Archive for December 2008
The newspaper industry’s insurgency is in its last throes. Readership is down, advertising revenue is down, storied institutions are in bankruptcy or having cash flow problems. Analysts forecast earnings contraction at a double digit rate for several more years, following years of the same.
In large measure, the inter-net is to blame. Or rather, as the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki points out in his column, our expectation of the Free is to blame. Remember “TimesSelect”? This was a product sold by the New York Times on-line, whereby only users who paid a monthly or annual fee were able to read the Op-Ed pieces and search the Times archive beyond a short history. It was scrapped just a year or two after inception. From the FAQ addressing the sunsetting of Select (emphasis added):
Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs, and other online sources… We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it. Our highest priority is to increase the reach and impact of our journalism online. The Times’s Op-Ed and news columns are now available free of charge, along with Times File and News Tracker. In addition, The New York Times online Archive is now free back to 1987 for all of our readers.
This sounds suspiciously like the business model of so many start-ups during the inter-net heydays of the late ’90s, when the yardsticks of success were “clicks” and “eyeballs.” In this case, the strategy is actually the best one, but unfortunately it is still a losing strategy. Ad-supported page views are not likely to generate the income to which the investors in these news organizations are accustomed.
All this to say: it will be a tragedy to lose the skilled reporters and editors on staff at the local and national papers. Bloggers simply cannot make up the difference. Some clever and industrious inter-net posters have the occasional scoop these days, such as rooting out the identity and location of otherwise anonymous actors by tracking down an IP address or some other such wizardry, but they do not have the training or resources to pursue stories in the same way that a dedicated staff of journalists can in the long run.
Then again, chasing profits might set up a conflict of interest in just the institutions we expect to supply us with the unbiased information. It is almost cliché to call the news industry sensationalist.
To that end, the best course of action might be to re-form the industry in a non-profit capacity. In Mr. Surowiecki’s words:
For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.
Enjoy it while you can.
How many blogs have I started and abandoned? Approximately the same number of journals and diaries that have found the invisible part of my bookshelf over the years. This is another, but feels different; it is a new leaf.
Vacation is a time of self-reflection and goal-setting, especially the end-of-year holiday season. I am doing just such self-reflection right now in Batavia, IL, after a harrowing journey from San Francisco, a supposedly six-hour sojourn extended to well over 13.
Travelling alone (not always true with companions), I find that passenger camaraderie has a high positive correlation with the following variables:
- Duration of flight delay relative to total flight time;
- Triviality of causes of the delay (e.g. co-pilot stuck in traffic, one of many in my case);
- Proximity of airport bar to the gate.
For AA 1456, these values were: >100%, multiple delays of high triviality, directly adjacent. As such, I chatted with a number of marvelous people, including a lawyer from Hong Kong, the manager of a logistics business in Manila, a Facebook employee, and someone who claimed to do something involving the selection of fashionable items to sell at retail outlets, but whose wardrobe did not inspire confidence in her job security.
Just finishing “A Christmas Story” as the evening starts winding down. (I find the carolling scene at the Chop Suey Palace mildly offensive – who’s with me?) With every sip of glögg, I wish you all a happy pre-Christmas week. Stay tuned for more from this inter-net posting site, it won’t disappoint.