Archives for category: Print Is Dead

Today The New York Times‘ David Carr published an article in which he argues that newspapers’ firing of the most experienced staffers will lead to a drop in profits, a drop in ads, and an inability of those papers to do a good job.

It sounded eerily familiar. Like from a dream. I could have sworn I said that two days ago.

Will let you know what Carr says to my email asking, basically, if he read my blog. I can’t say the truth wasn’t apparent to all who had eyes, but I did write about it first.

(This is the post that disappeared. My mistake.)

Sobering news – my company is laying off 600 people. And I’m one of them.

I volunteered to take a buyout because I just can’t take it anymore.

No, not the dwindling prospects for a long career in the print business (and no, not the endless assignments to follow celebrities around the city); but the company’s and the industry’s extraordinarily high faith in the Internet as the only route to profits.

Look. I get it. Advertisers are pulling back and trying to refocus their efforts on blogs and websites. Even The Christian Science Monitor is shredding its daily print edition. Isn’t that a sign that the proverbial sky is falling?

Actually, no. This rush to the ‘net for real news (not celebrity news) will not last forever (maybe 5 more years) and I’m sure of it. What the publishing industry needs to do now is focus on re-creating a product that held intrinsic value, and finding and re-acclimating their core readership instead of alienating those people by focusing on 24-7 celebrity coverage (this is for you, Associated Press).

Because if you look deeply, you’ll see that the “advertising on blogs” idea is a fad that’s a) predicated on nothing but fear, eschewing real numbers and profits (pretty much exactly like our current stock market volatility) and b) paradoxically both way overdue and incoherently rushed.

The titans of media who oversee the biggest conglomerates are about 10 years late and $2,000 short, with regard to putting the bulk of their product online (this should have happened circa 1998), and monetizing said online product ($20 for 1,000 impressions? Are you insane? Why not give it away?)

Too afraid to take risks on the ‘net when it was young, newspapers and magazines instead had to follow a trail blazed by seedy amateur writers flocking to free websites peddling their over-leveraged, snarky opinions. But the corporate journalists could never be that bold! It was a race they were doomed to lose.

Similar short-sightedness and lack of creativity is why those same companies will never reap the same revenue online as they have with their print products. They have consistently refused to charge what it’s worth for advertisers to their web magazines AND as a result, out of precedent, they’ll never be able to charge what it’s really worth for advertisers to their web magazines. They have also dumbed-down their product.

Online readers are not willing to knowingly “be advertised to” in the sort of data-mining, giving up their address and income information to a company. This is a different breed of “consumer.” This is the type of “consumer” who hates that label. For that reason, and more, you simply can’t account for readers online the way you can with a tangible magazine or newspaper, and once advertisers realize nobody clicks on their ads anyway, they will pull back from the Internet as well.

And at a certain point, our economy might get so bad that people will stop paying for wireless and cable, which will be the final death blow to television (BTW, people aren’t completely thrilled about the government mandating that they get an DTV if they want to ever watch tv again).

The Internet is a great tool. It should not be the future of journalism (There are still too many questions and variables)…but…

So, why is print still dead? Because nobody is offering anything of substance!

People enjoyed watching Britney Spears slowly almost kill herself over and over and over again for a while. They enjoyed watching it on the Internet, and truthfully, that’s the right place for such a story. There is no reason the AP should have hired 20 reporters to follow her around Hollywood, to file news wires to send to reputable news agencies on her downward spiral. Ick.

When our country enters the Depression 2.0, people will actually start to crave real news again. I do believe there is a way to put real news on the Internet without sacrificing its believability at the altar of the blogosphere, but we’re not there yet. We’re not nearly there.

At the point that we’ll need real news again, all the media agencies will be suffering from a dearth of cash, as well as talent. They will have laid off all of the intelligent, thoughtful, analytical reporters in exchange for cheap college grads ready and willing to give up their personal lives for a byline, but with nothing of value to offer an organization. You won’t be able to adequately report on anything of substance.

This is why readers have been slowly leaving print for the past 10 years or more! But big media companies don’t get it. Their relentless pursuit of the bottom-of-the-barrel readership (opportunistic, as it is) has alienated the only dedicated loyal readers they had.

Those “professional readers” if you will allow me that much, are now getting their news in the form of direct analysis from research agencies and foreign news services. They know that the American public is being led into an information bubble, and they don’t want to take it anymore.

We’re rapidly entering a period in which the 4th Estate will cease to exist. Everyone’s blaming the Internet. But it’s not their fault. Instead, newspapers and magazines attempted to compete with the internet, entering a race with bloggers which by definition could not be won except by giving up their self-worth. They stopped breaking news. They stopped caring about expertise. They underestimated their consumers.

And that is why print is dead.

(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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