March 29, 2005
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die
And keeping the spirit of journalism alive. Craig Newmark says: "My guess is that either me, personally, or my craigslist team, will promote work which merges professional and citizen journalism, along with more fact checking and more investigative journalism."
In his recent essay for CJR, “Saving Journalism,” the scholar and researcher Philip Meyer has some advice. “If we are to preserve journalism and its social-service functions, maybe we would be wise not to focus too much on traditional media. The death spiral might be irreversible.” Therefore:
We should look for ways to keep the spirit and tradition of socially responsible journalism alive until it finds a home in some new media form whose nature we can only guess at today.
Later he returns to that point:
We need to keep genuine journalism alive long enough for the successful media entrepreneurs of the future to find a way to capture and sell the influence that traditional media are abandoning through their cost-cutting strategies.
But who is “we?”
It would certainly have to include Craig Newmark of craigslist, which is causing so much trouble for the newspaper business by grabbing the classified ad market online. Here is Newmark at his weblog March 3: “I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I really think a tipping point in journalism is happening, and I think it’s time to get involved.”
We don’t know what craigslist will be doing with journalism, and neither does Newmark— yet. I asked him yesterday if what he had in mind was anything like “keep the spirit and tradition of socially responsible journalism alive until it finds a home,” as Meyer put it. He wrote back:
I realize I’m no newsguy, not an activist; just like everyone else, tired of news that I can’t trust. My favorite irony is that Jon Stewart produces fake news that’s honest; and the White House produces allegedly honest news that’s really fake.
The big transition has been baffling news people. Merrill Brown, the editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com when that operation got off the ground, now a consultant and thinker (see my interview with him from ‘03) recently wrote about the gap between the old economy of news and the new:
Many of the news organizations that make most Web site journalism possible, either through their dollars or the work of the journalists reporting for their traditional products, are in some combination of strategic, journalistic and financial peril. It is those organizations that make large-scale Internet news sites viable. In a world of dwindling resources, a world of falling daily newspaper readership and fragmented television news audiences, who will produce the journalism of scale and importance that informs citizens about national political campaigns and international conflict? Bloggers? Citizen journalists? The software developers who produce RSS? (See also Brown’s new report for the Carnegie Corporation, Abandoning the News.)
Yes, who? Michael S. Malone made a career in newspaper commentary. In his latest column for ABCNews.com he said it isn’t gonna be daily newspapers, caught between platforms:
This is the last great divide, and my sense is that few newspapers will be able to make the crossing. If they kill their print editions now, they won’t have the revenues to make a smooth transition to cyberspace; but if they keep wearing their paper albatrosses, they’ll have less of a chance of succeeding in the new world. Thus, if all of the old-fashioned newspapers are going to die, nearly all of the forward-looking ones will too.
“So, let’s finally come out and say: Newspapers are dead,” Malone writes, trying to wake some people up. “They will never come back.”
Dead, more or less. But curiously profitable. In fact, it’s stranger than that. The newspaper industry is basically dead— in “strategic peril” at a minimum—and the fact that it’s still (highly) profitable is one of the signs of this death. Meyer explains how that is possible. Since the existing business model has been “irreversibly undermined” by new technology, “the only way to save journalism,” he says, “is to develop a new model that finds profit in truth, vigilance, and social responsibility.”
A Harvard professor, Michael E. Porter [has] a last-resort business model for companies undermined by substitute technology. He calls it “harvesting market position.” Managers do it by raising prices and reducing quality so they can shell out the money and run. I know of no newspaper companies that are doing this consciously, but the behavior of most points in this direction: smaller newshole, lighter staffing, and reduced community service, leading, of course, to fading readership, declining circulation, and lost advertising. Plot it on a graph, and it looks like a death spiral.
This is not theoretical. It is not a drill. The kinds of things we would expect to see if the newspaper industry had consciously chosen the profitable demise route are starting to show up in behavior. (I know from my own correspondence that some newspaper journalists fear this is the path their own employer is taking— without telling them so. They don’t know it’s happening, but they suspect it.)
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, in its invaluable report on the state of the news media today, puts it this way: “If older media sectors focus on profit-taking and stock price, they may do so at the expense of building the new technologies that are vital to the future. There are signs that that may be occurring.”
Newspapers in 2004, for instance, increased their profits at double the rate (8%) that their revenues grew (less than 4%), according to the Newspaper Association of America, a distinct sign of profit-taking. The industry remains highly profitable. Margins averaged 22.9% in 2004, according to the analyst Lauren Fine, and are expected to rise in 2005. The investment in online publications, though, where the size of the profits is still fairly modest, remains by most evidence cautious.
No R & D rush. No large investment in the future. No siren call to find the new model. And yet the Project for Excellence in Journalism report says that in 2004, daily newspapers (the ones still making money) employed fewer reporters and editors. They also squeezed in more ads per page, and less news. Not only are we not seeing the big investment in an online alternative, there are signs of a withdrawal before the great divide.
“There is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences,” the report states. “That is true even online, where audiences are growing. Our data suggest that news organizations have imposed more cutbacks in their Internet operations than in their old media.”
Getting it yet? Growing audiences, lower budgets. Pulling back when you should be stepping forward. The harvesting of the newspaper’s monopoly position has apparently begun. The assisted suicide is underway. But not in every company, or every town, which kind of makes it interesting. It could be a great nonfiction book someday: Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die. (Does Kurt Eichenwald have a new project?)
The reasons are obvious why it will never be announced as such. Stated publicly, the laying down would be a scandal. But it does not have to be a wholly conscious choice for the enterprises that are going down that road. They can just continue with business-as-usual, obeying the incentive system as it stands, and the demise will “happen.”
“There is no way to overstate the complacency or arrogance of the greater newspaper industry,” writes Slate’s Jack Shafer in his recent column on billionaire Philip Anschutz’s plan to introduce free newspapers across America. (Which could morph into a new Internet model, he suggests.) For a prosaic example from the industry’s files, here’s what the Wall Street Journal reported in 2001:
Some advertisers are upset that the Kansas City Star, which in the 1950s said it reached 90% of local homes, today reaches fewer than 40%. Circulation is now about 268,000 daily. The Star raises its ad rates every year, but advertisers say they don’t have a viable alternative. “We’d love to get away from advertising in the Star altogether — if we could,” says James Sheehan, president of the Retail Grocers Association of Greater Kansas City.
“We deliver you less and charge you more.” That is not the attitude of an industry that wants to survive. As to how it happened (the death spiral) Malone says: “One answer is that most newspapers are unbelievably retrograde. They grew up in a world of newsprint and that’s where they intend to stay. They cannot believe an institution as venerable as the newspaper can ever go away.”
It’s a case of legacy costs. The people who are in a position to make the key decisions cannot see decisions to be made until they admit they lost the trail a while back. The disincentives to do that are quite high.
Equally a problem is the complacency of the semi-informed view among rank and file newspaper people. That’s when a journalist says, “I’ve checked it out, this Web future of yours, and I am sorry to burst your bubble, but…” It’s the gadfly conceit, the crumudgeon’s voice, the glib de-exciter who hasn’t delved far enough to see why people were excited in the first place, and thus cannot offer a usable critique. As in this from the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan:
Regarding Michael Malone’s thought-provoking piece predicting the demise of newspapers … weren’t we all supposed to be working in paperless offices by now? And isn’t Broadway supposed to be dead too?
As if definitive answers were the way of the world, and we await them. David Shaw’s latest column in the Los Angeles Times, which finds him rooting for bloggers to be denied standing as co-members of the press, isn’t about crossing the divide. But it’s a fine example of the semi-informed view: I’ve checked it out, and sorry to burst your bubble, Internet people, but bloggers ain’t press!
Shaw didn’t check far enough into that increasingly empty term “blogger” to find the more relevant category for his column’s purposes, which is the stand alone journalist, as Chris Nolan puts it. Are bloggers journalists? the question Shaw wants to ask, is a tired one for all involved. What’s the difference between a stand alone and a corporate journalist? is the relevant question, but Shaw didn’t learn enough about his subject to ask it. And check this part out:
Shield laws (and the 1st Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press, the philosophical progenitor of these laws) were created to enable the media as an institution to inform the citizenry, without government interference.
Maybe that’s true for shield laws. Among First Amendment scholars Shaw would find very few takers for the view that the free press clause was specifically created to “enable the media as an institution”— as against anyone who got his hands on a press and wanted to speak to fellow citizens. (See Matt Welch, who has written the proper reply to Shaw. Also see this earlier exchange among Shaw, Welch and myself.)
Shaw’s stingy and insular view—we’re the ones the founders were talking about when they said press, so back off amateurs—is actually part of the “death spiral” Meyer referred to. It was always a newsroom delusion that “journalists are the only profession mentioned in the First Amendment.” But now it’s more deadly, for as Jeff Jarvis puts it, “The barrier to entry to media is demolished. Media, always a one-way pipe, now becomes an open pool.” The First Amendment is not about the pipe; it’s about the pool.
Brave would be the media columnist who took a few months to investigate the unannounced liquidation of newspaper properties— what former editor of the Des Moines Register Geneva Overholser calls “the long, steady suffocation of America’s newspapers.” (See her overview here, showing how long the trail of warnings has been.)
This suffocation could not be carried out without some people in the industry knowing, or guessing the truth, and then confirming it for themselves. There, I think, is the nonfiction book someone will write— it would be about those people, and what they did, when they figured out that the patient was being led to a profitable death. Alas, it cannot be said out loud (until someone does it.)
“The only way to save journalism is to develop a new model that finds profit in truth, vigilance, and social responsibility,” Phil Meyer said.
That dull phrase, “new model,” includes stuff that is not dull at all. Like a different kind of company to work for, a better sense of how journalists can create value on the Web, a new and deeper commitment to interactivity with users as a way to do more kick-ass reporting.
By now we could make a list of projects where these things are starting to happen. The infrastructure is emerging too. So it’s not like the new model is nowhere to be found. There are people to ask. Places to start. Site visits to make.
But getting newspaper journalism across the divide means a big investment now in the Net and its emerging forms. It requires a wave of Research & Development. It means re-training your people, and taking on “newsroom cultures that discourage innovation, don’t reward risk-taking and drive out many of the best and brightest younger journalists, all of whom entered the profession aware of the paltry pay scale.” (From Tim Porter.)
Newspapers, in the words of Mark Malone, would have to “accept reality and metamorphize into real Web presences rather than merely online downloads of their print copy.” This, of course, is what happened in Greensboro, NC at the News & Record. (See this and this for background.) Lex Alexander, the editor spearheading the online efforts at the N & R, recently told the AP, “I don’t know for a fact that what we’re doing is going to get us to the goals we have, but continuing what we were doing certainly wasn’t an option.”
Notice: They don’t know that they can bring the News & Record across the divide this way. But they are going ahead.
Not in Greensboro, but for most of the industry continuing down the same path is the sane option. Charlie Madigan, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune explains why: “The short answer to the question of why we’re not all trashing the presses, selling the trucks to Mexico and going full digital is because it’s not making money yet and newspapers are.”
But the fateful decision isn’t, as Madigan suggested, between going full digital and sticking with print and paper. Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, identified the key choice in his November 2004 speech: “When the Web was born as a commercial content enterprise back in the mid-’90s, we thought it was about replicating—that is, ‘repurposing’—our news and information franchises online.”
That’s what I meant by losing the trail. The big decision today is to go back and fix that error from the mid-90s, to junk “re-purposing of content” as an organizing idea, and organize Web efforts around a new purpose, a new idea. The organizations that want to live will do that. Those that don’t will harvest their profits and give out.
The rest of us, meanwhile, have to do what Meyer said: “Look for ways to keep the spirit and tradition of socially responsible journalism alive until it finds a home in some new media form whose nature we can only guess at today.” (And what Newmark said: “promote work which merges professional and citizen journalism.”) What I like best about this is a distinction Meyer builds in. Journalism is one thing. The media another.
In specific cases, yes, but in general we have no reason to trust the media to bring serious journalism across the great divide, into a new and democratic life on the Web. And so we have to do it ourselves, whatever that means.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
See also a later post on the same theme: The Migration (April 27, 2005)
“While people in the old press pack up, and tell stories about giants they knew in the era when… they are also asking each other: where headed? As in: How are your people planning to make it across?”
Jeff Jarvis thinks it over. This post and the ones it links to. He says journalism is not a noun, not a “thing,” but an activity, which he breaks down into a series of actions. And the action has changed because distribution is no longer available only to professionals. “We won’t save journalism the way it was. We shouldn’t if we could. The business must change.” (Plus, see Tim Oren on Jarvis’s post.)
Dan Gillmor responds: A Dying Craft, or a Dying Business? He takes issue with my term “gently,” arguing that it will be anything but.
The notion of driving a property to a profitable demise is pernicious, and impossible to pull off in a coherent way. It assumes that newspaper companies can milk the properties gently into their good night. No way.
Gillmor hits the main point:
If the newspaper business does turn out to be dying, we need to make sure that journalism does not. I apologize to my blogging friends for saying this, but the free for all in the blogging world, however valuable (and I love it), is not sufficient to replace what we’ll be missing.
Is the notion of “letting the newspaper die” a crock?
I asked Alan D. Mutter, an industry insider, and former assistant managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, who now blogs as Newsosaur, what he thought of the gently down to die thesis. Here is his reply:
Thomson sold all 60 of its newspapers in 2000-01 to focus strictly on electronic media. Scripps substantially has redeployed its assets into its cable channels and associated online media (see this).
That’s an apt description of what’s in store— “the business will be (unconsciously?) strip-mined to death.”
Don’t miss Umair Haque’s one-graph summary of newspaper economics. Newspapers are cash cows, he says. “But they’re cash cows that can hide massive strategy decay.”
Precisely what I am saying.
Stirling Newberry comments on this post: “Once one is part of a media machine that sucks in money, then that process, and not the information itself, dominates thinking…. Generally the rules keep the money flowing in—that is why they exist—however, often they force decisions which are bad decisions, even from the point of view of making money.”
That’s part of it too.
Meanwhile, Philip Meyer e-mails:
We in journalism education are starting to feel like those Irish monks who kept the wisdom of western civilization and Christianity alive through the Dark Ages. We can preserve the ideas and keep passing them along, but the rank-and-file journalists have to help us out. In the final chapter of The Vanishing Newspaper, I propose organizing to set measurable standards for both journalistic competence and moral behavior.
Hmmm. See PressThink, Boston University J-School Faculty Takes a Stand on Video News Releases. Here’s more about Meyer’s new book, The Vanishing Newspaper. (Highly recommended.) Also see Tim Porter’s chapter-by-chapter outline.
Matt Welch tells David Shaw a few things:
In case you didn’t notice, Shaw thinks he and his colleagues are “accurate and fair”…. This, I believe, is the nut of his real objection — that the weird, ahistorical 1960-2000 period of newspaper consolidation, and the “professionalization” that came with it, produced a monochromatic culture of trying-to-be-fair newsgathering that Shaw believes is basically the only legitimate form of journalism. It’s an incredibly conservative and arrogant view…
Jack Shafer: Will somebody please help the Los Angeles Times’ David Shaw get a grip?
Joe Gandelman: “Strip it all away and there seems underlying resentment: how can bloggers get their readership without having to do what we had to do?… We had to jump through more hoops than a dog act at a circus; they just wrote, pressed a button and got read.”
As for the line between bloggers and Big Media? That’s not as deep a moat as David Shaw wants to think. Blogging – like file-sharing, on-line fundraising – is a tool; it’s what you do with it that matters.
We all get to be in charge. Very different from: no one in charge.
See Doc Searls on pushing rocks up the hill (old way) vs. rolling snowballs down it (new). Alerting the newspaper industry to its fate— that’s rock pushing. But citizen journalism is like rolling snowballs.
But see Suw Charman, who argues back. “The problem I have with Doc’s post is this - in order to get ideas rolling downhill, you need to already be uphill.”
Rebecca MacKinnon on March 3: “The question of whether ‘mainstream media’ will survive, or whether it should survive, or in what form, or how, is irrelevant. I don’t care. I’m sick of arguments about that. What I care about is whether journalism—the process of hunting down factual information and verifying it—survives and thrives somewhere, somehow.”
Editors Weblog weighs in with a pair of posts (here and here.)
American Journalism Review on the circulation problems of the Washington Post.
The Chicago Tribune on the trials of the Tribune Company:
Since the Times Mirror deal closed, the Los Angeles Times has been Tribune’s biggest-circulation paper. But even though Tribune has squeezed $130 million in annual costs out of the Times, the crown jewel of the Times Mirror empire hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Ken Auletta in the New Yorker: Do ads still work? “In many ways, the advertising business in the early twenty-first century would be unrecognizable to the generation that once thrived on Madison Avenue. The traditional assumption, as Keith Reinhard says, was that advertisers chose the time and place of a ‘one-way show-and-tell’ ad. The consumer was a captive audience. Today, advertisers chase consumers with a certain air of desperation.”
Eric Black Star-Tribune, March 26, quoted me:
The reaction journalism Prof. Jay Rosen of New York University had to the Columbine-Red Lake comparison turned the whole premise on its head. “Columbine was a media frenzy,” he said. “It was overdone. Red Lake is a media frenzy. If this is a smaller media frenzy, I’m not going to get too upset about it, and I think activists who are asking for a bigger media frenzy have found a strange way of advancing the interests of their group.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at March 29, 2005 1:03 AM Print
I'm very excited to see the new "participatory journalism "(somebody, please come up with a simpler term!) emerge as we speak -- while the old model is still dying.
How quick will the transition be? Who knows? Who cares! But it's going to be great fun following the coming renaissance of journalism.
I don't think that what we are seeing is so much the projected demise of newspapers as the projected demise of daily print journalism. And that is where the true distinction lies. (Print as a format for news will probably eventually disappear in another 100 years of course --- but the question is whether journalism will survive the transition.)
And although the internet is helping to enable this to happen, I think that Philip Anschutz's plans will really be what kills off journalism as we know it. Most cities of any size already have one or more "free" weekly tabloids that are supported solely by advertising---and simply by adding daily wire-service and syndicated content and a few reporters to cover sports, Anschutz can probably put out a "credible" product that will attract the advertizing dollars that now go to paid circulation dailies. Print journalism will complete its ongoing devolution to a hard copy version what television journalism has become---the stuff that appears between commercials, that is designed solely to keep you from switching channels between commercial breaks.
I also think its arguable to say that the newspaper industry needs to be investing in developing in new technologies and models, etc --- those new technologies and models are being developed outside the media corporations, and the ones that work will be bought up/adopted by those corporations.
(aside) the National Press Club jumps the shark, and contributes to the decline in credibility of the mainstream media. Can they really be this insulated and out of touch with reality?
Now that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can set up shop on the Web, the days when you could tell who was a reporter by looking for a press card stuck in a fedora are long gone. Both journalists and bloggers will debate whether there's a difference between them, on Fri., Apr. 8, at 9:30 a.m. The panel includes Jeff Gannon, whose question at a presidential press conference focused attention on the issue; Ana Marie Cox, editor of Wonkette.com, and Congress Daily's John Stanton. Reserve at 662-7501.
Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 29, 2005 8:48 AM | Permalink
Responsibility came to be equated with the avoidance of controversy, because advertisers were willing to pay for it. Some advertisers were also willing to pay for sensationalism, though on the whole they preferred a respectable readership to sheer numbers. What they clearly did not prefer was "opinion" -- not because they were impressed with (Walter) Lippmann's philosophical arguments, but because opinionated reporting did not guarantee the right audience. No doubt they also hoped that an aura of objectivity, the hallmark of responsible journalism, would rub off on the advertisements that surrounded increasingly slender columns of print.
This essay -- originally published in Harper's Magazine in the September 1990 issue -- was one of the cornerstones of my current thinking. If you can find a copy of it, it is very helpful in understanding the current state of journalism.
Posted by: Terry Heaton at March 29, 2005 9:03 AM | Permalink
Blather be gone! Journalism is not the talking about it. It's getting into the trenches to f***ing do it! Then it's f***ing trying to do it better the next day.
The Malone's of the world aren't worth the free packets to carry their message. Their signal to noise ratio is zero, and to spend time analyzing noise only adds more noise. You cannot amplify what isn't there.
I am a journalist who is better than most because my waking hours both at work and at home are spent not just serving the community in the transitory traditional means, but also dreaming into reality something more effective, more complete, more affordable, and more socially sensitive. Why? Because community is civilization and my family's safety depends on it.
This is not our newspaper. We may "own" it, but we hold it in stewardship for the community. We always have. More importantly, in this Middle Age of oppressive taxation throttling local economic engines and misguided educationism choking schools, the press is the only independent institution with sufficient agility to interconnect the community to help them recognize the drag, label it for what it is, and create a vortex of willpower, organized to make due with very little money, to pull ourselves into a renaissance.
Meanwhile, on the periphery, in the clatter of blog comment threads, celebration of the renaissance is already underway. Their celebration is premature, because underneath the comment ferment, there is precious little difference between this internet generation and the passive boomer/boomer-baby TV-watchers. They just watch different screens, engaged in the casual luxury of a tea party serving style, abstraction, conjecture, and entertainment.
What one needs lay gently down to die is not the newspaper, but the the silly culture where having an idea is reason enough to believe it to be true, where our team counts and theirs does not, where shouting louder must be true, were organization counts more than understanding, and where perceptions must be real.
[This reply is permanently posted at "Blather be gone!"]
It's no secret why newspapers are both moribund and profitable. They are cash cows. Business schools teach this model: there are four types of businesses, one is a star or growing business, another is a dog and unprofitable, another is a question mark with unknown potential.
Finally, there's the cash cow, a mature business run by caretakers rather than innovators that makes good profits by cutting costs rather than innovating. The chemical industry is a great example of a cash cow. And so are newspapers. And maybe network news too.
For all the yelping and posturing, most newspaper people know, I think, that they are in a dying industry. Or at least a stagnant. And if they haven't figured that out, they probably ought not be journalists. Having a grasp of the obvious should be a prerequisite to being a journalist, I think.
How do you turn a cow into a star? Good question. There's a good case study for some MBA student.
I have a lot of ideas for how to create a new model for journalism.
Journalism is too "Event-Based" where reporters pass along a mindless stream of instantaneous facts and become "Stenographers with Amnesia." There needs to be a better balance with "Issue-Based" beat coverage that adds the time dimension to this stream of facts to form hypotheses and theories.
Journalism also needs to adopt a new Philosophy of Science that transcends the limitations of Reductionism. Standard journalistic practices are failing to explain complex phenomena by reducing them down to observable parts. Observable public statements and facts aren't providing the whole picture, and so the current journalistic practices and presuppostions need to change.
Alternatives to the Philosophy of Science of Reductionism can be found in Biological "Organicism" or Mario Bunge's "Systemism." Both of these approaches take into account emergent properties of individual parts as well as the "top-down causation" that the entire organism or system has on these individual parts.
These philosophical approaches provide a theoretical framework for using a combination of different ontological presuppositions that can provide a fuller picture of the entire system. What does this mean? Journalists should use advocacy presuppositions in order to inform their questions and continually reduce the uncertainty of the truth. Journalists avoid doing this in the name of "objectivity," but it is preventing the press from calling a spade "a spade."
In other words, insights can be gained from the subjective practices of op-ed and editorial writers. New reporters should use abduction to form hypotheses that explain the underlying motivations, intentions and values that is driving political behavior. Jon Stewart and bloggers don't have a problem doing this, and they're providing valuable insights by delving into this realm of subjectivity. Why not expand the quantitative approach by using scientific qualitative techniques such as discourse analysis?
Journalists need to use a combination of scientific and metaphysical presuppositions in order to better explain complex political phenomena. They will have bridge this fragmented knowledge by expanding their methodological and analytical toolkit. But they don't have to do it alone. Centralized online social networks and decentralized citizen journalist blogs can overcome the time and money constraints that has been preventing this from happening.
I'm piecing together a roadmap to implement my concept of a New Media Ecosystem that I intend to implement to collaboratively produce my open source documentary. Whatever "new model" is eventually adopted, I think that many insights can be gained from the following fields that have already worked many of out the theoretical and methodological mechanisms:
Eric Baerren from the Morning Sun newspaper in Mt Pleasant, Michigan e-mails:
I read your column "Laying the newspaper gently down to die," today. As you might expect, from a guy working at a newspaper, I've got some thoughts.
Newspapers in a "one paper town", lacking competitive forces to keep them fiscally honest (to say nothing of ideologically honest), are likely to be more susceptible to the self-assisted suicide syndrome. The Los Angeles Times offers some annecdotal evidence.
How can an newspaper give so much of it's product away for free, and remain economically viable? Perhaps it can be done only with the support of artificially inflated circulation numbers to justify exhorbitant advertising rates. Exposure of these practices to the sunlight of public (and advertiser) awareness is the best disinfectant.
Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 29, 2005 11:37 AM | Permalink
Perhaps some myopia in my point of view, given what we're undertaking at Pegasus News, but it strikes me that this industry faces a chasm: On one side is the incumbent media, behaving (as Alan suggests) rationally based upon its economic incentives. It's making short-term moves.
On the other side are people who have little-to-no economic incentive to cling to the old model as the newspaper business passes maturity and settles into decline.
Those on both sides of the chasm need to figure out how to build a bridge: "New Journalism" filled with citizen and "professional" contributions; medium agnostic; and with a sound, scalable business model.
Piece of cake, eh?
Metaphysical doesn't mean imaginary.
It means "of or relating to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses"
It's an academic way of describing the realm beyond what the senses can perceive -- the culture and psychology that isn't being reported on. The subjective motivations, values, and intentions.
Journalists don't need to make up imaginary explainations. But they do need to do some informed abduction and conjecture to form preliminary hypotheses that explain behavior. Then they test these hypotheses in a scientific way.
In order for journalists to do deception detection, then they must come up with some hypotheses that describe the motivations behind the actions. If they don't, then they're going to just report a mindless stream of facts and not pick up the times when the political rhetoric doesn't match the observed behavior.
What I'm proposing and what James Marcum is proposing is to use a variety of different methodological techniques and ontological presuppositions in order to better describe the entire system.
Here's a passage from my book, What Are Journalists For?, discussing the efforts of James K. Batten, CEO of Knight-Ridder to face some of this stuff:
This was the tricky terrain Batten entered in 1989, the year he took over as head of Knight-Ridder. In an address at Riverside, California, he argued that newspapers would have to change their ways. Consider, he said, the declining percentage of Americans who kept up with the daily newspaper. In 1967, some 73 percent of adults reported they read the paper every day; in 1988 that figure was down to 51 percent. "When I was a young reporter on the Charlotte Observer in the 1950s and 1960s, it never occurred to me to feel any concern about the financial health of my newspaper-- or about its acceptance in the marketplace," Batten recalled. "My newsroom friends and I knew that was all foreordained." Financial strength translated into political confidence. "We prided ourselves on our ability to tell the critics to go to hell. We were, after all, 'the press,' beholden to no one." Succeeding in newspapers was so easy that one of Batten's acquaintances said he got into the business in middle age "not out of love of journalism," but because he heard that you could succeed at newspapering "even if you are brain-dead," as the friend put it.
That's what Batten, CEO of Knight-Ridder said. Maybe it explains some things. The legacy of easy money was, in a sense, transmitted to the whole operation.
Metaphysics is not scientific. That said there is no reason why journalists can't paint the overall picture complete with motivations and connections of the players and they should. Oftimes the conclusion favors a particular side that happens to be out of power now and since history is written by the victors, well, discrediting is necessary to the current narrative.
Posted by: Pole Star at March 29, 2005 3:47 PM | Permalink
Correct me if I'm wrong ...
What you are advocating is that there are too few "custodian-of-fact" journalists and are proposing not only a framework for (or process) for more "custodian-of-fact" journalism - but - you go further to combine the "custodian-of-fact" and investigative journalist?
I would guess that an investigative journalist would look at your "new model" and argue that she is already doing that.
I would also offer, as an analogy, that you are advocating journalism as scientific discovery.
However, isn't much of journalism (in the daily or 24/7 news cycle) not a result of a "surprising phenomenon" inspiring abduction, but rather providing a journal of events. Is your "new model" then restricted to political journalism or a limited set of journalistic topics?
You can have metaphysical presuppositions and still conduct a scientifically sound investigation.
Don't get caught up on the term "metaphysical." Call it "qualitative," "subjective," or a "position of advocacy." My point is that journalists need to adopt a wider variety of ontological presuppositions that can inform their questioning. It'll give additional insights that can be integrated into regular news coverage.
If they limit themselves to only public statements and the isolated facts from the public record, then they're opening themselves up to be spun by political public relations tactics.
Regular news reporters should try to iteratively use different ontologies and methodologies that transcend the limitation of their current reductionistic paradigm. Trying to describe a complex system by only describing the individual parts is only half of the story. Isolated "facts" aren't enough -- Jon Stewart makes a living pointing this out night after night.
Journalists are too afraid of making politically contentious conclusions because they're afraid of the claims of political bias.
Another reason is that they journalists have to present a set of facts over time in order to effectively "paint the overall picture complete with motivations and connections of the players." That's real difficult to do when you only have 20 seconds to ask a question.
Why not form hypotheses out of a set of facts, and then submit all of this evidence before the press conferences over the Internet in order to allow for more detailed and complex questions to be asked. This would force politicians to become more transparent with their decision-making process and rationales for their political policies.
So journalists need better analytical methodologies, tools and infrastructure in order to effectively do this. They don't have everything they need.
The non-linear communications capacities of the internet need to be explored in order to facilitate can create a Wikipedia-like repository of facts and hypotheses to explain these facts. There are methodologies from Intelligence Analysis, Knowledge Management and other domains that are already doing this.
I have an unusual perspective on the David Shaw flap because 21 years ago, I sat at a newsroom desk about four feet from David. He and I remain cordial, which is more than I can say about some of my other former colleagues. In the 70s and 80s, David was more than a bit of a newsroom and news industry heretic, which makes his column on bloggers are the more surprising. The young Turk has become a defender of journalistic orthodoxy.
I left the LA Times newsroom, and newsrooms in general, in 1984, though I maintain a three-a-day broadsheet reading habit, plus an online and blog regime that is admirable because it killls far fewer trees than do newspapers. But I will never forget an experience I had shortly after becoming a civilian that bears, I think, on the questions David tried to address in his column.
I had undertaken a freelance assignment that required covering a Federal court hearing in downtown Los Angeles. The case attracted lots of spectators and I tried to jump the line and find a spot in the press gallery, only to be bounced higher than hell by an armed bailiff.
"You got a press card, bud? You know, one of them pink things the Los Angeles Police Department issues?"
I didn't, since it was against LAPD policy to issue such ducats to freelancers. I was outraged, and hurt, and confused. I felt like I had been stripped of my identity. In truth, I probably had. A few weeks previous, I would have waltzed through without a word. Now I had to stand with the riffraff and wait. I damn near cried.
It was a cruel lesson, the object of which is this: The press card stuck in the brim of the fedora is not issued by the newspaper. It is granted, more often than not, by some branch of government. It bestows special privilege and access. Yes, it may impose special responsibility. Indeed, orthodox journalists like David Shaw would say that the journalistic calling is somehow holy, something like becoming a priest. But there is no ordination for reporters; there are no standards for admission, no objective means by which the rest of the world can identify a genuine reporter.
The closest thing there is to a reporter's badge is a press card but that card is granted by some exterior institution. It is, in effect, a license. David jumped right over that issue in his rant. He never says who is going to regulate the journalistic licensing process. Will it be the police department? The mayor's office? The White House? The LATimes, CBS, or Newsweek magazine? Someone must sanction the orthodoxy. Maybe the Pope could do it. That would be the final step in creating a MSM religion, something that is implicit, it seems to me, in David's arguement.
The new media, with its low cost-of-entry, has revolutionized the world, and there will be new rules for that world, since I can't imagine as a practical matter that any blogger who wishes will be allowed to crash police lines or sit in on Pentagon briefings. But David's contention, that there is to be a special class of legitimate journalists is a dangerous one. It seems to beg for licensing, which is, after all, the first step to controlling. It fails to tell us how legitimacy is acquired, how it is recognized, how it is contained and controlled.
On the other hand, maybe Dave does want to establish some badge of office, like a sheriff's tin star, for reporters. I'd just like him to explain to me the criteria he will use in deputizing men and women in his posse.
Posted by: Evan Maxwell at March 29, 2005 4:58 PM | Permalink
"The better journalists do their job, the more likely conservatives are to see them as liberal." - David Shaw, Los Angeles Times, on or about March 24, 2003.
"...bloggers pride themselves on being part of an unmediated medium, giving their readers unfiltered information. And therein lies the problem." - David Shaw, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2005.
I think there is very evident explanation for why David Shaw and other press dinosaurs disdain bloggers and other forms of new journalism (and oppose legal protections for it); one that cannot be readily admitted by working journalists for reasons of political advantage. That is, the products of powerful new media do not so uniformly reflect the politically liberal biases that he has grown so accustomed to hearing from the dominant press over the past forty years.
The old guard are beginning to appreciate what many PressThink readers already realize: The dominant media are witnessing an unstoppable erosion of the machinery by which they've long controlled the flow of news - - information upon which the public's political judgments are made. None should expect the old gatekeepers to feel comfortable with their diminishing ability to influence an audience political understanding.
Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 29, 2005 5:35 PM | Permalink
ABDUCTION AS A LOGIC AND METHODOLOGY OF DISCOVERY: THE IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGIES
Jaakko Hintikka has emphasized a distinction between two sorts of rules in reasoning and logic (or in games in general): the definitory rules and the strategic rules. Hintikka maintains that for the theory of logic and reasoning, especially at the level of introductory textbooks and courses, the study of excellence of reasoning is often forgotten, and the emphasis is on the avoidance of mistakes in reasoning (e.g., Hintikka, 1999). According to him, students are not taught how to reason well but to maintain their logical virtue (i.e., to avoid logical fallacies and to learn what is and what is not admissible and valid). The focus has been on definitory rules of logic, and strategic rules have largely been neglected. The definitory rules tell what are valid rules in particular system of logic. By analogy: the definitory rules of chess tell what one is allowed to do in chess (how chessmen may be moved etc.). But by knowing only the definitory rules of chess one cannot say that one plays chess well. Excellence in chess requires that one master strategic rules extremely well. According to Hintikka, this same idea applies to logic. No one is good in logic and reasoning by knowing only the definitory rules of logic, but by mastering well the strategic rules.
A.R.Yngve wrote: ""participatory journalism "(somebody, please come up with a simpler term!)"
Why not open source journalism?
Posted by: David Mohring at March 29, 2005 5:49 PM | Permalink
Sisyphus -- I do advocate using more of the scientific method in journalism by using subjective abductions in order to form hypotheses (i.e. a mechanism for explaining a set of facts over time.) But if a journalist is stuck in the micro world of facts without trying to make sense of how they fit into a macro framework, then it's pretty hard to make abductive leaps in logic that are so critical in cutting through all of the PR spin.
It takes a lot of time and money to do it effectively, and this can be overcome by creating an infrastructure that facilitates a set of decentralized citizen journalist volunteers to help beat reporters act more like investigative reporters. Bloggers need better systems to aggregate facts and hypotheses so that journalists have more firepower in press conferences and in their reporting.
I would also offer, as an analogy, that you are advocating journalism as scientific discovery.
Yes, and that's a great link that describes what I'm talking about. But I would add is that I think that it's important to use a combination of reductionistic and postmodern methodologies -- Not either quantitative or qualitative, but a combination of both.
This is what Marcum means by iteratively switching between metaphysical and scientific presuppositions in order to gain insights that better describe a complex phenomena.
A philosophy of science of Organicism or Systemism could provide a more holistic perspective that could help journalists make more abductive leaps of logic that aren't being made due to their limitations of a reductionistic paradigm of event-based fact-gathering.
Cash Cows don't become "stars".
R. Murdoch will, undoubtably, try to jump in, BIG, when a profitable business model is shown for "journalistic excellence", whatever that is. The cash cow caretakers will NOT jump in before it is profitable. More profitable than investing in US T-bills (or Chinese?)
An important issue is the reporters "on the ground". But looking at the too-many microphones stuck into the faces of the few folk getting air time makes me think that half or 3/4 are redundant. AP yes; maybe UPI; and Reuters. BBC? Nah-- just copy... ABC/ CBS? Nah.
Yeah, and put it out on paper "for free", and use the ad revenue to pay for the editors. Those who decide which stories are good enough to kill trees for. Maybe depend mostly on technorati, or K5/ Slashdot type comment rankings (or both?).
Heck, why not a few different editions? And customize to the recipient?
The "profitable" business model hasn't been found yet for Open Journalism (not just source).
I'm using Firefox (free). You can call me in Slovakia, for FREE, with Skype.com (tomgrey in Slovakia). People want information to be free -- if it's good (thanks Jay, for PressThink being good), they will pay "with their eyeballs".
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 29, 2005 6:57 PM | Permalink
Tom Grey, I hear you. I'm an early adopter (and a woman, heavens!!). I wirelessly wired my house years before everyone else did. I have a blog and dropped the newspapers. And I'll call you in Slovakia.
I have an insatiable appetite for information...but the newspaper seems stale and hard to recycle. I like the web, and archives. I'm the consumer. Just give me something I can use. Skip the paper inserts.
I think it's easy to dismiss David Shaw for his uninformed short-sightedness. But he has a good point that can challenge those of us looking forward to the new news media, can help us make independent online hyperlocal and other news (as opposed to pure-opinion blog) sites better. While Shaw is indeed, as several posters here mentioned, out of it to think the mainstream media is so fair and accurate, it's true that a problem does exist in the blogosphere with fairness and accuracy. Where journalists come in now, I think (as Dan Gillmor's book pointed out), is to bring some professional standards of fairness and accuracy to the new media, to act as a filter for the exciting avalanche of citizen journalism and free-wheeling independent reporting unleashed by the new media. Instead of trashing Shaw for his inability to see the future, I think we can mine his critique for useful ideas.
Posted by: Paul Bass at March 30, 2005 8:29 AM | Permalink
Interesting debate. My question is, if the newspaper dies, will democracy die with it?
Or will we in the blogosphere be able to create a new platform to save it?
I don't know the answer, but I'm willing to consider the alternatives and work to solve the problem.
To save anything resembling democracy, we must have people willing to stand on the wall and ask tough questions, willing to do the hard reporting and write stories people will read, including TV reporters. Most of the masses get their news from TV, not newspapers or blogs, a point I've made in this forum ad nauseum.
Reporting takes the kind of resources only big news companies have had in the past (read lots of money). Most bloggers do not have those kinds of resources, so the types of stories they are able to break is limited.
I'm no rich guy, so I need work from the mainstream press to survive to blog another day. That is our current dilemma.
If you have any thoughts on this, please double post them on my new blog, The Locust Fork. I'm on the road doing a bit of cowboying in the D.C. area, digging on a story that might help us save our civil liberties.
Posted by: Glynn Wilson at March 30, 2005 9:04 AM | Permalink
What if there were a way to treat public interest reporting more like a public service and less like a business? What if the new networked grooves for contributing this reporting to the overall (and please forgive the trendy word) noosphere were to make such an approach practical?
In the current model, newspapers consider their news infrastructure to be a business expense. Their real business is printing and distributing advertising. The capital costs are considerable: big physical plants, expensive presses, newsprint, ink, etc. More than 600 people work at my paper: five out of six work in departments other than "news editorial." There are typically no more than about 30 reporters at any given time devoted to covering what would traditionally be considered "news."
Now, imagine if your business model involved little more than salaries, benefits, informational technology, computer technicians, travel budgets, phone bills and the occasional business lunch. If your product was actually news and nothing else, with no printing or distribution costs, how much revenue would you have to have to break even?
Could you run something like that as a non-profit? Could you create a board or management structure that emphasizes quality standards and openness over return on investment? Could you run such an operation without advertising, a la Consumer Reports?
I know this isn't a new idea, and I know I'm not suggesting important stuff like revenue streams, means of integration, etc., but I thought this might be a fitting context to raise this thought again.
Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 30, 2005 10:13 AM | Permalink
An afterthought: Generally, I like the classical economic concepts of market determination. It's an elegant way of picking winners and losers.
But market dynamics aren't the best solution for every human transaction. Markets eventually tend to create monopolies. Once consolidated, they lose their corrective function and ultimately collape.
Certain types of media belong in the marketplace, but I think it's also true that much of what gets discussed here is a function of the press that is damaged by its association with markets and profit motives. We want fearless truthtelling, but for-profit media simply can't provide it on a regular basis.
Maybe we just need to start creating new structures to house those functions.
Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 30, 2005 10:29 AM | Permalink
If you compare the total amount of money spent in marketing/promotions year by year over the last three decades and compare that to the total amount spent in mainstream media (all radio, television and newspaper) for each of those years you will (I believe) find that the “share” of the marketing/promotions dollar spent advertising has declined dramatically. Ken Auletta looks at this from the big Madison Avenue Agency perspective. I look at the same trend from the regional/local/retail angle.
Someone needs to research on the failures of the “client/media company” marketing model and then journalists and businesspeople can create a plan that will succeed.
Posted by: Laurence Haughton at March 30, 2005 2:13 PM | Permalink
What people don't seem to "get" yet is this: not only is the advertising market going elsewhere, or demanding more, but manufacturers are figuring out how to "meet" consumers without going through the media or advertising market at all. The Internet may make that possible.
Advertisers with altermatives to traditional media, yes. But also: manufacturers with alternatives to advertising. And by the way, who is going to advise them on such opportunities? The existing agencies?
Maybe the old is nearer to toppling than we think.
With all of the newspaper readership numbers of the younger generation being so dismal, I find the new College Newsify program that lets college students and faculty read newspapers for free really interesting.
Can giving students free access to all the electronic editions of newspapers they want build and sustain readership of the print newspaper after those students graduate? I don't know.
Posted by: Jeff Peterson at March 30, 2005 3:01 PM | Permalink
Toppling is the right word Jay. Toppling is a part of innovation.
Posted by: Laurence Haughton at March 30, 2005 4:25 PM | Permalink
Journalism will survive. But the old line liberal institutions will not.
The "journalism" that was inflicted on the American public in the last election cycle was worse than worthless. The two most important issues in the election were Iraq and the economy. The reporting on both was so bad, that those who rely solely on the MSM had absolutely no clue what was really going on.
Regardless of what technology is used in the future to deliver news, the old monopoly days are gone. With monopoly control gone, the old uniformly liberal slant of the NYTimes and CBS is being exposed as the shoddy trash that it is.
Welcome to the world of competition. From now on, getting the story right will actually matter. No more inserting boos into a story. No more fake memos. No more stonewalling stories that would hurt favored politicians.
It's a brave new world. Honesty will enhance the value of journalism in the future. Some of you may get the hang of it yet.
Stan, dude, what's with the "Some of you may get the hang of it yet?" driveby sliming? Huh-huh.
You know, I've read all that stuff about how "the anonymous nature of the internet tends to create a strident level of discourse, blah blah blah." But I don't understand why so many people seem so intent on living down to that stereotype.
Yes, there are legitimate reasons to consider conservative critiques. Guess what? Everybody here understands that. But for every thoughtful conservative who discusses those ideas on these boards, there always seem to be a wannabe blogstar waiting in the wings, all hot to act out some snarky pundit fantasy.
I mean, Jay's post isn't even remotely about bias, yet for you it's nothing more than a chance to take a cheap shot at the integrity of an entire group of people. I just don't get it. What is it about open, constructive discussion that you find so threatening?
Or, to phrase it in terms you'll understand, "Why do you hate America, Stan?"
Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 30, 2005 11:50 PM | Permalink
Have there been any studies of the impact of the decline in the number of newspapers on overall circulation/readership figures?
Clearly, this decline can be attributed in some part to the creation of alternative sources of news (television, and now the internet), but what impact did the decline in the newspaper options available to news consumers have on the numbers?
Most of the numbers we seem to be using to discuss the fate of newspapers are based on national circulation/readership/market penetration data----but these numbers may provide a false impression of the dynamic involved here.
Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 31, 2005 6:54 AM | Permalink
Conover, your point about intemperate comments is well taken (civility in the face of acrimony is often thoroughly disarming; I can attest to that from having been on both sides of such discussions.)
However, the the following may help you understand the feelings of conservatives, and maybe the source of their sometimes unchecked rancor directed toward the dominant media:
"With great power should come greatly thick skin. Even with their eroding influence, newspapers especially have a disproportionate influence on the communities they serve. The unholy abuse hurled at them is an acknowledgment of their power." - Matt Welch, quoted at PressThink, November 9 2004.
I believe a seeming helplessness to combat liberal bias perceived in the dominant media, long felt by many on the center-right, contributes to some bitterness in that quarter. That feeling of helplessness and bitterness should dissipate as the non-left voices increasingly heard in new media offset the dominant press.
Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 31, 2005 12:37 PM | Permalink
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 31, 2005 1:22 PM | Permalink
Well, I admit liberal bias certainly does seem to be a nucleus in many discussions of our dominant media, at least those participated in by both ends of the political spectrum.
So much so, in fact, that Rosen has an apparently pejoritaive label for citations of liberal bias: "The Great Explainer"; which seems too prejudicially dismissive to me.
Perhaps eventually this "Great Explainer" will come to be regarded in the same way that gravity explains why a dropped rock falls to the ground, and why people don't float off the Earth.
Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 31, 2005 2:15 PM | Permalink
1) The issue isn't bias. It is partisanship. See e.g. Evan Thomas, Michael Barone, et al. This produces a "journalism" which isn't worth saving.
2) The inability (actually an adamant refusal) to acknowledge this reality when discussing the future of newspapers and journalism makes the resulting conversation as irrelevant as the threads on Bush and the White House "decertifying" the press corps were. If one fails to accurately perceive the relationship between Bush and the press, it is rather difficult to reach accurate conclusions on what Bush is doing and why.
3) I don't hate America. That was Michael Moore who said that. The one who was embraced (literally) by the Democratic leadership -- the same politicians that 90% of journalists vote for. Interesting that you would use the expression. In psychology, they call that projection.
4) So where does that leave the future of newspapers and the news business? First, understand why you are losing so many readers. Many of them (like me) love newspapers and have always had a several each day in the house. I have lived with the liberal bias forever. That isn't the problem. I don't bother to read the "news" in the MSM anymore because it is woefully inaccurate. The MSM failed miserably to report reality in Iraq. It failed miserably on the economic issues germane to the last election. For at least 20 years, it has failed to report reality on the environment, the homeless, education, foreign policy ... you name it. Is the sorry job due to bias and partisanship or are there other factors as well? Those of you on the inside should be better able than I to discern that. But you have no chance, if you won't acknowledge reality.
This is a thread on the business of journalism. I am a customer. I am telling you that your product sucks and I am willing to take the time to point out specifics of how and what is wrong with the product. I am joined in this assessment by millions of other customers. We are leaving in droves. Any other business operated by rational people and facing this kind of crisis would be listening to the customer and trying desperately to make an honest assessment of performance failure.
Journalists, in contrast, insist on insulting their customers as "bible-thumping knuckle-draggers" and "morons".
Alas, the process seems foreordained -- and as certain as toads sprouting warts.
So until social software develops a pre-emergent herbicide, there will be a need for gardeners to do weeding; the maintenance-free organic garden does not exist in the here and now.
Posted by: Anna at March 31, 2005 11:18 PM | Permalink
Perhaps you can recall the Eason Jordan scandal? Customers were outraged when they learned that he had made slanderous remarks about the US military (and not for the first time). Customers demanded that Jordan provide evidence to support his claims. Jordan declined and resigned.
Mainstream journalists, such as Steve Lovelady whose earlier post in this thread has drawn praise, responded to Jordan's resignation by showering the customers with abuse. "Bible-thumping knuckle-draggers" and "morons" were just a small sample from the name-calling.
I would have thought posters here were familiar with this.
By the way, for a great example of the blatant dishonesty and customer abuse that is so typical of the MSM (and the reason customers lose respect for "journalists"), look at the refusal of ABC and the Wash Post to come clean on the fake memo story.
Couple that with the fact that, so far, there doesn't seem to be a single political journalist in DC with the integrity or the interest to investigate who was behind the dirty trick in the first place. Of course, like the CBS fake memo story, one would think journalists would be all over an investigation of who prepared the fakes.
Perhaps professional journalists can explain why neither of these frauds warrants a story? Millions of customers out here want to know. An honest political system would benefit from the story.
Very interesting essay, and largely dead-on about the strategic challenges facing newspapers and their implications on journalism.
I'd like to cautious folks on one point: Newspaper revenues and profits DO NOT and SHOULD NEVER march in a 1:1 relationshipo. Why? Because our businesses have enormous FIXED COSTS. People and equipment have to be paid for regardless of whether we sell even one ad.
The best example (stolen from Hal Varian's excellent book Information Rules) is a music CD, or a piece of Microsoft software, or a blockbuster Hollywood movie The FIRST copy of the CD or software might cost millions of dollars to produce (all the programming/recording, mastering, etc.) The second costs less than a buck (the CD and its packaging, plus the small incremental royalties).
What that means: Microsoft, or the record company, loses an enormous amount of money on the first few copies, all the way up to the break-even point. But from there, each additional copy is ENORMOUSLY profitable: If their revenues go up 2 percent, their profits might go up 10 percent or more - because the last few copies are relatively cheap to produce, but sell at the same price for the first one.
Same with any media firm: The profits mostly come from the LAST FEW ADS SOLD. A hypothetical example: Let's say your newspaper generates $1 million in revenue in a week (that's a mid- to small newspaper, by the by). And let's say it typically makes $200,000 in operating profit (before taxes).
Now let's say the paper has a good week - it sells just a couple more ads for a total of $10,000 in "extra" revenue. Revenues are up 1 percent. But there is very little extra expense - no more reporters, no more press crew, no new equipment to jam in those extra ads; just a little bit of added newsprint. So profits might go up $7,000 - or an increase of 3.5% from the "normal" $200,000.
To recap: Revenues up 1 percent. Profits up 3.5%. That is not "harvesting profit and abandoning a mature business." It's the natural workings of any business with high fixed costs, but low additional cost for one extra bit of revenue.
To my friends and colleagues who might say "spend most of that extra $10,000 on journalism so that profits only go up 1 percent, too!" I would offer this warning: Leverage works both ways. If you want your bosses to spend more when revenue is good, you've got to be prepared for them to whack when revenue is bad, far more severaly than they already do.
Posted by: Tom Davidson at April 1, 2005 10:14 AM | Permalink
Perhaps a useful way of looking at the blogger/journalist, etc. question is to think of writing. Bloggers are writers. Journalists are writers. Those who write articles for magazines or short stories or books are writers.
Posted by: ~K at April 1, 2005 11:58 AM | Permalink
"Instead of allowing a business model to use you." Well said, kat.
Tom: Thanks for that most intriguing analysis. Really helpful.
Excellent comments, Tom---you've opened up a new door of understanding (for me, at least) about advertising and the press.
Posted by: kilgore trout at April 1, 2005 2:29 PM | Permalink
I'll have to plead not guilty to originating, or even quoting, the felicitously-worded phrase, "Bible-thumping knuckle-draggers."
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 1, 2005 2:37 PM | Permalink
If you read more carefully, you will note that I did not write that you did. I wrote that those two expressions were part of the abuse showered on customers by journalists. Your particular contribution was "salivating morons who make up the lynch mob."
As for the "bible-thumping knuckle-draggers", Michelle Malkin, in a piece for the NY Post, sources it back to a reader of this site, William Boykin, as part of a series of expressions from journalists. Another such expression was a reference to McCarthyism.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 1, 2005 7:38 PM | Permalink
In the 90s an exec came up with a simple formula that predicts the future of the media dollar. He said the dollar would be split with 45 cents going to content providers, 45 cents going to customer service providers, and the remaining 10 cents to those who own the means of transmission. That the direction we're going.
Posted by: Laurence Haughton at April 1, 2005 8:17 PM | Permalink
Laurence Haughton: "What does this say to journalists who want to keep socially responsible journalism alive?"
When you say that, do you mean this?
Journalists Pass Social Responsibility Test
In 2001, Lee Edwards (a Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation) wrote a column for Hoover Digest called Mediapolitik. In it, he states, "According to the political scientist Doris Graber, most journalists in free countries follow either a libertarian or a social responsibility philosophy."Four Theories of the Press
... (2) the Libertarian theory, which arose from the works of men like Milton, Locke, Mill, and Jefferson and avowed that the search for truth is one of man's natural rights; (3) the Social Responsibility theory of the modern day: equal radio and television time for political candidates, the obligations of the newspaper in a one-paper town, etc.; ...
Rathergate, Easongate and Gannongate have the MSM in a defensive crouch. The too-common MSM response is to dismiss bloggers as "salivating morons" who sit in their pajamas in dank dens, jabbing journalism's soft spots with pointy sticks. It's not the scrutinizing of journalists' work that rankles mainstream journalists--at least, they don't admit to that--but the grave-dancing that follows each triumph. After Rather's and Jordan's announcements, many blogs buzzed with self-congratulation and warnings to "MSM scum" that their days of hegemony were numbered.
I didn't really have a definition of socially responsible journalist in mind Tim. I was just tying my comments to the adjectives used in the opening paragraphs of this post.
Posted by: Laurence Haughton at April 2, 2005 2:33 PM | Permalink
re: name-calling and grave-dancing
The AJR article from which you pulled the quote has a lot of good advice. But some of the grave-dancing is understandable. When Jay asked Will Collier whether the goal of bloggers toward journalists was dialogue or destruction, my personal response was yes to both. Obviously, any blogger (or reader for that matter) would like to have the opportunity for input with those who have so much influence. On the other hand, some in the MSM are so egregious in their partisanship while professing balance that they can only be described as frauds. And just as the fraudulent behavior by executives at Enron and Worldcom needed to be exposed and punished, the country will be better when these frauds are removed from their powerful positions.
Dan Rather's partisanship over the years was so pronounced and his blatant effort to defeat Bush so transparent that celebration was only natural. Over the years, a number of MSM journalists have confessed to the jubilation and celebration that they enjoyed with their colleagues when they heard the news that Nixon had resigned. They had wanted to get the bastard for years and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves when they got him.
For those on the right who have documented partisanship in the MSM for so long, it is perfectly normal to consider the relationship adversarial. (I know that bloggers aren't just on the right, but that seems to be where most of the conflict with the MSM comes from.) When we catch reporters fund-raising for Democratic candidates, writing speeches for them, providing campaign advice, and slanting their coverage to favor them while they continue to piously maintain that they are non-partisan, we tend to lose respect for them. They obviously have no respect for us.
When mainstream media types such as Joe Klein, E J Dionne, Howell Raines, and many, many others say that conservatives are "specatacularly vile", "haters", racists, mean-spirited liars bent on repressing the poor and minorities, etc. and the coverage in their publications reflects similar feelings, it is only natural for us to feel a little adversarial.
stan: "... it is only natural for us to feel a little adversarial."
Perhaps. Adversarial can even be a good thing. Competition can constructive for all competing, or destructive - at least for the loser.
I do think that the press has engaged, at times, in destructive behavior telling themselves that they were making those they destroyed (or those around the corpse) better, more honest, stronger. The predatorial watchdog press.
And yes, at times, I've felt that the press has acted like carrion eaters. Feeding on the recently killed and distraught.
And has anyone in the press ever "happy danced" on the grave of someone they wrote about? Don't know. Would anyone like to bet it never happened? How many columns can we find with "he deserved it" or with the subject asking, "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?"
I'm aware of all that, stan. I'm aware that its been done on, and to, both sides of the political spectrum by and through the press.
And now it's being done to the press.
I guess you could argue that the playing field has been leveled. Or it's a death match and, like a phoenix, something better will rise out of the ashes.
I've read the theories, many of them here. But here's my question for the partisan media warriors: "What's your plan for Phase IV?
Sisyphus, do you mean Phase IV in Iraq (not enough troops, no clear decision on exactly who the US GI jackboot occupiers should be oppressing, yada, yada [which I disagree with]), or a general "post blog-newspaper war" planning?
On the latter, in relation to Tom D's fine post, COST CUTTING is how the cash cow newspapers will continue. So I expect more newspapers to offer "fame" for bloggers to write good news stories that the newspaper will publish.
Newspapers should continue to push for more gov't transpaency -- like at the UN, ALL internal reports should be made public. Why any secrets, anyway? And talented amatuers (?) like Wretchard at Belmont Club, might make better analysis of what's going on than most current reporters.
The meta-context for journalism-analysis in democracy remains the same, one of decision analysis.
But better is subjective, and this is where the Leftist bias is killing the current product. What's "better" in Kerry's Land of mansions might not be, is not, better in Bush's Land of poor workers who go to Church.
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at April 4, 2005 4:28 AM | Permalink
I assume by Phase IV you mean what is the plan for after some MSM news organization is forced to close down. Drawing from your military analogy, remember that battle plans become obsolete once the first shot is fired. Besides, central planning doesn't work. In fact, the current tension is best understood as being the result of a traditional, top-down, planned and organized institutional structure under siege from a large number of autonomous, unplanned, unstructured, disorganized competitors.
Planning for the aftermath of this would be as pointless as any Phase IV plan would have been in Iraq. The survivors will be those who demonstrate that they can adapt to fluid situations quickly and effectively. Formal plans will likely be more of a burden than an aid.
The newspaper of the future will be a website which organizes specialty sites, commentary from experts and offers access to original sources. A news story out of Washington will be a non-partisan introduction to press releases and statements from the interested parties. Rather than spin, the "newspaper" will link directly so that the reader can determine for himself what the politician's position is. Summaries will be more even-handed because both sides will have so many ways of getting their message into the hands of voters. I imagine that we will see a decline in the number of all-purpose political columnists and an increase in pieces by "experts" in the field.
The journalistic "winners" will be the ones who integrate the best of the internet's technology, adds the superior analysis which the best of the blogs offers and retains the best of investigative journalism. Those whose journalism today consists of nothing more than repackaged press releases and leaks from politicians will have a hard time surviving.
I love the idea that we need to "keep traditional journalism alive" until the new media has morphed some worthy evolutionary successor. It's like someone in a Medieval monastery holding onto the works of Plato until the Renaissance comes along. Pul-lease. Newspapers will be around for a long time yet in both print and online form, and professional journalism will be around for much, much longer. Citizen-journalists who develop a following online and monetize that will immediately, by definition, become professional journalists. They will be able to keep that following (and monetary compensation) by giving their audience what they want -- whether that is immaculate fact-checking, O'Reilly-esque POVs, or something else.
Posted by: Scott Baradell at April 4, 2005 4:08 PM | Permalink
You are both correct that Phase IV was an analogy for post-"MSM" dominance.
I thank you both for your thoughts. Here were mine.