Matty Yglesias says on Salon that online journalism means things have never been better! OK, there is some validity to his POV that access to unlimited sources of information has made the sophisticated news consumer (at least potentially) better-informed than ever before. Here’s Yggy on why things are so peachy-keen: American news media has never [...] [...more]
OK, there is some validity to his POV that access to unlimited sources of information has made the sophisticated news consumer (at least potentially) better-informed than ever before. Here’s Yggy on why things are so peachy-keen:
Well. Yeah, that’s all true. If you’re looking for information on what is happening in Cyprus, and why this might melt down the Eurozone and start the dominos toppling the way they did back in the fall of ’08 again, there are certainly all manner of viewpoints, neat multimedia presentations, and interactive tools that will help you understand this big, glamorous, international story.
…as is the Economist.
Bloomberg and Business Week are all over this…
But where I start to have problems with his premise is down here on the local level. Now, trust me, I am very far from a newsroom curmudgeon. I don’t want things to go back to 1989. Hell, I make my living creating and refining digital content that is delivered across a wide variety of platforms (broadcast TV, desktop web, mobile web, native apps, online video, etc. etc.). And I am all to painfully aware of the problems inherent in making professionally produced content pay on digital platforms (see, well, pretty much the entire output of this blog for the past six years).
Here’s the deal: big international stories get lots of clicklove. The Cyprus meltdown could potentially affect billions of people. So that’s a huge potential audience right there. Many of those people are bankers, international businessmen, politicians, the investor class, etc. (READ: people who advertisers will pay to get their messages in front of.)
So the business model & incentives are there to produce all manner of content running this story to ground and microscoping all the possible permutations.
Only a handful of states have budgets bigger than Los Angeles County’s. NASA spends 25% less in a year. The county’s welfare and foster care departments serve the neediest, whose ranks will only grow as the economy staggers.
And the county’s purse strings are controlled by just five politicians, the Board of Supervisors, whose powerful incumbency means they almost never face serious reelection challenges.
But now just four reporters tend this turf anywhere close to full time: two for The Times, one for eight dailies controlled by newspaper baron William Dean Singleton, and one for City News Service, although that young reporter frequently gets pulled off for other duty.
Back in my day, as many as a dozen full-time reporters walked this beat, filling the row of cramped, glass-walled cubicles on the dimly lit fourth floor just above the supervisors meeting room. (The Times had at least half a dozen other reporters at its downtown mother ship, digging deep into city and county government.)
Yep, that’s right. Down here on the local level, those incentives that make it possible to provide such in-depth coverage for international stories are not (yet?) in existence. So we get things like the 2013 budget for LA County going through with barely a hiccup.
This is where $25 billion goes this year. I heard nothing about this – and I’m plugged-in!
That’s a lot of loot. But what really blows my mind is this other pie chart. It shows that this year, Los Angeles County gets almost half its budget – $10 BILLION – in assistance from the State and Feds.
Seriously, WTF? This county is home to an absolute massive amount of economic activity. We have the 2nd biggest port in the hemisphere. Hollywood, high tech, manufacturing, etc. And we still have to get about half our money as basically political welfare from the state and feds?
If those lifelines ever go away, this county will frickin’ implode.
What is the story with this? I’ve not seen it. It’s probably out there – but I have heard reams and reams about the fiscal cliff, the sequester, and yes, Cyprus. Not a whisper here in the LA market about a budget that has a far greater likelihood of actually devastating me and the community I live in.
I know the ’08 real estate meltdown devastated property taxes, but come on! This is unsustainable.
I know there are many, many proposed solutions to this problem. But I also know that none of them have gotten traction – yet.
I am working every week with my class of journalists at USC, to try to prepare them for gigs in the real world. It is my hope that they will not have to work at news outlets (and you know who you are) where they will have to use the skills I’m teaching them, to put together linkbait slideshows on celebrity sideboob. Or produce yet another think-piece on whither the Euro.
So yeah. In some situations, with some stories, things are really, really great. But down at the granular level, journalism is not in the greatest shape. Dismissing these problems as the fantasies of ill-tempered Luddites is not a path to a solution, Matty.
This was originally a comment to Robert Niles’ excellent piece on the Online Journalism Review, on whether or not the New York Times should be a “Truth Vigilante”. I’m republishing it here, because it looks like the commenting feature on OJR (always a little hinky) is b0rked again, and this issue is one that touches [...] [...more]
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
This message was typical of mail from some readers who, fed up with the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.
Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another? Are there other problems that The Times would face that I haven’t mentioned here?
It’s interesting to see this issue break out into the open like this. In retrospect, the only thing that’s surprising is that it’s taken this long. Consider: internet sites like Snopes & PolitiFact owe their very existence to the breakdown of trust in our existing news institutions on the part of the audience. We read stuff (often sent via e-mail from the semi-mythical disgruntled conspiracy theorist uncle). Checking our newspaper/TV/radio/whatever, there’s a he-said/she-said story. So we go elsewhere to figure out if what we were originally sent is true or not.
Can’t tell you the number of proposed startups that came through the Knight News Challenge in the last two years aimed at resolving this basic issue – how can we trust what we read? Many of them are seeking to assign some kind of a numeric “reliability score” to the source of the information. Which is interesting in theory – a published climate scientist getting a 99 score, for example, while a Big Oil-funded hack gets a 12.
But in practice, systems like this would probably fall prey to the same phenomenon that plagues Digg or other sites that rely on crowdsourcing to determine importance/credibility — the efforts of a committed radical few to rig the results in their favor. Still, it would be interesting to see a major media outlet start to offer little links in superscript next to attribution, that lead back to a page describing where that quote came from, who the person is, and what their history/agenda is.
We’re all struggling with the effects of the disintermediation taking place because of web technology – that much is evident to just about anybody working in media, advertising or marketing. The problem is that this is taking place at the end of a long, slow movement toward the utter blandification of content. The reasons for that are complex – some of them have to do with the influence of “risk management” thinking at media organizations, where the litigiousness of modern American society has driven deep-pocketed news organizations to water down stories out of fear, in order to evade expensive libel suits. The rest do have to do with the drumbeat these past 40 years of accusations of “liberal bias” in the press, and the attempts to defuse such accusations by applying the aforementioned “he-said/she-said” construction to stories, so that we can say, “Well, at least we gave them a chance to reply.”
The contradictory voices are there. They are presented by voices that mock & disagree with them - in much the same way that newspaper editors, radio hosts and TV anchors did back in the pure human filtration days - but the voices and bits of information are there.
I do agree that there is a serious problem in our society today that a large segment is seemingly living in its own reality, with its own set of facts an interpretations. But this has been true before in our history as well (See: Davis, Jefferson et al.). But this problem predates the web, and is attributable more to talk radio and the removal of the Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time than anything else ... and to the failure of the American educational system to produce large swathes of the citizenry capable of critical thinking. [...more]
Eli Pariser’s TED talk on the dangers of allowing someone else to choose what you see/hear/feel
If I were a weaker man, I’d just fold up my tent and move on.
However, upon closer inspection, I find myself saying “Yahbut …” a lot throughout this FUD screed.
Norwegian company Norli Libris introduces nonsensical “eBook” publishing model Quick Hit: Saw this on BoingBoing, followed it over to Applied Abstractions, and just couldn’t resist commenting on it, for 1) the benefit of my international students, who might wonder WTF is up with this and 2) to keep me from yanking out my own hair [...] [...more]
Norwegian company Norli Libris introduces nonsensical “eBook” publishing model
Quick Hit: Saw this on BoingBoing, followed it over to Applied Abstractions, and just couldn’t resist commenting on it, for 1) the benefit of my international students, who might wonder WTF is up with this and 2) to keep me from yanking out my own hair by the fistful. The idea is that consumers will have to buy digital books not as downloadable files, but on cards called Digi Short, which will be inserted into the back of customized (i.e. DRM’d to death) Kibano Digi Readers.
Apparently, the one advantage would be that said “books” would thus be exempt from VAT in Norway, although the list price will be the same as a download.
The Norwegian publishing and bookselling industry, an astonishingly
backward group of companies when it comes to anything digital, yesterday
introduced a new concept for e-books that, even for them, is rather
harebrained. They want to sell e-book tablets where you can buy books
not as downloads (well, you can do that, too) but as files loaded on
small plastic memory cards, to be inserted into the reader [article in Norwegian].
This preserves their business model (though they can probably stop
using trucks and start using bicycles for distribution). According to
their not very convincing market analysis, this is aimed at the segment
of the book buying market who do not want to download books from the net
(but, for some reason, seem to want to read books electronically.)
This is such an awful, awful, CueCat-level thinking approach to digital distribution. The whole point of having a mobile device like the iPad or Kindle or Nook is so that you can do instant purchases & consumption of content. You walk past a poster advertising the new blockbuster action movie, now available as a Blu-Ray or for download – you know you’re going to have an hour to kill on the commuter train on the way home, and you missed the movie in theaters, to you decide to splurge. Out comes the tablet, button is pushed, movie is set to download in the background as you continue walking to the train station/subway/hovercraft depot.
Hint: You want to ENCOURAGE your customers to make impulse buys of your content, rather than make it tougher for them & thus allow time for second thoughts to creep in.
Making the public buy, collect, sort & carry with them little plastic cards with books on them? Good God. It displays the desperate attempt to keep the content all within the walled garden; if we can’t sell dead-tree editions or shiny little discs (goes the thinking), well, maybe if we just shrink it all down to credit-card size, we can keep people having to pay us for physical objects. And as long as the Big Publishing controls distribution, pricing & availability of a physical object, well then, all the old rules still apply.
People will not carry around little cards with books as data on them, slotting them in and out of a tablet reader. And even if (via some alien mind-control ray that bathes the Earth in Luddite Stupidity) they do, a thriving business will soon spring up, dealing in the blank pieces of plastic that can then be filled with the data.
The media business is no longer, and never will again be about, the control of big belching factories that churn out physical copies of stuff that gets trucked from A to B and then put on shelves. It’s about paying attention to every other step that used to lead up to that point. You know, all the stuff that newspapers and TV stations and movie studios and record companies ignored, and is the reason so many of them are in trouble.
That is, concentrating on creating something wonderful. Useful. Delightful.
It makes me sad to see that so many companies are still thinking in terms of how to defeat the digital revolutions, rather than on how we can use the web to do so many totally new, amazing art forms.
UPDATE: The initial reports (see the fact that this was a “Quick Hit”) seemed to indicate that it was Digi.no that was doing this. It turns out that it is a company named Norli Libris, whose attempt at rolling the clock back has elicited comment from other bloggers, as well as the mighty EnGadget. I thus fixed the attribution & links at the top of this post, and added a graf explaining more about Norli Libris. Thanks to @sigvald for pointing this out via Twitter (and to Google Translate for helping me decipher the Norwegian story on this.)
Moran Cerf's work centers around the micro scale -- how on a personal level, we don't really know what we think we know. My life has been spent examining that effect on a more macro scale -- where, as a society, it doesn't matter what really happened, only what people think (and say) happened.
Reality is, indeed, what we make of it. Which is both exciting, and frightening. [...more]
I’ve already posted this to my Facebook profile, but the story put a hook into me, and deserves a more thorough reaction, comment & perhaps clarification.
This story struck a particular chord with me, because in my professional career, I’ve seen first-hand how a media meltdown can bend reality, even for the people who had first-hand knowledge of what really happened. If you haven’t already heard it, please click on the link above and listen to what happened to Moran when he blundered into the international media spotlight.
This really resonated for me because of something that happened more than 20 years ago, back when I was working as a paparazzi (yes, I was one of the unholy legions that race through the streets of Hollywood like the minions of The Humoungous in Road Warrior. It was fun for a while, and I wrote a book about it). The situation was that Madonna and Sean Penn were getting divorced. The bureau chief was struggling to find some new way to spin the story; it was widely suspected that Penn, who was, and is, notorious for his volatile temper, had freaked out over some of Madonna’s flirtatious behavior. But to say that Penn had smacked her around would be to accuse him of a felony in print — a real no-no in the journalism game, and one that can wind you in court for years, defending serious libel litigation.
What to do, what to do …
Well, the editor fabricated the story that Penn had pitched a fit over Christmas and tied Madonna to a chair. He used the phrase “trussed up like a turkey.”
Years later, I was going through the morgue (no, not the place where they store dead bodies, although I was actually in such places for stories at other times during my career — the “morgue” is what we used to call the battered filing cabinets full of clippings from old newspaper and magazine stories that we used for research). I was trying to find some background fact on Madonna, and I started to notice a pattern.
She even used the phrase “trussed up like a turkey.”
The story had been repeated so many times over the years, that even the people to whom it was supposed to have happened, who knew it to be untrue, had come around to believe that it had actually happened to them. Madonna had heard so many people talking about how she had been tied up, that she actually believed that it had happened to her. Her perceptions of reality had become unmoored … although many might say that this is a rather common condition in Hollywood.
This is the effect of the mass media on us these days. It is like an enormous, all-encompassing hypnotist, whispering in our ears wherever we go, flashing subliminal (or liminal) messages at us all the time.
Repetition has an effect on human consciousness. On perception. On memory. Why else do those damn radio ads for cheap car insurance chant their “Dial 1-800-blahblahblah” numbers at us over and over again? Why else do we train little kids how to say their alphabet and do their times tables with flash cards?
Moran Cerf’s work centers around the micro scale — how on a personal level, we don’t really know what we think we know. My life has been spent examining that effect on a more macro scale — where, as a society, it doesn’t matter what really happened, only what people think (and say) happened.
Reality is, indeed, what we make of it. Which is both exciting, and frightening.
Now watch this video of Moran talking about colonoscopies.
First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building. On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there [...] [...more]
First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building.
On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there is a marked resemblance there to C.J Craig of the late, lamented Bartlett administration.
Anyway, this is a bit of an intro to what the conditions are like for the media, and what the big forces shaping the future are going to look like.
This is a strategy that is also being pursued in New York by NY Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, who has invested more than he would like to admit to (millions? hundreds of millions?) into high-tech printing presses, capable of churning out massive print runs with razor-sharp color. The 15-tower, triple-width ultra-compact Commander CT press looks a lot like the last-generation Nikon F6 film camera. It was the apex of film technology, what many analysts recognized at the time as "the perfect camera" -- but that alas, was rolled out just as every working professional made the move to use digital. [...more]
Print die-hards claimed that all that was needed to reverse the audience migration to the internet was to make newspapers more “lively” in appearance. Early verdict: looks pretty, but the advertising still isn’t there, and that sound you heard was Mort Zuckerman puking and weeping over in the corner.
I’ve been in the Bay Area for a convention of “[fill in blank] for Dummies” authors and various business meetings, and I’ve taken the opportunity to scope out what the San Francisco Chronicle has been doing with its much-ballyhooed investment in glossy magazine-style paper for the front pages of its sections, and the use of high-quality color images.
At the risk of having some tort-toting barrister slithering under my office door, here’s a link to a NY Times story about the latest salvo in the growing war between Traditional Media and online news aggregators/commenters. The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to [...] [...more]
At the risk of having some tort-toting barrister slithering under my office door, here’s a link to a NY Times story about the latest salvo in the growing war between Traditional Media and online news aggregators/commenters.
The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to the rights to use it, and that notifies The A.P. about how the article is used.
Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it.
I hardly know where to begin here. If you’ve been following the war between Online & Traditional, as it’s reached the screeching desperate frenzy this year, the most-repeated shibboleth is that the news industry committed the “Original Sin” of making its content available online for free, and that everything would go back to the fat profit-margin salad days if only we could roll back the clock and stop the distribution of news & information via that damn intertubes thingy. If we can just track and control who uses what we produce, maybe we can choke off all the “freeloaders and leeches” who are competing for ad dollars without actually doing any work themselves.
So the newspapers, watching the traditional paper iceberg slowly melt around them, put the vise on the AP to Do Something. Anything. The problem is, we’re still short of solutions. I’ve been working in New Media for more than 12 years now, and I’ve done as much original research and case studies on the Economics of News, and I’m not sure. We’re fumbling towards something, though, and the last few months have actually made me cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to reinvent how news & information flows in our societies, in ways that actually benefit the average citizen. That is, the citizens are informed of stories about, say, how the subprime mortgage market is not such a good long-term idea, or that the aftermath of conquering Iraq might be messier than the bespectacled Secretary of Defense claims.
Yeah, I know, those stories did appear in the media and on the boob tube. But what’s attracted the biggest, heaviest coverage these last few weeks, as we’ve sought to retool our health care system, turn around a losing war in Afghanistan, and fact-check how trillions of bailout money was spent?
That’s right. Michael Jackson.
The Original Sin of journalism & newspapers was not to make its content available on the web. The Original Sin was when we looked the other way as our media outlets were snarfed up and transmogrified into revenue-producing subsidiaries. The consequences of that have had far greater import and impact than our little measly stunted careers (although on a personal level, I’m obviously less than thrilled & have taken quite a hit myself).
If I’m running a growing network of web-based local news producers, I’m ordering Dom Perignon by the Methuselah today. Why?
1. Every conference I’ve been at for the past two years, the big advertisers say that they’re shifting their budgets to digital/online 2. The AP and newspapers are walling themselves off, and will presumably soon be implementing a RIAA-type model of suing people who infringe on their content 3. The bloggers & aggregators will quickly link to whatever competition provides the same information without all the hassle (or just use the freshman book-report strategy of paraphrasing without linking) 4. Traffic will flow to the competition. Ad dollars will follow. 5. Oh yeah – and the one type of content that is original & can’t be remixed is video… where even if a blogger/aggregator embeds or downloads/transcodes, your logos and your advertiser’s messages will still appear…
I thought that the news and the music business were at about the same point on the evolutionary timescale. It appears that the news business is bound and determined to take a step backward.
Man, I didn’t think there was anyone left at the Chronicle to fire – and here I read that they just canned 151 more people? Delfin Vigil, a reporter at the Chron, took out an ad in the Examiner to decry the sorry state of the paper after all the cutbacks, layoffs, contractions, consolidations, downsizings [...] [...more]
Delfin Vigil, a reporter at the Chron, took out an ad in the Examiner to decry the sorry state of the paper after all the cutbacks, layoffs, contractions, consolidations, downsizings & general slow self-asphyxiation. Surprise! He just got canned in the latest round of layoffs, and has written an impassioned letter questioning what’s left of journalism these days.
In his letter, Vigil does raise a valid point, about how journalists are encouraged to criticize every other leader besides the guys in charge of the media companies that they work for.
Here’s my stupid question: Why is it that journalists are allowed (and even encouraged) to publicly challenge, question and criticize everyone else’s boss — except for their own?
If we as newspaper journalists aren’t allowed to place the same kind of public pressure on our own authorities, who will? Does anyone truly believe that the leaders of The Chronicle and other dying newspapers across the country don’t deserve the same level of scrutiny?
It’s long been a truism in the industry that the story that the press covers the least (and the worst) is themselves. The fruits of that neglect are now becoming clear to all of us.
What would have happened if, back in the 80s, the industry had really done an in-depth investigation of what was plainly obvious to anyone working in & around papers that were being snapped up by chains like Gannett? Every journalist I knew then talked about how being bought by Gannett meant that the paper was stripped of everything that made it distinct, and the best talent was shipped off to toil at the USA Today, while the newly installed publishers were under tremendous pressure to “make their numbers,” and sought to do so by widening circulation by any means necessary. This model was quickly copied by other large & rapacious chains, who took advantage of the relaxation of media ownership rules to start a feeding frenzy on small papers and TV & radio stations.
Which meant that smaller staffs were whipped like dogs to produce copy that could be wrapped around the ads. That fat colorful graphic packages were produced to “engage” the readers and give them the sense that they were actually learning something from the paper, while longer investigative projects – and particularly those troublesome community-defending “crusades” were quietly taken out back and shot.
Yeah, I know, there are always exceptions to these broad generalizations. I am quite certain that a lot of the smaller papers that get consumed by the big chains continued to do the best they could with what they had. But the problems only accelerated in the 90s, and I recall very little mention of it at the time. Perhaps we had become inured to it by that point. It was the inexorable trend, so we might as well figure out how to exist under it.
What would have happened if, sometime in the 90s, reporters and editors had started making it as much of a priority to report about what was happening to the news business … maybe some fraction of the news hole that was allocated to oh, say, the O.J. Simpson case?
Again – I know – long analysis stories about the consolidation of news outlets hardly grabs the same numbers as the White Bronco freeway chase.
The prestigious stock-rating firm of Morningstar says that two big newspaper chains, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises, may be worth zero. “McClatchy stock could be worth nothing,” says Morningstar, adding that Lee Enterprises “shares could lose their entire value.” Fair value of each is listed at $0.00. Both are deep in debt.
OK, it's a given that journalists have something of a Messiah Complex. You have to have something else going on psychologically to get into this low-pay high-stress field. But this is really crossing the line. And making an unfortunate conflation between the newspaper industry and good journalism - yes, it gets done at newspapers, and there are some magnificent examples of this. But the industry is asphyxiating itself, and dumping wads of cash on it will not solve the underlying problems.
Government intervention here would create more problems than it would solve. [...more]
While the concept of a bailout for newspapers (and allegedly for good journalism) seems attractive at first blush, I fear that in practice, the billions in bailout funds would suffer the same fate as the billions bestowed upon the banking industry.
That is, they would be swiftly pocketed in the form of “well-earned bonuses,” and only a few crumbs would make it down to the level where the money would actually do any good. While I’m not in the “burn baby, burn” camp the way many other digital triumphalists have been (and there’s at least a faint whiff of that hereabouts), I think that dumping fat stacks on media conglomerates will not solve the underlying problems of the crumbling of business models.
Now then – a Manhattan Project (of sorts) to build solid business models to support quality journalism? That would = the hoary “teaching a man to fish” paradigm.
I know faith in The Invisible Hand is in short supply these days (and where it can be found, it’s usually being in the stocks in the town square, being pelted by posters on Angryjournalist.com), but the fact is that there is a demand for something to perform the function of information dissemination that newspapers do/have done. If the Drug Wars have taught us anything, it is that where there is a demand, and money is attached to that demand, there will correspondingly be a supply.
This is all growing out an essay on the op-ed page of the NY Times and chittering in the Twiterverse, as the nervous journalists see the vultures staring downward, and big guy in the hood with the scythe striding through the newsroom.
By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.
Well, allow me to respond to that one.
Not to get all Reagan on you, but that is complete and utter madness. Newspapers are so important, so crucial to our lives, that it is the duty & obligation of the government to preserve them?
OK, it’s a given that journalists have something of a Messiah Complex. You have to have something else going on psychologically to get into this low-pay high-stress field. But this is really crossing the line. And making an unfortunate conflation between the newspaper industry and good journalism – yes, it gets done at newspapers, and there are some magnificent examples of this. But the industry is asphyxiating itself, and dumping wads of cash on it will not solve the underlying problems.
Government intervention here would create more problems than it would solve. Allison Fine is onto this issue:
So, the fundamental premise of the need to endow newspapers and preserve them at public expense is that false information exists on the Internet? Of course it does, as it does on TV, on the radio (should we also consider endowing Rush?) in magazines, and in many, many newspapers. Which media would the authors like to choose as being least likely to contain false information? And which medium do they think did the best job of bringing the lies and corruption of the Bush Administration to light — hint, don’t look at newspapers, Josh Micah Marshall and his Talking Points Memo website would be a much better bet.
So, the fundamental premise that only newspapers can hold government accountable is specious. But that isn’t my biggest issue with the article. It is the naive assumption from those outside of the nonprofit sphere that 1) nonprofit status is intended for companies that don’t have a viable business model, and 2) raising billions of dollars in endowment funds is doable, particularly in today’s economy.
If anything, the effect of billions spent on preserving the newspaper format as it is, without any changes, will mean that we’ll all be getting print products dumped on our doors that are increasingly ad-free. Yeah, there will be a number of advertisers who will still be there because the eyeballs are there. But the trends of readership of mass print products are not heading up (niche and community newspapers are another story).
Worst of all, the preservation of a business model that is clearly no longer functional will suck the oxygen out of the room for the products that should (and are, in some cases) being developed to do the job that newspapers have done. Artificially propping up newspapers in their current form will stifle the innovation in the marketplace, and long-term, only make the inevitable collapse worse.
We’re kinda seeing that take place in the real estate and credit markets right now. The government artificially propped up the economy for eight years with crazy spending and stupid low interest rates. Instead of hard work & ingenuity to produce real growth, it was Free Money Day Every Day, as real-estate speculation in areas like Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Miami & L.A. led to the “$30,000-a-year millionaire” who made $10,000 in arcane mortgage kickbacks every time he/she signed his/her name to a loan document. The results of that are the global economic meltdown we see occurring right now.
ESPN sees the writing on the wall. In their industry they need strong stories to promote sports and strong sports to drive interest to their stories. A fan that is underserved by his newspaper is less interested in following his team on ESPN. Additionally, there is big advertising money for ESPN if it can become the resource for local sports.
This is a long term proposition, however. Even the mighty ESPN cannot yet afford to hire 30 beat writers to cover each NBA team. Instead it is working towards its goal by teaming with independend bloggers in a win/win/win proposition. The bloggers have a chance at monetizing their efforts, ESPN can become the central resource it wants to become and fans can get the information they want as a new, viable local sports media business model starts to thrive.