2009


Print ads are 10x of online ads? What is the cost of printing and delivering 1000 papers? I'd wager it's more than 10x the cost of 1000 pageviews. (The cost per pageview is plummeting. Back of the envelope calculation for TMP: around a penny for 1000 pageviews.)

Also, what percentage of the total advertising spend has moved online? Projected through the end of 2009 it is somewhere in the range of 10%. It's 25% for newspapers and about the same for magazines. In 2015 online is projected to be 15.5% of advertising spends.
posted by Freen at 1:05 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]



Now I get it: blogs will never replace newspapers because they don't do do any original reporting and they never will, except when they do - at which point they become newspapers! QED!

I can now go about my day comforted in the knowledge that there's no new thing under the sun.


Right, a blog is in an important sense defined by *not doing original reporting* and not being a paying job. Once it becomes a paying job with original reporting, the only important differences between a group blog and a newspaper is that one is online (thereby with a comment feature) and the other isn't and that blogs will link to competitors and newspapers often won't.
posted by Maias at 1:16 PM on November 28, 2009


Right, a blog is in an important sense defined by *not doing original reporting* and not being a paying job.

Bullshit. Blogs from the very beginning have done original reporting and people have been making a living from it for a decade now.
posted by empath at 1:24 PM on November 28, 2009


>>As far as I'm concerned, the major news organizations lost any claim to the moral high ground when they failed to report the Iraq War properly. Let them die. Ideally, the Washington Post and the New York Times first.

Yeah and a doctor once committed malpractice which is why I burned down that hospital!


Your sense of scale is all wrong. A single doctor committing malpractice, while tragic, is still a very small portion of the overall business of a hospital. IraqII is a huge story that was consistently reported badly from the start, in hopes of currying favor (in terms of not being locked out) with an administration that took full advantage of their kowtowing. And yet everyone complained when Obama said they weren't going to talk to FOX News anymore. GRRUUGGRRHHH

If bignews isn't going to hold authorities' feet to the fire when it counts then why do we even HAVE them?
posted by JHarris at 2:58 PM on November 28, 2009


Print ads are 10x of online ads? What is the cost of printing and delivering 1000 papers? I'd wager it's more than 10x the cost of 1000 pageviews. (The cost per pageview is plummeting. Back of the envelope calculation for TMP: around a penny for 1000 pageviews.)

I was going to say something about online advertising being much more competitive than newspaper advertising, which tends to drive prices down towards cost more than value, but actually I don't really know how online ads are charged. Are news sites compared against other news sites as a separate market, or do they effectively compete against all websites? I have a vague impression that Google Adsense ends up partitioning the market due to its keyword system, and that could work in TPM's favor.
posted by JHarris at 3:05 PM on November 28, 2009


"Right, a blog is in an important sense defined by *not doing original reporting* and not being a paying job."

I've done both in a blog, so I'm not 100% behind this definition, here.
posted by jscalzi at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2009


Spits out monocle, drops tea into scotch.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:04 PM on November 28, 2009


>
Ah, yet another day at the New York Post.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:03 PM on November 28, 2009


If bignews isn't going to hold authorities' feet to the fire when it counts then why do we even HAVE them?

for the same reason we have anything, because we pay for it. having a free press is a right--having a curious and efficient press is a luxury we take for granted.

the whole country wanted to go to war, so the newspapers didn't try very hard to look past the government propaganda. They have done well since then at poking the facade, but this was a major failure, yeah. Saying "fuck you" to them out of spite without equally praising their successes and our desperate need for what they do well is just spoiled.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:25 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


the whole country wanted to go to war
Wow. What country were you living in?
posted by hattifattener at 8:54 PM on November 28, 2009


People will continue to report on the news. They just won't be paid to by large, profit-seeking corporations. Which is a vast improvement, to my mind.

from today's want ads
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 10:14 PM on November 28, 2009


Saying "fuck you" to them out of spite without equally praising their successes and our desperate need for what they do well is just spoiled.

Fuck you.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:26 PM on November 28, 2009


I was going to say something about online advertising being much more competitive than newspaper advertising, which tends to drive prices down towards cost more than value, but actually I don't really know how online ads are charged. Are news sites compared against other news sites as a separate market, or do they effectively compete against all websites? I have a vague impression that Google Adsense ends up partitioning the market due to its keyword system, and that could work in TPM's favor.

Slightly less than half of online advertising dollars are spent on search ads --- that is, ads placed next to search results. The other half constitutes all forms of display advertising for which content providers might provide an outlet. In the first six months of this years, about $5 billion was spent. (Cite: Interactive Advertizing Bureau.) That's for the whole industry --- all sites were competing for a chunk of about $5 billion. To put that in a little bit of context, of $997 million magazine advertizing dollars, TIME magazine alone was able to command about $68 million....in 1964. Of online advertising, biggest increase in spending was in performance based advitising --- that is, getting paid not simply for displaying the ad but for people clicking through, or buying the product. The move towards performance favors search-based ads.

Or, alternatively, compare this 1988 article about the economics of magazines: He's talking about a Cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) of $50 for a magazine with a circulation of 50,000. This analyst's piece at 24/7 Wall St. estimates CPM for the top 25 blogs --- none higher than $18, most less than $10, many in the $2-$4 range. Gawker, the biggest blog company, was bringing in about $36 million off of 23 million visitors. They figure TPM was bringing in about $400,000 in revenue off of 700,000 visitors. Article was written before the Andreesen investment.

There is excellent reason to believe that, for content producers, there will simply never be as much money in online advertising as in print-based advertising, because a) near-infinite competition, b) vastly improved performance measuring tools, c) the internet offers alternate advertising means (e.g., search-based) that are preferable to advertisers.
posted by Diablevert at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


TPM is real journalism, but then I guess that is to be expected when Josh, a Yalie and professional journalist, decided to take his talent to a new medium. All the best to him.

I don't see Josh's matriculation at an Ivy league school as particularly relevant. W was a 'Yalie' too.
posted by Scoo at 10:07 AM on November 29, 2009


The Growth of Talking Points Memo: A Case Study in Independent Media - by Josh Marshall 10-6-08

Talking Points Memo’s advertising strategy explained…in 100 seconds
posted by madamjujujive at 12:11 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


What seems to be missing here -- in the triumphalist account of "editor hires publisher" -- is that Marshall, who is the editor of this site, is also its owner. He's hiring a business guy to come in and run the business side and expand revenue -- but it's not as if he's "hiring" an owner to bankroll the publication. Since the owners ALWAYS hire the publishers (or serve themselves as publishers) the only really remarkable thing here is that the owner and editor are the same person, which doesn't much happen anymore these days...
posted by sloweducation at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2009


What's bizarre to me is people quoting the first half of my statement about blogs and trying to debunk it:

Right, a blog is in an important sense defined by *not doing original reporting* and not being a paying job.

Without quoting the second part, in which I debunk it myself:

Once it becomes a paying job with original reporting, the only important differences between a group blog and a newspaper is that one is online (thereby with a comment feature) and the other isn't and that blogs will link to competitors and newspapers often won't.


To make it clear, what I'm saying is that when blogs do original reporting and are paid, they become indistinguishable from other journalism. You aren't "losing" anything in the media if people are paid decently to report and write-- it may be different people doing it with different perspectives, but it's not a loss to society the way it would be if all paid journalism jobs and all pay for original reporting went away.

What people worry about when they say blogs can't replace journalism is not that the medium won't work but that not paying people and not doing original reporting isn't a sustainable way to get the news out there that is necessary to sustain democracy.

No one is saying that the "blog" medium is, in itself, a problem because it's simply a form of software and distribution, not inherently a type of content. Of course, *who* pays still matters...
posted by Maias at 3:54 PM on November 29, 2009


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