No Future! A pessimistic and money-grubbing view of journalism

October 13, 2009

The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph.

Rupert Murdoch, Beijing, October 2009

The writing is on the wall…but actually the content creators were not in Beijing with Rupert Murdoch; they’re scattered across the globe and Murdoch wants their content, he just doesn’t want to pay for it.

Can you imagine a future without journalism: a time in which journalists are replaced by “content directors” and amateurs?

As journalist and commentator Peter Kirwan put it in Wired magazine:

If traditional journalism is too expensive, and if user-generated content really is “good enough”, the way forward seems obvious.

For some news industry managers, this is a happy prospect: they can legitimately get rid of the expensive journalists, take your amateur copy for free and rake in the profits.

Read the rest of this entry »


Karl du Fresne sees some sort of reddish light down a dark blue tunnel

June 14, 2009

I must be the first to congratulate Fairfax columnist Karl du Fresne for a well-considered column about the collapse of newspapers:

Why newspapers are falling over – and why we still need them

Intent on maximising profit, the new breed of proprietors have slashed costs and shed staff. Inevitably, their papers have suffered.

It’s a vicious circle: profits fall, so the owners cut staff numbers and close branch offices or overseas bureaus to save money. The paper’s quality then slips, so fewer people buy it. Advertisers note the declining circulation figures and take their business elsewhere. Thus profit continues to decline, to which the company’s response is to … cut costs by getting rid of more staff. And on it goes in a downward spiral.

In the US, some newspaper companies compounded their problems by greedily acquiring other titles, using borrowed money, and are now struggling under a massive debt burden.

It all adds up to what American journalism professor Robert McChesney, in a recent interview on Radio New Zealand, called a collapse of journalism.

It’s amazing that Karl du Fresne didn’t break out in hives just thinking about writing the passages cited above.

And what about Karl’s rusted-on adherence to the “free market”? Surely the newspaper owners are only acting as they might be expected: maximising shareholder value by cutting costs etc. But “a vicious circle”…That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. the profit system is a vicious circle, it’s part of the problem. And “greedily acquiring other titles”…again that’s how the free market works. it’s a system built on greed and vicious circles. That’s why McChesney argues about the collapse of newspapers, the crisis and possible collapse of journalism.

Karl, you’re sounding like an “avowed socialist”. That’s excellent, comrade, keep it up. Maybe we could work together to prevent the collapse of journalism.

This is a remarkable turn-around. Just two weeks ago, Karl wrote a piece that appeared on his blog with the headline Why leftist academics hate the media. It was a strident attack on people like me who talk about McChesney and political economy in flattering tones. My reply is here: Old habitus die hard…

Of course Robert McChesney is about as left as it gets in US media criticism. He’s never been a journalist and he’s about as academic as it’s possible to be. One slight criticism, McChesney’s not a journalism professor, as Karl writes, he’s actually a professor of media and political economy of communication. A small point, but accuracy counts.

McChesney”s also a political activist for media democracy, through the organisation he founded, Free Press.

Anyway, the point is that Ethical Martini doesn’t bear a grudge and tries not to get too personal. So, well done Karl, keep up the right/left kind of thinking. We could have a beautiful friendship.

But, I really do need to ask: “Why Karl?” and “Why now?”


When is a newspaper no longer a newspaper?

February 2, 2009

There’s been some movement over the last year of newspapers dropping their print edition and becoming online-only. Which raises an interesting philosphical question: When does a newspaper stop being a newspaper?

For example, the Christian Science Monitor will stop publishing a daily print edition in April 2009 while offering a weekly subscription print product and a continuously updated online version (edition? publication?).

Does the CSM then stop being a newspaper? More importantly is this how newspapers will “die”?

While discounting for the inevitable puffery of self-reporting, this is how the CSM described its shift in an October 2008 online editorial:

While the Monitor’s print circulation, which is primarily delivered by US mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, “looking forward, the Monitor’s Web readership clearly shows promise,” said Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. “We plan to take advantage of the Internet in order to deliver the Monitor’s journalism more quickly, to improve the Monitor’s timeliness and relevance, and to increase revenue and reduce costs. We can do this by changing the way the Monitor reaches its readers.” [Monitor shifts from print to web-based strategy]

Three things about this:

“improving timeliness and relevance”; “increase revenue” and “reduce costs”.

The first is not really questionable. Of course continuous editorial updates are timely and relevant. But how is the Monitor going to increase revenue? Obviously by reducing costs – newsprint, delivery, etc – but this does not equate to an increase in online advertising necessarily.

It seems that the jury’s still out on that whole issue. According to an analysis piece in the LA Times, the CSM strategy is risky because online advertising revenue is not guaranteed and the paper takes an immediate hit in subscription income.

But the change will present considerable risks. Unlike most daily newspapers, the five-day-a-week Monitor receives the bulk of its revenue from subscriptions, not advertising.

The Monitor plans a new weekly magazine to maintain its print presence, but that is expected to bring in only a fraction of the $9.7-million circulation revenue it receives annually. To compensate, the publication will have to increase online advertising dramatically. [Monitor to discontinue daily print edition]

The whole shift also raises another question. If it’s no longer a newspaper, what does the newsroom look like? Read the rest of this entry »