November 29, 2013

Big newspapers: Why they continue to struggle

This is going to be an updated roundup of individual posts I've done about the industry. Kind of a tabulator, for those interested in this issue in general.

Let me note a few things at the start.

1. I've worked in newspapers a number of years. I have worked at one seven-day daily, albeit not a huge one, so I have some experience on that side of the coin as well as my primary experience at smaller "community" newspapers.

2. As part of that experience, I've worked at two major chains: MediaNews and Freedom.

3. I'm not a Gnu Media guru. In many ways, I agree with the stronger critics of Gnu Media gurus, critics like Nicholas Carr and Yevgeny Morozov, especially on the issue of paywalls. They and others rightly note that Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky have spent their entire careers in academia, at public, taxpayer-funded institutions. That doesn't automatically disqualify them from talking about this issue from an anti-paywall stance, but it is a background consideration. Jeff Jarvis and Mathew Ingram, two other people who have had an anti-paywall history of some sort, both have backgrounds in actual newspaper work, so that's different.

3A. I believe that most such gurus, as I've blogged more than once, have misinterpreted Stewart Brand's "Information wants to be free" quote, primarily by ignoring his "Information wants to be pricey statement" in the very next statement of the speech he originally gave about this.

4. In the case of major dailies, I believe the likes of Jeff Bezos are right. Within 20 years, they probably should be looking at being digital only.

That said, here's that roundup.

1. In this blog post, with multiple themes, I start with the analogy of hardcopy newspapers and SUVs. From there, I go to how, from misplaced nostalgia to hypocrisy, the National Newspaper Association illustrates several other problems with big newspapers, and smaller ones, too, perhaps.

2. For the anti-paywallers who cite the Dallas Morning News or San Francisco Chronicle as to why they're right, I show this shows how they're wrong. 

And, if my word isn't enough?

People should read this piece by Jack Shafer. Shafer gives a good smackdown to the NYT's "Premier" premium website in specific, and to the concept of "premium" newspaper websites in general. Folks in Dallas, Boston, and San Fran, who think they can "sell" a premium website while keeping a totally free, totally unpaywalled basic one, should take note. But almost surely won't.  

3. An anti-paywaller can, it seems, grudgingly support the idea, but dodge the actual word like the plague.

4. I do agree with Gnu Media folks on critiquing reporting problems of the mainstream media when they happen. Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air is the latest example

5. If Bezos is right on going digital-only, newspapers will have to ramp up their game on digital ad sales. 

6. They're also going to have to figure out how to better deal with the "star power" issue, as the recent moves of David Pogue and Nate Silver away from the New York Times illustrate. I suggest micropayments being integrated into paywalls as at least part of the answer, whether at old media, news aggregators finally considering paywalls, or new media. That said, legacy media should not get into bidding wars to keep "stars," especially not with new media sites that continue to piss away money.

7. Beyond that, they (and smaller newspapers, acting like bloodsucking remoras at times), suffer from other dying industry problems. Stagnant pay. Re-advertising job openings because they know they can. Blind-box advertising for job openings. (Other industries may do the second and third at times, but not to the same degree, I don't think; ditto on blind box ads.) Related things like REALLY stretching jobs to the breaking point. For example, in November, I saw an ad for a news editor position. ONE news editor to run the wire and pagination for BOTH a seven-day AND a six-day daily. Yet, right. (And, it's by a company that, in another of its subdivisions, has a kind of bad reputation anyway.)

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