Monday, March 9, 2009

Baby, You Can Drive My Carr

There's going to be plenty of pushback on Alan Carr's NYT piece about how to save the newspaper, so I'll keep this short and sweet:
  • Any industry which says it can only be saved by collusion is suspect on its face. Any decent journalist would scream bloody murder if that was suggested by, say, the financial services industry or the airlines or — closer to home — a Starbucks/Caribou cartel.
  • The excellent examples of fee-based online services Carr cites cover niche topics, not geographical communities (except for The Arkansas Gazette, which gives away aggregator-length snippets). Odd argument, since these publications are doing exactly what newspapers aren't doing, by organizing around subjects rather than territory and not making me subsidize sports coverage I don't want. (Carr left out the Financial Times, which charges more than any of his examples and has an even more narrowly-defined clientelle.)
  • Google doesn't need you. Repeat: Google doesn't need you. You, however, might need Google, or something very much like it which tells people who have never heard of you that you've done some excellent work today. What percentage of your traffic comes from the homepage, again?
  • Aggregators do more than build "audiences and brands on other people’s labors." They provide a service readers find compelling. What is that? Brevity? Greater variety? Better writing? Decent design? No registration speedbumps? Rather than bemoan the success of a competitor one might copy it. And, while we're at it, how exactly do you shut down aggregators when you can't own the facts, whatever else you do to build paywalls?
News gatherers are correct to assert that they do heavy lifting, and I, too, fear a scenario in which news gathering is divorced from news publishing, and the latter is controlled by entities with no journalistic tradition. So, news gathering has to be saved. But newspapers? The "What to do" argument is misplaced if it depends on anti-competitive behavior and taking out your frustrations on a medium. It's like arguing that gravity is bad.

There is a way out of this, but it requires a tremendous re-think and the wholesale abandonment of pet notions and even a loss of the trappings of power. Newspapers have been threatened for generations and were handed a gift in the internet — a way to increase audience and finally compete with television (a previous bogey man) on television's own terms, for one thing. But rather than capitalize on this and think different 15 years ago newspaper owners have acted more like their illusory monopoly on an audience was a birthright and all they had to do was shovel everything online because that is what they had and we liked it and where are you going to go, anyway?

Sounds like self-satisfied inertia of the Big Three automakers, who are only now acting as if they have found religion after watching their competitors prepare for the obvious, inevitable paradigm shift when times were good (or at least better). Whose fault is it that newspapers are more like Detroit than Silicon Valley, or even Bangalore?

To survive, newspapers have to organize around an entirely different set of principles rather than try to push the illogical premise that the one-to-many bits model is the only way to save journalism. That's not only bad business, it's bad reporting.

1 comment:

sugar said...

So, we are all more likely to desire direct communication/information. Getting info from the source - immediate and not distilled or reworked by a third party.

Great post. Google doesn't need them - it is quite true.