Reactions to the death of a once-wildly profitable 200-year old business model have been mixed.
Some people equate newspapers with journalism and say that the end of newspapers is the end of civilisation. Others celebrate the creative destruction that has disintermediated gatekeepers and allowed sources to speak directly to readers. Some shrug. Some yawn. Some yell. Some cry. Some have barely noticed.
A bright light in Seattle about to go out, Jon Hahn.
…It’s NOT just the economy, stupid. The paper is closing in no small way because of those of us who’d rather get our “news” online, on our cell phones, on our car radios and other electronic media. Those alternatives aren’t bad, or evil, or even the enemy, which is how we newspaper folks often characterised them. We grumbled but accepted the new media and admitted they were pretty slick.
But like thousands of (soon-to-be-former) readers, I’m something of a Luddite. I want the in-depth news of real, ink-stain-on-the-kitchen-counter newspapers that dig and sift for weeks and months and give you more information on one page than a full, half-hour news broadcast. And I don’t want to sit in front of some damn terminal and click my way through copy bordered with blinking advertisements. Our dog brings the P-I into the kitchen after breakfast and we spread it out on the counter in that read’nfeed protocol common to many homes. But not enough homes.
This is what a revolution looks likes, says Clay Shirky:
The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. . . . Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.
And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
This is nothing less than the death of real journalism, Arthur Sulzberger, NYT
Journalism – whether published in newspapers or magazines, broadcast on television or on the radio; or consumed online or on a mobile device – is under enormous stress, both from the permanent shifts set off by the Internet and from the cyclical forces unleashed by this current severe economic downturn…
Our children need Real Journalism: They need reassurance that the world is not coming to an end and that history teaches us that humankind is quite resilient, especially during periods of crises and controversy. They need to know that we have persevered during World Wars, a Great Depression and the Cold War and we have the wherewithal to overcome what we face today…
Together we can create a future where quality journalism thrives, where it lives organically alongside the many new forms of user generated content, amid the chaotic and swirling global conversation taking place on the Web.
In the old days, it might have taken months for details from a John Sculley keynote to make to the College Hill Bookstore; now the lag is seconds, with dozens of people liveblogging every passing phrase from a Jobs speech. There are 8,000-word dissections of each new release of OS X at Ars Technica, written with attention to detail and technical sophistication that far exceeds anything a traditional newspaper would ever attempt. Writers like Jon Gruber or Don Norman regularly post intricate critiques of user interface issues. (I probably read 20 mini-essays about Safari’s new tab design.)…
The state of Mac news in 1987 was a barren desert. Today, it is a thriving rain forest. By almost every important standard, the state of Mac news has vastly improved since 1987: there is more volume, diversity, timeliness, and depth.
It’s not the business model–it’s the debt, Andrew Edgecliff-Johnson at the FT.
[I]t is servicing debt that represents one of the largest costs for many publishers. A Moody’s analysis of six large operators in November found all but Gannett had debts above four times their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. In Tribune’s case, the multiple was 12.3. “A number of these newspaper companies are still reasonably good businesses but the problem is they took on too much debt,” says Mr Mutter.
Others estimate that industry profitability is even higher. Mr Knee says newspapers enjoy margins well above those of film studios or music labels – providing a cushion against falling revenues. But to reduce debt multiples to a more sustainable 2-3 times ebitda, tough restructuring will be required. “In some cases bankruptcy may be a good option,” Ms Stratigos says, because it allows publishers to deal with union contracts, pension liabilities and other operational costs.
Newspapers are toast, but journalism is thriving, Alan Mutter.
[J]ournalism is thriving as never before, despite (or, perhaps, because of) the implosion of the businesses that traditionally have supported the press.
The challenge for those who are, or who aim to be, journalists is to find a way to afford to do what you ought to do, what you want to do and what society desperately needs you to do.
It won’t be easy…
For all the fear and frustration among journalists today, however, the vision of next-generation journalism is beginning to materialise beyond the smoking ruins of the once-invincible business models that supported a vigorous and independent press in the decades since World War II…
If you define journalism as something produced by a traditional newspaper, magazine or broadcaster, then, yes, journalism is in trouble. But that’s a limited, if not to say anachronistic, definition of journalism in an age when cheap, easy-to-use and widely available interactive technology has democratized the creation, discovery and acquisition of information.
If you define journalism as the activity that allows people to learn from each other what is happening in their world, then journalism is alive and well at Facebook, Twitter, Slashdot, mums Like Me, Last.FM and thousands of other online communities.
As but one example of the ferocious growth of participatory sites, the 1.5 million hours of video contributed to YouTube in the first six months of 2008 was greater than all the programming produced by the Big Three broadcast networks since their inception 60 years ago, according to Michael Wesch, a professor at Kansas State University whose landmark study of the phenomenon is here.
To be sure, not everything on Facebook or YouTube would be construed as journalism by even the most generous observer. But the value of the content is in the eye of the beholder. And those are the places, not mainstream media websites, that are being beheld ever more frequently by modern consumers.
If you define journalism as an activity where an intermediary tells people what is happening in their world, then journalism’s vital signs are somewhere between stable and strong at Muncie Free Press, Westport Now, Minnpost, and Crosscut – to name a few of dozens of alternative local news sites that have sprung up as staff cuts and shrinking news holes have compromised the coverage of news organisations across the land.
Not one, but two, online entities are moving into the void created by the relentless hollowing out of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Voice of San Diego, which debuted as a non-profit alterative to the U-T in 2005, will get head-on, online competition this week from the newly launched San Diego News Network. SDNN, a for-profit venture, will combine original reporting with content aggregated from several print and broadcast partners.
If you define journalism as something produced by citizens who step in where big-time journalists seldom tread, then journalism is registering at least a discernable pulse at places like Chi-Town Daily News, Patch, Bakersfield Voice and the new The Local section of the New York Times.
Spot.Us, an intriguing experiment that represents a variation on the citizen-journalism theme, encourages visitors to its site to fund stories they would like to see covered. When the funding target is met, journalists produce the articles for as little as $200 per story. That’s not enough, of course, for the downpayment on even a foreclosed condo in most places. But it is getting a bit of journalism done.
Read any more smart takes, pro or con? Please send links, and we’ll post them here. [email protected].