Kos : The Newspaper Execs’ Hissy Fit

Newspaper, aka the “Dinosaur Blog.” Graphic from Exhibit 5a.

The industry’s woes are self-inflicted, and its continued arrogance and superiority complex continue to blind its executives from potential solutions in a world where quite frankly, they are no longer quite relevant.

By kos / April 9, 2009

Newspaper executives are suddenly strutting around making demands of all sorts of people:

In addition to discussing whether and how to charge for the expensively produced content that today is available for free at most newspaper websites, publishers familiar with the agenda for the private session said other topics were:

  • How to recover some of the classified advertising business that has been usurped by Craig’s List and others.
  • Whether to demand payment from aggregators who now freely link to content from their sites.
  • How newspapers might get a greater share of the $10.8 billion in search revenues that represented 46% of all U.S. online advertising revenues in 2008.

Yeah, good luck with that. The response around the web has been fierce.

First off is the most righteous rant I’ve ever seen leveled against the dinosaur newspaper industry now lashing out because of its inability to adapt and survive. A definite must-read:

Let’s go on up to Rupert Murdoch, who says Google’s stealing his copyright in a recent Forbes article:

“Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?” asked the News Corp. chief at a cable industry confab in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The answer, said Murdoch, should be, ” ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ “

Let me help you with that, Rupert. I’m going to save you all those potential legal fees plus needing to even speak further about the evil of the Big G with two simple lines. Get your tech person to change your robots.txt file to say this:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

Done. Do that, you’re outta Google. All your pages will be removed, and you needn’t worry about Google listing the Wall St. Journal at all.

Oh, but you won’t do that. You want the traffic, but you also want to be like the AP and hope you can scare Google into paying you. Maybe that will work. Or maybe you’ll be like all those Belgian papers that tried the same thing and watched their traffic sadly dry up.

Perhaps all the papers should get together like Anthony Moor of the Dallas Morning News suggests in the same article:

“I wish newspapers could act together to negotiate better terms with companies like Google. Better yet, what would happen if we all turned our sites off to search engines for a week? By creating scarcity, we might finally get fair value for the work we do.”

Please do this, Anthony. Please get all your newspaper colleagues to agree to a national “Just say no to Google” week. I beg you, please do it. Then I can see if these things I think will happen do happen:

  • Papers go “oh shit,” we really get a lot of traffic from Google for free, and we actually do earn something off those page views
  • Papers go “oh shit,” turns out people can find news from other sources
  • Papers go “oh shit,” being out of Google didn’t magically solve all our other problems overnight, but now we have no one else to blame.

Jeff Jarvis:

Yesterday, you delivered a foot-stomping little hissy fit over Google and aggregators. How dare they link to you and not pay you? Oh, I so want Eric Schmidt to tell you today that you’re getting your wish and that Google will no longer link to you. Beware what you wish for. You’d lose a third of your traffic overnight. If other aggregators (I work with one) and bloggers (I am one) and Facebook all decided to follow suit, you’d lose half your traffic. On most of your sites, only 20 percent of the audience in a day ever sees your homepage and its careful packaging; 4 of 5 readers instead come in through search and links. In the link economy – instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate – Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won’t, because you’ve refused to understand this new business reality.

I’d love to know what percentage of a newspaper’s readership actually would even notice if the main news section disappeared. How many pick up newspapers just for the sports? For the style section? For the horoscopes? For the crossword puzzle or sudoku? Heck, I remember when newspapers were useful to check on the weather, look up TV listings, and box scores. All of this is easily replaceable or is already history. Sports? I may be biased given the other company I founded, but I think sports bloggers are doing a superior job of covering their teams and sports than the newspapers they’re quickly replacing, not to mention the proliferation of sports media on TV, from ESPN, to networks that focus specifically on single sports (NFL, MLB, NHL networks) and less popular ones (Versus).

What about news from DC? Who needs the newspapers when we’ve got adequate to great coverage from CQ, Politico, TPM, Washington Independent, HuffPo, and the Hill?

Local news? Newsroom cuts in search of ever-higher profit margins have decimated local coverage in the age of corporate ownership. Local TV is filling many of those gaps, as are citizen bloggers. Don’t laugh at the notion of citizen journalists — the best Oakland coverage anywhere, bar none, comes from the muckrakers at A Better Oakland. It truly beats the shit out of anything the Oakland Tribune or local TV stations are doing. It’s a model I fully expect to organically emerge in cities and towns all over the country.

Business news? What’s left of the newspaper business sections are a joke, supplanted by cable business networks and online business publications (like Motley Fool and The Street). Remember when newspapers ran stock tables? In fact, some are still stupid enough to be running them despite the proliferation of real-time stock tickers for the masses.

Opinion? Ha ha ha ha ha! This site exists precisely because of the drivel they’ve force fed us the last few decades. When David Broder is the pinnacle of the newspaper world’s editorial pages, you’ve given up that ghost a long time ago.

Newspapers like to see themselves as “essential to democracy” or some other such bullshit, but they’ve long been part of a much broader media landscape, in which broadcast and the internet have become the most efficient delivery mechanisms. And pretty soon, with convergence, they’ll be one and the same. Newspapers have refused to adapt, or they’ve pissed away money buying baseball teams, or they’ve squeezed the value out of their product by demanding 30 percent profit margins, or they’ve expanded at unsustainable rates, or all of the above.

But they aren’t the only player in town, and there are plenty of other media operations that are already mimicking the content they product, or can quickly rush in to fill the void if a true market need exists. And while we may miss having all that disparate information packaged into one convenient portable (and disposable) product, fact is that we can get just about everything newspapers provided elsewhere, and no trees have to die in the process.

Will it be sad to see venerable operations like the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Boston Globe bite the dust? Of course. It won’t be an occasion to gloat or celebrate. But the industry’s woes are self-inflicted, and its continued arrogance and superiority complex continue to blind its executives from potential solutions in a world where quite frankly, they are no longer quite relevant. As Jarvis reminded the execs:

Your Google snits don’t even address your far more profound problem: the vast majority of your potential audience who never come to your sites, the young people who will never read your newspapers. You all remember the quote from a college student in The New York Times a year ago, the one that has kept you up at night. Let’s say it together: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” What are you doing to take your news to her? You still expect her to come to you – to your website or to the newsstand – just because of the magnetic pull of your old brand. But she won’t, and you know it. You lost an entire generation. You lost the future of news.

More from newspaper exec Steve Buttry, and also Jeremy Littau, at the Missouri School of Journalism. Meanwhile, Steve Yelvington looks at some of the barriers to enacting a pay wall, while Martin Langeveld at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, ran the numbers and found that erecting a paywall doesn’t make financial sense.

Update: Someone sent over a link to Voice of San Diego, which is doing a fantastic job covering the city. Goes to show that newspapers don’t have a monopoly on great coverage of their towns.

Update II: Anthony Moor of the Dallas News, quoted above as wanting newspapers to block Google en masse, emails me to say that his quote was mischaracterized by the reporter writing that piece:

My conversation with him was much more nuanced and I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek about “turning off” to Google. We don’t matter much to Google. rather, I was musing about what might happen if all news sites went dark for a week. What would people think? Would we matter? It’s hard to know how relevant news and information sites are unless they’re not there, and that kind of experiment would help us find out.

Source / Daily Kos

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One Response to Kos : The Newspaper Execs’ Hissy Fit

  1. I certainly enjoyed this article. Back in 1989 I cut up the LA Times; cut out just the ‘news’, and had a small handful of stories; the majority of the paper was nothing but advertising.

    I sent a letter to the editor; enclosed the ‘news’, and also folded up all the advertising and including it with my letter.

    He didn’t publish it, but he did reply to me with a letter of his own; essentially telling me it was advertising that paid for the newspaper to start with. Without advertising, he claimed they would either go broke, or have to charge $25 for each edition of the newspaper.

    I replied back; reminding him that the news on television and in a variety of magazines were more than adequate for my needs.

    I said I was now down to just buying the Saturday edition for the coupons; the recipes and to the Sunday news because my husband liked the cross-word puzzle.

    After that, I bought cross-word puzzle books for my husband – $1.00 for about 60 puzzles at the Dollar Tree. I figured I had enough recipes, so we resolved that.

    On top of that, our local bakery would put out about 10 copies of the LA Times for its patrons to read while eating a doughnut and having coffee. Since we did that 3 times a week, we just got our news and often the owner would say we could take the paper because they just tossed them out every day.

    At our apartment complex where we moved after selling our house, we would simply grab a newspaper from the dumpster; the trash bin was over-flowing with the same newspapers.

    Of course all of this was before the I-net; now there’s no need for any newspaper in our house, and we can read ‘on-line’ what we need and want to know.

    Most recently, I found this on a web-site; talk about a ‘hissy-fit’, here’s that article I shared via e-mail (including a copy to Richard):

    AP Cuts Newspaper Rates, Moves to Protect Web News
    Reuters Apr 6, 2009

    E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne (L), owner of the Rocky Mountain News, shakes hands with MediaNews Group CEO William Dean Singleton (R), publisher of rival The Denver Post, at a news conference February 26, 2009 in Denver, Colorado, announcing the Rocky Moun (Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)NEW YORK—

    The Associated Press unveiled rate cuts Monday to help member newspapers reeling from declining advertising revenue and said that it would sue web-sites that used its members’ articles without permission.
    The changes the AP announced at its annual meeting in San Diego include a new $35 million in rate assessment reductions for 2010, on top of $30 million it had already instituted for 2009.

    The 163-year-old news-wire service also will allow member newspapers to cancel their membership with one year’s notice instead of two. It will offer a discount to papers that stay on a two-year cancellation notice.

    “We feel it is critical to help our members during these extremely difficult times, and these numbers show our deep commitment to doing that,” said Dean Singleton, AP chairman and chief executive of Denver-based publisher MediaNews Group.

    The AP further threatened to “pursue legal and legislative actions” against web-sites that do not properly license news content, and plans to develop a system to track its members’ news distributed online to determine whether it is being legally used.

    “We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories,” Singleton said.

    The announcement comes a day before Google Inc Chief Executive Eric Schmidt speaks at the Newspaper Association of America’s annual conference, also in San Diego.

    While the AP did not name Google, many newspapers resent the popular search web-site because they say it siphons away ad revenue that should be going to their own web-sites instead of to sites like Google’s and Yahoo Inc’s.

    The AP’s rate changes come as newspapers lay off staff, file for bankruptcy and, increasingly, shut down as their ad revenue falls and losses mount.

    Last October, the AP suspended plans for a new pricing structure because of complaints from member papers, who said they could not afford it.

    Some newspapers threatened to cancel their membership, prompting the AP to try to find ways to keep them. One new option the wire service is offering is a limited service for papers “with minimal world and national coverage needs.”

    The reductions come at a price. The AP, a nonprofit cooperative formed by its member papers, estimates that its revenue from U.S. Papers will fall by about a third between 2008 and 2010.

    In 2007, 25 percent of its $710 million in revenue came from U.S. Newspapers.
    Last Updated
    Apr 6, 2009

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