June 24, 2008

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.


At 6/25/2008 6:11 AM, Blogger Dave Barrett said...

I have two brothers-in-law who are newspaper men and I have discussed this matter with them and given some thought to why their newspapers and their news reflect a much more pro-big-business right-wing political viewpoint than the vast majority of Americans. Although they would not agree, I think in addition to the factors already mentioned is that newspaper reporters and editors, in order to be successful in their careers, get raises and promotions, it really helps to have the same political viewpoint as their bosses - the big corporations that own most newspapers these days.

At 6/26/2008 2:14 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

That much is true Dave.

Part of it is only common sense and self-preservation, but it also can get quite pernitious as in the case of Fox News.

No one has to tell these bozos to slant their stories and comments. (though there has been plenty of evidence that daily memos go forth from top brass dictating the day's right wing talking point.)

These people, while not the sharpest knives in the drawer, know exactly what they're getting into and that they're never going to get in trouble for being too far right, while expressing any sort of defense of the left or strong criticism of the right will most definitely be a risky move.

The fact that most media outlets are owned by a relative handful of decidedly conservative corporations with very conservative top execs is the very reason why the right wing effort to pretend there's a "liberal media" is so dubious at best.

At 6/26/2008 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't there a great danger in losing newsppaers.

Look at your blog and say the QCExaminer or whatever. In your blog the Dems will bring us to the land of milk and honey, and that might be true, but you're honest, you have to admit you are not the most objective viewer. Over at the QCE, Phil Hare eats unborn children. Readers now get a source that tells them exactly what they already think. Look at the popularity of the warbloggers -- guys getting paid to go to Iraq, embed and tell those jongoistic readers exactly what they want -- all things are Red White and Blue and we are kicking ass and taking names and those damn liberals in the media are filling your head with lies when they say our boys are deep in the shit.

Newspapers aren't perfect, far, far from it. You are free to say what you want about the quality of the referee, but aren't you glad there's one in the game?

At 6/26/2008 1:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the Dispatch /QCTinmes online papers did not have an obit, I would not waste my time going to them.

The dispatch editor is such a corporatist and even is a member of Renew Moline and other of Moline's Elite's Bilderberg Club. Other than legal notices; advertising in the paper now is a waste of money.

I regret the papers of records will not be around to keep records archived much longer. However seeing the snobs at the Moline Dispatch with out a job would make me happy.

The media elites have done it to themselves. RIP

At 6/26/2008 6:42 PM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Dope, I tend to agree with Ezra Klien that newspapers are pretty beholden to their advertisers, as advertising is the thing that drives a newspaper. I've been told many times that what drives the amount of news you get in an edition of the paper is the amount of advertising sold for that day.
Because of that, newspapers do take a more neutral or conservative stand on how they cover the news.

I also agree with Klien regarding journalists' need to keep their sources talking. Print something that can be traced back to a particular source through name or inference, and that source will dry up very quickly.

I might disagree with Dave Barrett that the vast majority of Americans tend to be liberal than conservative... if anything, I think a great, great many would be considered centrist. But I digress.

Newspapers are losing readers and are struggling to adapt to the "new media." There are many reasons and the Internet (and blogs) is one of them.

But one problem I have with the Internet, thus blogs, is that the information may not always be true and can be horribly slanted. (Face it, it can be slanted left, just as well as right). Klien even agrees with this: "-they can honestly say what they believe and know. They may not always be right..."

You, Dope, do a pretty good job of citing references for your comments. And we don't always see eye to eye. But there are many sources on the Internet that contain wrong information and people will believe it. (We're not just talking politics here, either.) Wikipedia is a good example. I've found lots of wrong info on their entries and yet people will even cite those wrong entries as source material. At least newspapers tend to vet their stories and sources.

Perhaps the solution is for the public not to look for a quick "fix" for their news, but rather use newspapers AND the Internet to really delve into the news. But alas, that takes time and we've become a society that wants everything right now.

By the way, thanks for the additional airshow pics and clips. They're great!!

At 6/27/2008 3:46 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Anon 12:20.

That's one way of looking at it, but it happens to define all the "news" on the internet as being partisan from one side or the other, which obviously isn't true.

There's other blogs besides QCE and myself, thankfully.

If you want your news straight down the middle, there's hundreds of places to find that as well.

And I'd beg to differ on your characterization of newspapers as serving as some sort of referee between parties.

First of all, they've never played that role, secondly, papers are often partisan themselves, whether blatantly or more subtly so. It's common knowledge which major newspapers lean left or right, many who've been partisan for over a hundred years.

And how can a news source serve as a referee? This is one of the major problems with modern reporting, particularly on TV.

Sometimes one side is right and the other is not. But news media, browbeat by the right especially, fell into this sort of vacuum where everything was equal.

It's often referred to by the example of a headline, "Scientists say the earth orbits the sun, opinions differ."

It resulted in giving equal weight to unserious people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, as if their often ludicrous and factless opinions were needed for "balance".

For years, a "balanced" panel on cable consisted of two or three rabid conservatives and a moderate conservative to represent the left.

Now, at last, the networks are rushing to slant the other way, I suppose figuring they'd get ahead of the curve and cash in on the majority who loath Bush and all he stands for.

Things have completely changed. Matthews used to be vicious and nasty and personal and was obsessed on the Clintons and would say the craziest things imaginable about them, as if they were pure evil. He'd go into raptures about what a steely-eyed rocket man Bush was and was as gung-ho a supporter of the war as anyone. Now he's singing a different tune. They're whores with their fingers in the wind, basically.

But not referees. And neither are newspapers.

Having said all that, I think newspapers are essential, and I trust they'll never go away. They'll always have their place, certainly, especially in providing local content.

And the fact remains that there will always be a need for serious reporting. After all, the internet only provides a quicker and more customized way to access more information. That information still has to be sought out and reported, and newspapers, when they make the effort, are still best at doing basic reporting.

At 6/27/2008 3:48 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

BH, great comment, and thanks.

At 6/27/2008 4:04 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

BH, great comment, and thanks.
I was disappointed when I finally got to look at the shots I took at this year's show. I had a much better vantage point, but didn't get nearly as many good shots.

As Tiz mentions in a comment to the wing walker post below, there's others who have posted some great shots you may enjoy.

There's also video clips posted at YouTube that are very good, (and saves me the hours and trouble to try to edit out and post various clips myself.) Just go to YouTube and search on "davenport air show".

There's some great stuff there.

At 6/29/2008 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave Berrett is a buffone!

At 6/29/2008 3:43 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

HA! Boy, you're drunk early.. yikes!

But considering the source, if I were Dave, I'd consider that a compliment.

At 7/01/2008 3:53 AM, Anonymous nooncat said...

"Buffone"? What a buffoon!

At 7/01/2008 9:27 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Yeah, you know, that's the newest brass instrument... the "buffone". Kind of like a cross between a piccalo and a bass sax.


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