September 24, 2013

Gnu Media guru Mathew Ingram once again isn't ...

Isn't a guru, that is.

He can write a whole column about how modern online journalism still seems to have no viable financial model and not even mention the word "paywall."

The closest he can come is this:
Obviously, some media outlets charge for their news and are still in business — the Wall Street Journal, for example, or the New York Times or Financial Times.  
Which he then treats as back-of-the-hand giving later in the same paragraph with this:
But even they are not pictures of financial health: they have all had to cut staff, and to some extent the NYT and WSJ are subsidized by the largesse of their owners.
Ahh, wrong!

The NYT makes more off circ, including its paywall for the online version, than it now does on ads. How much of that is due to the robustness of its paywall, and how much of it is due to ongoing anemia of both the print and online advertising world, I don't know. But, there you go. 

This is nothing new for Ingram, as I've blogged before. For him, as for compadres, the anti-paywall mindset of the Gnu Media gurus is still that entrenched. The Jay Rosens, Jeff Jarvises and Clay Shirkys continue to have varying degrees of opposition.

And yet, Ingram can then pair that column with this one lauding the decline of journalism because it's producing more innovation. Except that he doesn't like innovation in the world of paywalls a lot.

That said, on the content side, the second column's a dud. Talking about the Boston Globe using a Twitter-based system as a new news aggregator? Hot Twitter topics aren't always journalism; I could argue that, with this, the Globe is at risk of becoming a swankier BuzzFeed. Or simply pass on not just viralized fluff, but clearly wrong, viralized false information. It's happened before, as in Superstorm Sandy, which Shirky simply ignored when touting crowdsourcing a while back, as I note here.

As for the Washington Post experimenting with a new display on mobile devices for trending story lines, he says:
Again, this probably isn’t going to make the difference between profitability and unprofitability for the Post, but it is a welcome sign of experimentation and a desire to learn how to present content differently for a mobile, digital audience.
Well, there you go. Experiment away. But ... don't put up a paywall for it.

Worry about your monetization, cash flow, revenue, whatever term you want. But, even if you know it's not the be-all or end-all, don't talk about a paywall, don't think about a paywall, for doorknob's sake don't put up a paywall, and, if you do do that, for double doorknob's sake, don't actually make the paywall very strong.

That's because Steward Brand said information wants to be free, didn't he?

For those unfamiliar with it, I once again post the full paragraph that contains Stewart Brand’s “information wants to be free” statement.

If you aren’t familiar with it, I’ll post it now:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
The issue at hand is what “free” means, whether to Brand himself, or others.

A number of people argue that it means “free to access,” and not “free of cost,” though the free to access may include lowered cost. It’s unclear which one Brand meant. Some claim he meant the former more, but, if we're talking in terms of parallelisms, the latter seems more likely.

That said, because the “free” part is one half of a polarity, it’s clear that Brand was NOT saying that information should be free. There’s no blanket espousal of that by him.

But the Ingrams and others don't tell you that. That's why they're Gnu Media Gurus.

However, what they don't tell you is that Old Media have listened to them less and less on the issue of paywalls in the past year or so. Of course, the Gnu Media Gurus will respond, "that just illustrates why they're still Old Media," even as Ingram notes, in his first link, that online-only sites generally aren't doing well either.

That includes the irony of Ingram writing for a site called Paid Content, which may pay him for its content, but has no paywall and probably damned few ads.

Massimo Pigliucci did a very good job of addressing the "information wants to be free" meme earlier this year.

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