The arguments pro and cons have been going on for a while now, and they are getting more heated given the recent announcements of many print publications going out of business.
Headlines about the future of newspapers have been circulating for a couple of years now. Michael Kinsley at Time magazine concluded then that newspapers and news organizations needed to find solutions to their business model instead of just watching as it got cut to pieces.
Would we pay for news?
Yes, we get a lot of news online and information wants to be free. Yes, many bloggers or online portals are starting to look more and more like media in a new format. When AP conducted its research study on a new model for news based upon the deep-structure of young adult news consumption, it concluded that the fragmentation of the news channels and delivery models, as well as the user experience, are by and large disappointing.
Not everyone is online. Not all that is online is reliable and credible if it's not researched and balanced reporting. Journalists and editors matter a great deal. It's not just about the skill sets, which are in and of themselves very important - if and when the journalists do something interesting and important with them.
We need editors and journalists in new media in the same way we need them in any form of news presentation. Unless many more take on the role of researching and documenting reality from many angles, there is a need for accountability to news. The depth is missing from many of the horizontal reporting sites. Would we pay for depth? The AP report seemed to conclude that we would. Do we find that depth in newspapers?
What is circulation and how would we track it?
Online especially, circulation is split between direct and indirect. The way a story spreads is much more in the hands of those who think it adds value than in the distribution control of those who publish it. Digg is one such service that helps spread news. Some have argued that it is a system in decline. I have written about it here as a free, paid new media backchannel.
Circulation does not matter to advertising alone, it matters for PR purposes as well. Would you bother pitching a publication, especially a trade publication, for a new product launch if it had weak circulation? It could be an excellent publication, but if the numbers are not there, I suppose you wouldn't. Scale is still important in new media.
When I asked if you need trade media for a new product launch we had a pretty animated discussion. I was focusing on the news value to customers and prospects and their ability to get the information. Of course, there is value in third party reporting of the news. Is that the only role of newspapers?
Foreign newspapers have long taken a more opinion-driven angle to news. The US seems to have gone the entertainment route. Entertainment draws a different kind of crowd than good, solid news reporting. You get what you pay for, or do you?
Is the ad-sponsored content advantageous for the advertiser?
With marketing dollars getting tight, there needs to be a better return for the advertiser. The system in its current form isn't sustainable. There was an attempt by newspapers and Yahoo to create a mutually beneficial partnership a little over a year ago. It seems that after a good start, they may have squandered it.
Isn't the relevant advertising served as a side to search how Google makes its living? Who is very important for relevance and ROI? Can Google improve its search of news to include local papers? Probably. But is Google the answer to everything online?
Digital has changed how we view
media in many big ways. Digital media is no longer considered a channel but rather an entity in itself -
something where we don’t just watch or read but create, participate in,
share with others. It seems that advertising has not kept up with this change.
Whose job is it to save newspapers? Is it that of the advertisers or that of the news businesses? The one valid argument in favor of saving some form of paper news is for those who do not own a computer, who cannot afford a TV or a high def cable connection, those who have no phone lines to patch them to the world. But are they those who buy the newspapers?
It seems to me that there are two separate issues at play in this conversation:
- the news as a valuable tool for a thriving and informed society
- the news organizations and businesses that are failing to realize a profit
In the Wired comment thread, a journalist who signed as Joe writes:
I suspect we'd all vote for the news. But how does it get collected, analyzed, written up and reported in the first place? Should news be kept separate from PR and advertising to regain its mojo? What would that business model look like?
A recent Knowledge@Wharton article dovetails nicely on the discussion we had last week about the press tribe and online migration where content is a product. Some ideas to create a new business model that pays for the sometimes costly work of gathering news, while also squeezing a profit out of a readership whose options include the entire world wide web are:
- the philanthropic route
- the niche route
- the pay route
- the participation route
- the commercial route
What's your take? How would you turn a profit producing a reliable news product?