Why newspapers are struggling to adapt
For years now, newspapers have been desperately searching and essentially flailing about as to what to do and how to confront or adapt to the emergence of the Internet as an information medium. They're confronting a phenomena that radically alters the playing field they've held for centuries, and facing competition from innumerable sources of news, entertainment, want ads, and everything else papers traditionally offered.
In addition to the competition from other sources of news, and the many who essentially gather together news and distill it into easily digestible form, complete with links if a reader wants to go further in depth, newspapers have to try to figure out how their business model can be altered to include the net.
For many years, papers simply offered their content online for free, with a very few exceptions, notably the Wall Street Journal, which charged subscriptions to their online version from the beginning. The New York Times attempted to make part of their content subscription only, and it failed, forcing them to go back to a free basis.
And of course the Dispatch/Argus, which went with excluding anyone who isn't a subscriber from the beginning, (and even those who are due to glitches with their system which prevents access). The D/A is apparently content to limit their viewership on the gamble that anyone would care to see their content, 98% of which can be easily found elsewhere online, so badly that they'd cough up $50 a year for the privilege of getting their content complete with paid ads on Quad City Online. (I guess it's the cable concept. Get ad revenue and then charge people to see the ads.) Not sure how that's working for them, but it must not be too bad, as they haven't changed a thing.
Many papers and others for whatever reason felt threatened by blogs. Articles huffing and puffing, scorning and demeaning blogs routinely appeared across the country.
A local writer interviewed me in order to do a hit piece in a local paper blasting blogs in general and anonymous bloggers in particular, and other less venomous writers sought to pick my brains as well for pieces on this new and strange phenomena.
Despite their decidedly unappreciative, if not hostile stance against blogs, papers suddenly decided to start their own, such as they are, by allowing comments on their pieces and sometimes having reporters write their own blogs aside from their articles for print, (including the late, lamented blog written by John Beydler, a truly excellent writer and reporter.) thus displaying a wondrous hypocrisy on that level.
The D/A sent me a couple stern complaints, including one immediately after I'd inadvertently forgotten to add a link to the article I'd excerpted. (probably the only one out of hundreds... I apologized and corrected it.)
They seemed to think I was really raking in the bucks as well, and they didn't like that, not realizing as anyone should have, that if I'm quoting parts of their content and generating interest in the topic complete with a link to the full story on their site, I'm driving MORE traffic to them, not taking it away. But I guess the blog=bad thing was stuck in their heads at the time.
They didn't like it at all that anyone was using even a small portion of their content, (covered by the fair use doctrine). But then they started the blog link page which still exists whereby they gladly use many blog's content as a means of attracting visits to their site. Ah well.
It's worked out well, as the link page provides a central place for people to peruse what's out there, and it's benefited blogs by driving traffic. I see it as a win/win.
I can report by vast experience that papers weren't the only ones who had positively no clue what blogs were, how they operated or why, and how to regard them, as people routinely demonstrated their sometimes stunning ignorance in their comments. It was truly as if they were confronting a 5-headed purple half giraffe half hippopotamus. They had no idea how to react.
They thought I was doing it for the money. They thought I was trying to run for office. (HA!) Or, that I was making some big play for "political power". (double HA!)That I was this, that, or the other person. That when other blogs finally appeared, they'd surely take "business" away from my blog and run it out of "business" and I'd be ruined, (they fervently hoped) and other similarly ridiculous notions.
And of course, I've gotten plenty of comments dismissing blogs and the entire Internet as irrelevant to political campaigns, arguing long and loud that it will never play any significant role, which gives you a little insight into how in tune these folks are.
They also were utterly unaware that the vast majority of blogs, particularly political blogs, have always been written anonymously, and this concept was enough to cause some folk's hair to catch fire. They literally freaked out. This tight, cozy little political club which always controlled everything, including what was said about it in the press, having to confront something which they couldn't control no matter how they tried. (and trust me, they tried EVERYTHING, and then some, except respecting my right to run a blog. That was out of the question.)
I think at their root was the fact that they simply could not fathom why anyone would take the time and trouble to produce a blog without expecting anything other than semi-intelligent feedback, interesting conversation, and trading information and ideas from a wide variety of readers in return.
To them life apparently was all about amassing money and/or political power, so the concept of someone doing anything that wasn't premised on either was so foreign as to be utterly incomprehensible to them. They simply could not figure it out. To them, I had to be driven by the same power/money motives they were, that's all they could relate to.
The saving grace was that it was often so far-fetched that it was just plain funny, if pretty pathetic.
At any rate, newspapers, who've traditionally enjoyed one of the largest profit margins of any industry, are now struggling to retain readership and adjust their business models to incorporate the new digital reality.
Klien writes an interesting post on the topic of newspapers adjustment to the digital age and his observations as to why he no longer relies on print for his news and information.
But it was a comment to the post that caught my eye and provided a very succinct, and I feel correct view of why readers are increasingly moving from papers to other sources of information:
As a former newspaper hack for several years, I can profess that my days of reading the newspaper pretty much ended with the Internet. It has less to do with inverted pyramids or other hidebound traditions.
Blogs, academics (left journalism for grad school), book writers and other sources of information have a massive advantage over newspaper journalists - they can honestly say what they believe and know. They may not always be right, but I seldom get the feeling that what they are writing is far, far different from what they'd say over a beer with a colleague.
Newspapers are beholden to advertisers they cannot offend. Journalists, especially beat journalists, are constrained by the need to keep their sources talking. The very tenets of the profession favor dispassionate bullshit over honest assessments of a situation.
The public realizes this. Trust is down and, as goes trust, so goes circulation.
Posted by: William | June 24, 2008 4:12 PM
What do you think about Williams theory? His second and third paragraph reflects something I've truly believed for quite some time now is the essential difference between newspapers and blogs, whether considered for better or worse.