(Sigh) I wrote this in response to this former magazine big-wig feud (yikes!) that emerged today in which one former Entertainment Weekly founder and another ex-in-the-trenches journalist argued over 1) the former’s gloating that journalists need to suck it up and accept their pink slips because the internet is, like, “the new big” (or something like that) and 2) the latter’s arguing that the former’s blame was misplaced while he histrionically fusses about the wonderful tactile sensation of newsprint.

Geez, guys, calm the hell down. The answer is, nobody and everybody is to blame, but arguing about it over the internet is not going to help.

Here’s the problem. Every existing form of printed matter is losing readers. In turn, they are losing advertisers. In turn, people take the product to the internet where they charge less for ads, so they get more ads, but where they don’t know a damn about who’s reading what they’re writing. Then, they wake up and realize that, in turn, they all became broke.

Two necessary solutions: Charge more money now. Create better products now.

On the first point, to be sure, any pragmatic person will see that with regard to monetizing subscriptions, news business managers put the cart before the horse by offering their milk for free. It will be hard to convince readers to accept the concept that news cannot be free because it costs money to make it. However, I would gladly pay, say, $20/3 months (even more, I’ll admit) for a newspaper or magazine that I really, really can’t live without, if they did not at the same time offer any of the content for free. If they offer any of the content for free, I will not pay. This was the problem with TimesSelect and others (okay, that, and the fact that the content in the TimesSelect was actually much, much worse in terms of real value than anything they offered for free).

I think we underestimate the number of people who would pay to help us produce the news (ie. the number of intellectual and literary types that still live and breathe in America).

Now, it stands to reason that any attempt to enhance the revenue stream for online products from the advertising side will meet with scoffs and rebuffs from big-box-company execs who are used to paying $20 per 1,000 hits/impressions. That was another ill-thought-out concept that should have died during the first dot-com boom.

Yes, advertisers will initially walk run away from your product. But! When you figure out how to get solid demographic information and a dedicated readership (which will only come through a much, much better product than we’ve been putting out for the past, oh, say, 15 years), you will have the upper hand.

Then, when you finally and unequivocally kill your print product, advertisers will have no choice but to accept the prices you’re charging for the ‘net based ads.

Now, to the second point, I may be “just a kid” in the world but yes, I do have the audacity to say that journos haven’t been putting out a good enough product during the time of print’s decline. I know it as a reader, and a writer, and as a person who does 10-page interviews that routinely get boiled down to 50-word sound-bite “boxes” that offer little insight into anything. I know that we can do better, especially with regard to the entertainment media, of which I am a part.

I welcome the idea of getting together with like-minded folks at conferences to try and figure out how to monetize the internet. It also seems like those are happening, but where are the results?

Everyone, now including Gawker honcho Nick Denton is about to be struck with the revelation that “the internet isn’t making any money anymore because the world is ending.”

The simple answer to this is, the world will stop ending one day, and at that point, we need to have a plan. Recessions and even Great Depressions can do a lot to diminish egotism and make people work together for change (not to recall Obama here. Does he have a copyright on that word now? Hmmm.).

If there is anything that needs to find a new way, if there is anything that needs to pave a new road, it is journalism. It is the 4th Estate. It hasn’t been living up to its potential for some time now, and it’s suffering because of it. We need to strengthen the foundations, buck up, reduce overhead, learn to think like nonprofit executives, and keep it moving.

Oh, and we also need to teach the White House Press Corps to use Twitter. Can you imagine what that would do to journalism?

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