Associated Press Head Tom Curley bemoaned the state of the news industry in New York last night, observing that Google, Yahoo (YHOO), et al, are taking honorable news gatherers to the cleaners. Before Tom’s speech, we actually thought AP (if not newspapers) was in a decent position to survive the creative destruction that is destroying old media fortunes. Apparently we were wrong. (Speech here. Rafat write-up here).
The irony of the disrupted news economy of the 21st century is that the news is hot, but the news business is not.
Except for Google News, Bloomberg, blogs, et al.
Somewhere in that mysterious disconnect lies the future of news — and some great opportunities for content providers.
Some content providers.
We — the news industry — have come to that fork in the road. We must take bold, decisive steps to secure the audiences and funding to support journalism’s essential role in both our economy and democracy, or find ourselves on an ugly path to obscurity.
The portals are running off with our best stuff, and we’re afraid or unable to make or enforce deals that drive fair value.
“Unable” probably the right word (and not because of wimpiness or stupidity).
Revenue lines in a good month are flat. In other months, they inspire the merchants of debt to imagine how they might take us over and show us how much smarter they are.
Refreshing clarity of self-vision.
Our own reporters ridicule our digital transition plans as one great organisation or another faces ownership changes, most notably Knight Ridder, Tribune and Dow Jones.
Can you blame them?
When an experienced media operator steps up, such as Murdoch, he gets vilified. News Corp. has been a hugely successful, long-term operator. Even before taking ownership, Murdoch has changed financial journalism for the better in this city.
Hear, hear! Finally, someone in the news business admits that it’s a business.
We who rule content must start making decisions, the ones that deliver journalism for another generation of readers and viewers.
Suggested edit: “We who ruled content, before portals, blogs, news-bots, and hundreds of millions of citizen journalists arrived, must start making some tough decisions about what on earth we’re going to do about it.”
I’ve been inside many major news organisations the last couple years, and, invariably, I hear the same refrain. We know what to do, but we can’t get it done.
Don’t know about the “We know what to do” part, but otherwise spot on.
So, a few more things might have to change…The first thing that has to go is the attitude. Our institutional arrogance has done more to harm us than any portal.
There’s still a place for appointment media — a home-delivered newspaper on the porch each morning or an evening newscast while making dinner.
For a few more years.
Our focus must be on becoming the very best at filling people’s 24-hour news needs. That’s a huge shift from the we-know-best, gatekeeper thinking.
Yes, and a tough one, considering that 90% of profit comes from traditional gate-keeping.
Sourcing, fact-gathering, researching, story-telling, editing, packaging aren’t going away. These professional skills still should command premium wages.
Yes, but a lot fewer people are going to earn them. And unions aren’t going to help prevent companies from going out of business.
Next to go must be despair. We begin by getting our heads around the most important fact of all: we work in a growth industry. The woe-is-us over the decline in appointment media obscures terrific opportunities.
Yes, Google is hiring.
More people are accessing news more frequently than ever before the world over. All media platforms — video, audio, digital and even text — are seeing growth. Demand for the four major content areas — news, entertainment, sports and financial — continues to rise. Financial news is hottest with companies such as News Corp. and Thomson paying premiums for bigger shares.
This is why Google is hiring.
The journey to the next generation news begins with us believing in ourselves and what we do. In 273 years since John Peter Zenger was jailed, nothing has been invented to take the place of what reporters and committed news organisations do. Above all, it is about speaking truth to power when power most needs to be told.
Yes, but as usual, some self-important stuff here about mainstream media having a monopoly on truth-seeking. Do we need professional reporters and editors? Of course. Do we need them to work for the same corporations who controlled and profited from news for 200 years? No.
We have the power to control how our content flows on the Web.
Well, sort of. You can choose to have your content flow (and be read), or you can choose to have it not flow (and be irrelevant). You cannot simply demand to be paid a living wage for it.
Those of us in content must accept today’s reality. The marketplace has flipped. For the last couple hundred years, content has carried ads. In today’s Internet, ads carry content.
You mean the business model that has always paid for news gathering is clearer and more efficient now? Yes.
Let me be emphatic about one point. I’m not suggesting the ad department or advertisers tell us what to write. Or that content has in any way become subservient. Simply, the structure for advertising is changing from mass to targeted.
We must change how we charge for content. In the financial marketplace, hot news is the most valuable of all. Hedge funds pay premiums, add spiders and link to trading programs. One-size-fits-all on the business side has to evolve. Tiered pricing with premiums for timeliness or comprehensiveness is one option.
Very good idea. But hedge funds will only pay $50,000/yr for news no one else has.
Great content always has needed great distribution. These days that means deals have to be done with portals, especially those with promising new ad models and capabilities. But the deals have to be good deals.
Yes. And there lies the problem.
Most news organisations did deals years ago for promotion. The deals are one-sided. Job one for industry leaders should be doing whatever it takes to get a fair deal even if they must swallow some decades-long enmities and partner for more clout.
Age-old enmities definitely a problem, but real problem is antique delivery technology and business models.
We need the bulletins and the brains. The bulletins are the first 150 words, getting the news out fast, in conversational radio fashion. The brains are the people who can add real value whether through perspective, deeper reporting or great writing. In short, we need talent, a lot of it and some of it very different.
Think of it as a mix from news radio to The New Yorker all under one roof with the New York Public Library thrown in — for a really great data base and interactive programs with the public. Sounds crazy, but it could be lot of fun.
That’s why we love it!
We’re going to have to organise and manage differently. And we certainly are going to have to retrain our managers to deal with a range of personalities and functions.
Now, you’re talking.
Every generation or so ushers in a different expression of content. We’re about a decade overdue. Multi-media presentation has gotten the buzz. The challenge is far greater than putting some of us pencil heads on-air without hitting the carriage return in mid-sentence.
We’re wedded to words even when pictures tell the story. The focus has to be on the best way to tell the story whether words, pictures or both and without regard to format.
We also must speed up our clock to real time. When I started, in the sixties, the news cycle was 12 hours. Today, it’s three hours – about the time it takes for a significant percentage of the people interested in a story to have encountered the story or the news they need. Yet, newspapers and newscasts run with lead stories of marginal interest that are 20-plus hours old.
Finally, and, most important, editors need to stop pining for the old world and intensify the leading to the new.
Great editors connect with readers and viewers. They build — or to use the vernacular — aggregate audiences, big or niche, with value, social currency and, ultimately, impact on the political process or social norms.
Easiest way to do this and profit from it? Join Silicon Alley Insider, et al. We’re hiring!
We are approaching an amazing point in the history of media. Quality will rule. With traffic to destination websites flattening and new distribution making all content accessible, we’re entering a new era of brutal competition.
Not sure about the “quality” part, but hope so.
And we need to regain control over distribution.
Doubt you can.
AP last week presented to its board a dramatic new distribution plan for news that would surface more relevant and timely news through the Internet engines and enable linking and viral sharing of news through widgets and the like.
Will be interesting to watch.
Lest you think we’re going off the deep end and giving it all away for free, we’re coupling those initiatives with strong new efforts to protect news web sites from unauthorised scraping through tighter site protocols and content tagging. We also hope to strike some attractive new distribution deals with valuable advertising support.
Look forward to seeing.
There can no longer be any excuse to wait for technology to prove itself or to wait for young people to grow up and subscribe to the daily newspaper or turn on the news at 6:30 at night. The future is as clear as it was when the founders of AP rallied around the use of the telegraph in the 19th century.
In fact, if you read the history of those days, you could make an argument that those guys reacted more quickly to the shift they saw. You can bet that if they saw a Google, a Yahoo or a Facebook, they would have figured out what to do about them.
Apply for job? Start start-ups? Go into education business, like Washington Post?
If we make the right moves, or even some of them, we have tremendous opportunities to grow — at AP and all our organisations. The new power users of news around the world have unprecedented access and appetites for information. The challenge for all of us is to build the kind of content powers that can flood the new zones of consumption and thrive both financially and journalistically. In the broad arc of media history, it’s a very big moment. I hope you’re all as excited as I am to be a part of it. And ready to step up to the decisions.
Long live great journalism! Less-long live (we think) many of the traditional news corporations.
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