In yesterday’s NYT, David Carr suggested that Steve Jobs’ iTunes model, in which many people pay a tiny amount for stories, might serve as a way of convincing people to pay for news.
Those of us who are in the newspaper business could not be blamed for hoping that someone like him comes along and ruins our business as well by pulling the same trick: convincing the millions of interested readers who get their news every day free on newspapers sites that it’s time to pay up.
I respectfully disagree with almost everything that Carr said, as well as his reasoning. It seems as if he doesn’t understand the newspaper business. More importantly, he doesn’t understand the new Web medium that is replacing print, radio and TV as the world’s principle principal communications medium.
In Webworld, stand-alone stories won’t be the norm; contextual beat-blogging will be. (On many sites, it already is.) In Webworld, news and information is collaborative. In Webworld, a jurno becomes a community manager of news and information. So, for much of news, it will become practically impossible to isolate an individual blog post to sell it. And the question arises: if news and information is a collaborative work, who owns the information?
A few words about the dilemma of metropolitan newspapers, and then I’ll yammer on a bit more about Webworld: Metros aren’t imploding because advertising can’t support them. What’s crushing them is mountains of debt; news corporations no longer have the 30 percent profit margins they hoped would pay off that debt. Thousands of other small dailies and weeklies are still doing fine with display ads, in print AND on their Web sites. (For now — eventually, they’ll have to make the transition, too.)
And a few more words…about convincing people to pay for news: They haven’t paid for news for decades; why should they start now? Newspapers have been 80 – 85 percent supported by advertising.
Back to Webworld. Here’s where Mr. Carr shows he doesn’t understand the Web medium:
Then again, a friend in the business sent me a link to an item in TechCrunch (yes, it was also free) that described a gadget that actually might work for newspapers.
“Expect a large screen iPod touch device to be released in the fall of ’09, with a 7 or 9 inch screen,” the item suggested.
The device would allow scanning of pages with a flick of the finger. It sounds promising for newspapers and magazines. Now all we need is a business model to go with it.
The basic nature of the Web medium is that it is participatory, interactive, contextual, solution-oriented, and uses a combo of photos, video, audio, graphics, and text (i.e., it is multimedia-oriented). People like this. Hundreds of millions of them enthusiastically use the Web this way. They converse; make and send photos, music, video; share info and news. Most will never want to scan a non-interactive page. They’re integrating the medium into their lives so completely that it’s like electricity — they use it without thinking about it. They expect journalism to adapt to the new medium, too.
Hence, to adapt to this medium, the way journalism works is changing.
As I mentioned above, in Webworld, stand-alone problem-oriented stories are replaced by beat-blogging — continuous, contextual, solution-oriented beat-blogging. (See the info in the tabs above for much more detail, and please add your own ideas — the info in the tabs is just a starting point.) Solution-oriented does NOT mean a jurno provides answers. It means the jurno follows the issue until it’s resolved to the satisfaction of the community, AND the jurno provides links and resources for people to become involved at many different levels. In beat-blogging, the jurno includes its community members as collaborators and supporters. Community includes business owners who sell products and services.
There are plenty of examples to show that many jurnos grok Webworld and are using most of its characteristics. WestSeattleBlog. Baristanet. MaxPreps. Marketwatch. There are many others. All these organizations are Web-based, and all are ad-supported.
As journalism moves into Webworld, it’s likely that many different forms of success will emerge. At the Reynolds Journalism Institute, we’re establishing the RJI Collaboratory — a Web-based news organization incubator — to provide some useful roadmaps for journalists who want to make the transition. We don’t know what all those forms will look like or how they will function. But it’s clear that all must embrace the nature of the medium if they want to thrive.
We’re hosting a Talkfest next week to start this process, and we’ll launch the RJI Collaboratory Network at the same time.
We have a few initial hypotheses about what may happen over the next five years. It’s very clear that the days of large metros employing 300 reporters is gone. There’s probably a place for the mile-wide, inch-deep approach that’s characterized most large metro (and local TV news, for that matter). (Aggregators like Huffington Post are an example.) But not until there’s enough inch-wide, mile-deep news and information to support it. Many of us believe that the first to fill the metro-newspaper vacuum will be hundreds of small news organizations, each operated by two, three or four jurnos. These jurnos will blog their beats. They will collaborate with their communities. they will serve their communities, whether they are geographic- or topic-based.
How many small news organizations will replace one metro is hard to say. Can an urban neighborhood of 100,000 people support one small news organization or four? How many businesses need to be in that community to support a news organization? What are they willing and able to pay? How much does it cost for jurnos to start such organizations? What do they need? What’s the financial progression? If a small news organization can be supported by display ads from small mom-and-pop businesses, how does the ad model change over time? There are a ton of other questions. We hope to have some answers by the end of this year.
Back to Mr. Carr. I can’t fault him for his beliefs. He’s probably seeing the world from the point of view of the New York Times. But the Times doesn’t represent the predominant model any more. It — with the Washington Post, NPR, Wall Street Journal and USA Today — are in their own class. They’re much larger, have a bigger financial cushion, and are able to move much more slowly. They’ve made significant progress toward Webworld, and they have many good people within their organizations pushing them. But they’ll end up immersed in Webworld, too, someday.
One telling example of the world in which Mr. Carr lives: although you can comment on some NYT articles, you can’t comment on Mr. Carr’s.