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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Value of Newspapers

Journalists like to think of their work in moral or even sacred terms. With each new layoff or paper closing, they tell themselves that no business model could adequately compensate the holy work of enriching democratic society, speaking truth to power, and comforting the afflicted.

And to prove how brave they are they give each other prizes and hold conclaves that they report on.

Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians. Consequently, the primary economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but in distributing the knowledge of others. In this process three fundamental functions and related skills have historically created economic value: Accessing sources, determining significance of information, and conveying it effectively.
To create economic value, journalists and news organizations historically relied on the exclusivity of their access to information and sources, and their ability to provide immediacy in conveying information. The value of those elements has been stripped away by contemporary communication developments. Today, ordinary adults can observe and report news, gather expert knowledge, determine significance, add audio, photography, and video components, and publish this content far and wide (or at least to their social network) with ease. And much of this is done for no pay.

The fact is that individuals who are experts in their fields now have the ability to communicate their expertise without the press as intermediaries.

...journalistic labor has become commoditized. Most journalists share the same skills sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories. ...

Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation.
As evidence, you can get virtually identical views of what's "news" from ABC, CBS, NBC, the NY Times, LA Times, the AP ... and the Virginian Pilot
One cannot expect newspaper readers to pay for page after page of stories from news agencies that were available online yesterday and are in a thousand other papers today.
Stale news presented in truncated form by people who have contempt for us. Yes! That's a winning combination.

I will add a few points that need amplification. The last thing that newspapers of the future need is attitude. If there is one thing that the Internet provides in spades is attitude.

I don’t really care what the editors of the Virginian Pilot believe. It’s not only predictable but it’s irritating. It’s like listening to an opinionated relative buzzing in your ear while you’re busy. If I want the Liberal opinion I can access the White House website, Democrats in congress directly, read the Huffington Post or Kos. If I want conservative or Libertarian opinion I can get an entertaining version by turning on Rush Limbaugh, reading the National Review Online, Pajamas Media or Instapundit. The opinions of Donald Luzzato are not nearly as interesting and I’m irritated by the fact that for his poor-boy imitation of the Sac Bee editorial staff, I paid for this atrocity.

Until newspapers figure out their value proposition, they will continue to die.

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