Monday, March 9, 2009

Fine News Reporting There, Lou

Speak (or blog) about the Devil, and there you find Garry Trudeau, already on top of it. I've long enjoyed reading of Roland Hedley's transformation from an incompetent purveyor of news in mainstream media into his current form as an incompetent purveyor of news in new media. From his heady days at Yap!.com where his sign-on and sign-off were all the story because that's all the bandwidth people had in those days to today, where Roland is still the story Roland wants to tell, it's been a wild trip. No matter that he's doing his new media drips for Fox News. I've long considered Fox News as the most Internety of the news sites, so to see these Internet memes coming out in Hedley's fictional work for Fox is hilarious.

I've been blogging for just over a year now (this is, in fact, my 500th post). I'm on Facebook. This weekend, I started up on Twitter -- though the secret there is going to be to find something to say in a way that's actually interesting and helpful to, I don't know, me, I suppose. Because that's about the only reason I can see to blog and tweet and such -- because no one is really listening. Perhaps that's why Roland cultivates his fan base and worries about being called out for his shout out so much -- what would an Internet celebrity be without his or her fan base, or at least the idiot hangers-on waiting for Roland to barrel into another train wreck of a news report.

This brings me into the bigger world of paid content versus free content (a very odd aside, but one that's pertinent to this post). Televised news has a natural edge over print news because, in general, TV news has always been free -- all you needed was that gogglebox and a set of rabbit ears, and you could suck the news right out of the air. Then came cable, and people decided it was great to pay for TV, but never thought about having to pay for the news because, hey, you could still get it for free. Then came the Internet and now all you need is a smaller gogglebox and a broadband connection and, just like the beer from Elsinore Breweries at Oktoberfest in Toronto, "all ze news is free."

Except if you're from a print news source. Oh, they put up their news for free and suddenly found out nobody wanted to subscribe any more, because why pay for something if they're offering the same thing for free elsewhere? Print media are still trying to figure this out. Specialty journals, such as those I could be reading as I pursue a masters degree in technical writing, go the subscription route both in print and online, so I forego reading any of their material, being the cheap bastard that I am. So newspapers switched to the "pay for what you read online" idea -- but just try telling folks on the Internet that they have to pay for something you used to offer free of charge and watch them whine. Now the idea is that micropayments will be the savior of online print news -- but those who say that forget that it's already been tried, in the form of a newspaper subscription, either for the dead tree edition or online. And I, for one, ain't buying. A few weeks ago, the New York Times wanted to charge me 99 cents for a one-time peek at a 140-word story published in 1929. I decided it just wasn't worth a dollar to buy one story.

So, do print publications continue to subsidize free online content? Do print sources continue to ask for payment for online content, scaring away potential customers, either with a subscription or nickel-dime approach? Or do they, like Roland, surrender and figure that their involvement in the news is their ticket to purveying the news through social networking sites? I don't know the answer. If I did, many people would be beating a path to my door. As it is, my sister, brother-in-law and one friend in England (Hi, Martin!) will read this, while the rest of the world is ignorant that I'm even giving them a shout-out.

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