Not so Extra! End of News

With all the news in the last few months about newspaper layoffs and closings, never have I been more depressed about the future of the industry than I was after watching the AP’s Thomas Curley being interviewed tonight by Charlie Rose, which largely mimicked (in subtle message, if not tone) Rupert Murdoch’s recent gauntlet-throw-down to Google.

Newspaper publishers, hear me: Google is not the problem. I have been exposed to more newspaper Web sites (and thus, more newspapers) in the last eight or nine years or so through Google (and through blogs and other sites — more on that in a minute) than I ever would have been as a lonely reader paying for a print newspaper, or by merely typing in random URLs to try to find your newspaper sites without The Google.

No, the problem is you, newspapers. You are the ones that haven’t been able to figure out how to make money off of this opportunity (or rather, not enough money to pay your reporters and editors, rather than paying your shareholders demanding outrageous profit margins in the pre-Recession days and your MBA-holding publishers with zero news sense).

It’s as if a busload of tourists just stopped at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, and the buffet owner blamed the bus company because he suddenly had too many customers.

That you can’t find a way to make a profit with a busload of tourists at your door is the most depressing news I’ve heard yet about the declining state of the newspaper industry.

———

Apologies to my dear readers (both of you) for my recent hiatus, which likely will continue a while longer. Potty training woes (Icepick Jr., not Icepick Sr.) and the hope-springs-eternal beginning of baseball season have kept me away from posting.

Um, that, and hypocrite that I am, I have rebooted my Facebook account and have discovered that I sort of like it — let my well-deserved flaming commence. But while you’re throwing stones, this brings up a nice segue to another recent misdirected complaint by the corporate news industry — namely, the bloggers-are-stealing-our-content meme.

One of the things I like best about Facebook (apart from the fleeting uptick for my flagging self-worth in posting what’s “on my mind”) is the ability to post links to articles and blog posts from around the Web to share with my dear Internet friends. While the number of times I do this certainly annoys some (if not all) of my six pals, surely, once in a Blue Moon, one of these friends clicks on a link I posted and reads an article on a newspaper site or blog that they may not have otherwise read.

This is a money-making opportunity for these sites — in potential ad-clicking revenue, in potential click-per-view fees, in ad-rate-setting based on increased hit counts. That newspapers are failing to make money off this opportunity is their failure.

So go ahead, AP and Rupert. Pull your content from the Web, or stick it behind a complicated fee structure (rather than a more simple model, as David Carr once mentioned, a method I would not mind paying for). What these businessmen (predictably, it’s mostly the men that are lost while simultaneously reinforcing the glass ceiling) are missing, is that sites like WordPress and Blogger and Facebook do not need them.

Most Facebookers are connecting with friends or sharing something interesting with buddies. If you don’t want potential readers as part of this sharing, there is plenty of “Flair” that Facebookers can share instead.

As for The Dreaded Bloggers, blogging is closer to column-writing than reporting. Bloggers are still going to have opinions they want/need to share, they’re still going to analyze and interpret, they’re still going to watch TV news, and they are still going to read newspapers, whether they need to pay for them or not. And in the end, bloggers, like columnists, are still going to comment on the news — President Obama overseas, March Madness, the continuing comedy that is the self-destruction of the national GOP — and even on how it is covered.

You can control and pull your articles, but you cannot control the news, even if you like to think so.

Linking is a form of citation, just like you did for your term papers in college. I can say “I read an article by the AP today” as much as I want — newspapers used to love it when broadcasters read: “The New York Times today is exclusively reporting…” Linking does much the same thing, but it gives the newspaper source the added bonus of potential readers heading their way immediately once they click that link, instead of waiting for them to maybe head down to the local newsstand (the few that remain) and maybe buying their newspaper to read the article that some TV or radio news-reader breathlessly told them about an hour or more ago.

So if us bloggers can no longer link, we’re still going to comment on the news of the day, and we may even cite you as a source (personally, I’m with the late David Foster Wallace in my love of footnotes). That’s called Free Speech, something the news industry loves to tout as something they protect, but only (apparently) for themselves.

So yes, we’ll still write and we’ll still comment. But if you don’t want us to link to you, fine. It’s no skin off my nose if none of my (two) readers aren’t adding their (four) eyeballs to your site.

———

UPDATE: Sunday, April 12, 2009, 4:37 p.m.:

And another thing: Watching the Masters at my parents home this Easter Sunday, and I’m searching for Google News while watching and ducking out of dessert — I want to read stories by Doug Ferguson, the AP’s lead golf beat guy and arguably the best golf writer in the nation. But it is a pain to find stuff by him (searches on his name mixed with “Masters” or “Golf” proves to be hit-or-miss).

AP makes it impossible to find its own coverage — probably because they essentially write for other papers and don’t want to “compete” with them. But still, examples like this makes their recent complaints about Google ring a little more hollow. They certainly don’t make it easy to find their own coverage, not if you’re looking for something by a specific writer, and believe me, AP does have some great national beat writers, if unheralded by the setup of their organization.

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One Comment on “Not so Extra! End of News”

  1. Victor says:

    Facebook aside, it seems to me that Murdoch has found himself on the wrong end of the newspaper-selling business: More than 30 years ago, the New York Times and the Washington Post sold lots of papers and won awards by breaking stories about corrupt officials and their cover-ups by doing actual journalism. These days journalism — actual research — is on the wane and news outfits line Mr. Murdoch’s are in the pocket of elected officials and other related interests.

    If Murdoch weren’t in the business of propping-up his political colleagues and more interested in pursuing the news, he might find that his news organs were in higher demand. But by sticking to the RNC playbook and continuing to bat for his ‘team’, he’ll remain behind the curve, especially because his team is out of office at the moment.

    To paraphrase, Murdoch ought to keep his ear to the ground and not the speed-dial to his attorneys. News is out there — he just needs to stop plying the party line that he and Roger Ailes have pursued for the past 20 years.


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