Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bus Thoughts

Usually when I get on the bus at 5 am to go to work, I sleep. This morning, I couldn't. Kept having thoughts relating to yesterday's newspaper/Shirky post pop into my head. So I woke up and wrote them down. As often happens with the things I write down early in the morning, later when I transcribe them, they make less sense. See what you think:

Another way fails the Shirky Test: it’s only an iteration of the freelancer model already in place, where revenue from a previously published story subsidizes the research for a current story. That “investors” have a chance of getting their money back to reinvest in another story is the different twist, but is that enough?, like freelancing, will cater to the special interest market, which has operated this way for print – and even online – news for years.

The reader habit of selectively reading the news was well in place before the Internet. People read what interests them in the newspaper, skimming over or simply discarding the rest. With the firehose of information now available – mostly for free – on the Internet, it’s a given that newspapers would fade in their importance in daily life. It’s just as simple for me to keep up with the comic strips I like on the web as it is in the newspaper, and I no longer have to be burdened by the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. As long as comic strip providers offer their stuff online for free – and that’s the vast, vast majority, especially of those already seen in newspapers – there’s no longer a reason for me to buy a paper to see the comics.

At newspapers, most beats are assigned by geography or, at best, specialization. Reporters might get to pick a few plum assignments, based on their interests and passions, but the nature of the newsroom now and always has been that with those plum assignments come some prunes. Some reporters do remarkably well in demonstrating their passion in all of the assignments they’re given. Others do not. Others let their passion for some beats and subjects override their objectivity – common currency at most newspapers today.

Newspaper journalists like to dismiss bloggers by saying they simply launch their lightning bolts and are not responsible to anyone. All I can say to that is: Look in the mirror, pal. There are plenty of print journalists, columnists, editors who use their positions to launch print thunderbolts and are responsible to the same people bloggers are: their readers. People who find a blog offensive are just as apt – no, more than apt – to rail rightly against the messenger as they are to rail against a messenger in print. The responsible journalist, as well as the responsible blogger, will strive, then, for accuracy and fairness, and respond quickly when errors are pointed out.

It’s almost as if it’s easier to interview the professor who can parse meaning from a poem than talking to the poet himself.

What might come to pass is the advent of Mom and Pop journalism – small teams, of maybe two to three individuals, working not for pay but through passion to produce local news content accurately and inexpensively on the Internet. We have things like the Riddenbaugh Press, operated by Randy Stapilus. The press, which does produce books, is best known for its news commentary on politics in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, he riffs off print and television journalism right now.

Then there are sites like, a growing spot on the Internet for local news and commentary in the Rexburg, Idaho area. It indeed serves a small audience. But it does serve that audience.

Addendum: Good reading here (Thanks, Carl) from the Christian Science Monitor which recently stopped publishing in print and went wholly online. (Love the line from reporter John Yemma, which is echoed heartily through the things I've been reading this week: "You can't take the old model with you. You can take your organization's values with you. But you can't take its work habits, as we are learning this week in our first week of the Web-first Monitor.") He brings up the idea of news wikis, in which -- and especially when -- traditional newspapers hide behind a paywall a challenge could come from outside journalists and others banding together with an internet-based news wiki. Unreliable? Biased? Prone to news-makers controlling the content? Yeah. But any more so than traditional newspapers? OK, maybe a little. But the crowd has more potential to sort out the rats in a wiki, because of the open-source nature of wikis themselves (think wikipedia).

And here, where one may read about suits being brought against people for linking their Web sites to other sites. Again, we see a few examples of online efforts failing the Shirky Test. His "Unthinkable Scenario" includes: "And, per [Gordy] Thompson, suing people who love something so much they want to share it would piss them off." More evidence that Internet readers won't enter through your front door. (Those initiating the suite are upset that, since readers aren't coming in through the front door, they're (the company) missing out on the advertising on the front page. Again, how is this different than the traditional newspaper model? I don't read every ad on the way to the stuff I want. I chuck the inserts. I'm bypassing their advertisers.)


carl g said...

Per that last E-commerce News article, see and

This whole issue is becoming huge, of course, but the AP will lose this battle. Of course.

carl g said...

Ok, I just have to comment again on a secondary article from a link I just gave, namely:

One of the comments is priceless (on a proposal to be discussed in a secret meeting of newspaper editors this week):

:Whether to demand payment from aggregators who now freely link to content from their sites.

I was wondering when this would come up. Sounds like using the worlds most difficult and complicated handgun to blow off one or more of your toes, once you've figured out how to work it.

Mister Fweem said...

The payment from aggregator thing simply shows these people have no idea how to handle internet traffic. There is no way they can handle how and when and from where people access their content. When the NYT gave up its paywall in 2007, they basically said, yeah, we've got 277,000 web-only subscribers bringing in $10 million a year in revenue. But we see that most of our traffic comes from google searches, from people who don't ahve paid accounts. They come, they leave because we're making them pay. That's gotta stop.

There are even papers who are suing people who have linked to their sites without permission. That's tantamount to suing someone for clipping something out of the paper and sticking it to the fridge with a magnet, or passing an already read paper or magazine on to someone who does not subscribe. I like your handgun and toe analogy, because that's exactly what it is.

Mister Fweem said...

Whomever comes up with viable solutions to this mess is going to be regarded as the most influential journalist/internet genius of the 21st century. Shirky is exactly right in comparing this transition from print to web a revolution in communication. What it's all going to boil down to is figuring out where the money is coming from to pay the people who produce the content. I don't believe there is a silver bullet out there, but it's going to be a combination of things.