Friday, March 6, 2009
What is Journalism Worth?
“Holy crap,” I thought. “I have to get on the record with this.” I’ve long believed (No proof) that there are ideas floating around us. Those who are sensitive enough to detect them, motivated enough to use them, and have the means to pull it off, will win.
So, watching the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC tonight, here was a guy from “Editor and Publisher” (http://www.editorandpublisher.com ), a staid magazine of the pencil press saying what I was saying over lunch with close friends at El Arroyo this very afternoon—the mass media must find and use a new model. I told my friends today that I had not heard or read anyone say what really must be done to save traditional journalism.
And, we must save journalism. It is, as I have written before, foundational to our democracy. Yet, locally and nationally, we see the withering of the traditional media. It shouldn’t be. We cannot rely on blogs (such as this one), “The Daily Show” and YouTube for our news. Generally, you’ll find no local news there. Renew your subscription to the local newspaper!
Further, with your renewed subscription, tell you newspaper that you expect quality. You expect value for your dollar. Research proves, particularly here in Austin with a high level of education, content is king. If a medium, newspaper, television, radio, or otherwise—is not delivering valuable content, why should people subscribe, watch, or listen?
For another, similar look at this issue, I suggest that you check out Elizabeth Christian’s blog on her site: http://www.echristianpr.com/.
If a newspaper, or any other news medium, is producing valuable content, that medium should be compensated for it. Frank Volpicella is news director at KVUE TV, the #1 news TV station in the Austin, Texas market. It drives Volpicella crazy to watch what is happening to Journalism with a “Big J”.
“We are giving away our content for free on the Internet. No need for anyone to buy a newspaper, or watch the 6 p.m. news. We are eating ourselves. We are modern day business cannibals. We do more with less. Quality suffers. And we wonder why viewership is eroding,” Volpicella says. But, TV stations are not the only ones.
Newspaper publishers are vexed. They see the costs of publishing a paper rise—Paper, ink, and—most of all—people. They apparently throw up their hands. They cannot cope. So, to cut costs and meet profit expectations, they cut staff and buy out veteran reporters.
For all media this is a doomed model. If content is king, a newspaper, TV station, or radio station must have a staff of experienced, seasoned journalists and editors—people with perspective. These people are the most important assets to the media. Without them, traditional media loses contacts, history, goodwill, and knowledge. Yes, these experienced people probably (should) make more money than someone right out of J school. These people who know the market, however, are the very ones who can provide the content that people will buy.
Did I say “buy”? Yes. That is the new model.
OK. New media is here. Traditional media has been feeding the new media the content it needs to become a viable force in the marketplace of ideas. So, just like selling subscriptions to the newspaper that lands in your driveway every day, it is time to assign value to the new media.
It is time to again selling “subscriptions” for access to part of the content available on the web. I do believe that some basic content should remain free. But, just like the New York Times used to charge for access to some stories, all newspapers, television stations, and other traditional media should start charging for some of their content.
This is the new model. If the citizens see something they want, if it has value, they will pay for it. Others will bitch and moan. The only Internet ads that work, I am convinced, are those hated, full-screen advertisements, the ones that make you hunt for the place where you click to close them. The little ads don’t do much. Certainly, none of them will pay the bills for a newspaper through the 21st century.
The guy (I wish I’d caught his name) from “Editor and Publisher” on Rachel Maddow’s show said that he was a fan of new media. So am I. But, solid day-in-and-day-out reporting is not the forte of most journalists in the new media. That territory belongs to the traditional, beat reporters.
Traditional news media must and can survive, but they must make tough decisions, adapt, and take the heat for change. Concurrently, TV and radio stations should also start charging for access to parts of their web sites. Access can be counted in pennies, but pennies add up.
Certainly, this “model” will be criticized. Fine. But, the Forth Estate must live. Our democracy depends on it more than we realize.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Posted by NewsMcNabb at 11:54 PM