Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ink makes you free

Brian Appleyard: "The truth is that if the web makes no money or, at least, not enough to sustain proper news operations - and it doesn't - then you will either get no proper news or just none on the web. Think on, as they say where I come from, you need Ink, all of you, and one way or another you will have to pay for it. But think on further - Ink may not be free but it makes you free."


  • A worthwhile note, and an interesting footnote to a lot of the things we talked about in class this year.

  • It's like I've stepped out of a time capsule into 2008.

    Appleyard's theory is that a) traditional news organizations will collapse under free competition, b) the blogosphere will wither and die in the absence of sources to which to link, and c) the traditional news organizations will revive on hardcopy again, free from free competition?

    If that were an economically reasonable response, print media would not have gone online in the first place. That they did implies that it was necessary. Second, it assumes that the danger to print media is a bunch of linking bloggers. It's not. It's MSNBC.com, CNN.com, and Yahoo News. Third the implication that online ad revenues are insufficient to sustain a news organization is patently, demonstrably false.

    I like the print media, too, but affection is one thing and clouded judgement in the service of affection is another.

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    sidereal, I think you may have misread Appleyard. He doesn't even mention bloggers, and isn't thinking about them: he's discussing the shift from newspapers you pay for to websites you don't, and pointing (rightly) that no news organization has yet figured out how to make money with an online model.(Plus they've lost much of the advertising revenue that made print viable for so long.)

    He's just saying that he doesn't believe that serious reporting is going to happen unless someone pays for it. I'm reminded of a recent comment by David Simon, of The Wire fame: he said that when he was trying to investigate corruption in the Baltimore police force he didn't trip over any bloggers. But he didn't trip over any journalists from the Baltimore Sun either, because they've had to cut their staff so much. No cashflow, no investigative reporting.

    Appleyard doesn't buy the idea that we're headed for a world of Total Information that will self-organize, or that we can easily organize. He's afraid that traditional news organizations are going to collapse and leave nothing behind to investigate forces that need investigating. And I agree that that really could happen.

  • Michael Straight said...

    Alan, what you say is true, but sidereal's point stands that if newspapers were able to charge directly for content on the web, they would have done so in the first place.

    Even print newspapers are unable to support themselves by charging directly for content. For years, most investigative reporting was underwritten by classified ads for used cars. I don't see any way to hook those two things back together.

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    You're absolutely right Michael, that Craigslist has ended the old economic model of the newspaper. But that doesn't mean that they can't charge for online content. After all, many magazines do. Newspapers have been reluctant to do it because of the huge hit they take in ad revenues because of reduced pageviews. But on the other hand, newspapers on the web have more than a local audience. So perhaps it would be possible to charge for content and thereby stay in business, though probably not with as comprehensive coverage as they once had. But surviving in a diminished state is better than going out of business.

    For me, there's really just one vital question to all of this: How can investigative reporting be paid for?

  • "
    sidereal, I think you may have misread Appleyard. He doesn't even mention bloggers, and isn't thinking about them

    I believe he is. The conceit of the entire piece is that he (as a blogger) is a free-rider on Murdoch's journalism investment (see passages such as: "I employ thousands, maybe tens of thousands. I don't pay them and most of them don't even know I am their employer, but I exploit them ruthlessly.", "I wouldn't be able to free-ride on his investments.", etc). In fact it's an open question as to whether Appleyard is 'free-riding' or whether he's providing free advertising for the journalism he links to. At the same time half the journalism world is complaining about the free-riding bloggers, the other half is desperately trying to get bloggers to link to them.

    No news organization has yet figured out how to make money with an online model

    This simply isn't true, unless you narrowly constrain 'news organization' to mean Newspaper organization. I'm fairly certain TalkingPointsMemo is profitable. Is the online arm of Politico profitable? I suspect it is, or close to it. CNN.com is profitable, though it does benefit from the efforts of the cable arm.

    newspapers on the web have more than a local audience

    They really don't. They have a worldwide potential audience, but any newspaper that attempts to actualize that potential is almost assuredly going to crash and burn.

    Because there's simply no reason for someone looking for National, International, Business, Science, or any other non-Local news to go to their local newspaper's website to get it. Your local newspaper has no particular expertise in those areas and once they go online they are running into the teeth of thousands of competitors who do have that expertise.

    The only unique resource that your local Newspaper has once they get online is coverage of local news. Either local newspapers ruthlessly exploit that single advantage, or they are lost.

  • Whoops! Too much attempted html there. Sorry about that.

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