Monday, April 20, 2009

grad school strikes again

The Bill Moyers interview of David Simon dovetails with a number of things I have been thinking about recently.

The current situation that most news on paper organizations have found themselves is an interesting combination of two classic graduate school thought exercises. The "Free rider problem" and "The tragedy of the commons."

The wiki definition of Free riders is: “[they] consume more than their fair share of a resource, or shoulder less than a fair share of the costs of its production. Free riding is usually considered to be an economic "problem" only when it leads to the non-production or under-production of a public good.” Sound like anything we are familiar with?

The 'Tragedy of the Commons' is similar in that it is a case when multiple people all acting in their own self-interest can destroy a common or limited resource.

So what do we have going on in the news industry? People are able to free ride the system in a number of ways: including reading content for free, even though there is a cost associated for gathering it, sites can link to other people’s content without incurring any cost, the web is seen as ‘free,’ even though practically there are costs.

From the tragedy of the commons side, news on paper organization have been providing free content on the web even though collectively they are all cutting each other’s throats because the ‘other’ is giving away content for free. There is a great deal of commentary on the web, and that makes it appear as there is also news, but the gathering of the commodity of news is not borne by the commons that utilizes the commodity.

So where does this leave us? David Simon argues "since we basically have become a market-based culture and it's what we know, and it's what's led us to this sad denouement, I think we're going to follow market-based logic, right to the bitter end." He is speaking about our economy in general, but it speaks volumes to news on paper and society.

One of his other great observations is that:

"You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is."

Why does that matter? If you read Martin Langeveld's Print is still king: Only 3 percent of newspaper reading happens online
and you see a fine example of David Simon’s argument. He raises some good questions about how much people are really getting their news from online. His numbers seem high to me, and his numbers from the web seem low. Now if he were able to stratify his numbers over social and economic classes I might be more willing to believe him (just from anecdotal observations on my own part.)

So, I will consider this part 1. Part of the solution is identifying the problem, so perhaps next time some solutions.

must watch

If you haven't seen the Bill Moyers video interview of David Simon of "The Wire" fame, go watch.

I cannot say enough good things about this for any number of reasons.

My favorite quote is "It was about that which is-- has no value, being emphasized as being meaningful. And that which is-- has genuine meaning, being given low regard."

Friday, April 17, 2009

welcome to the new world

In case you missed it yesterday, Ahston Kutcher beat CNN to 1 million twitter followers.

While I am not a big fan of Twitter, I recognize that it works for people and has even helped a politician ruin his party's push for dominance of their state capitol.

Back to Ahston and CNN. In his claiming victory Ahston talks about how "We can and will create our media," he said in his speech on "We can and will broadcast our media. We can and will censor our own media ourselves."

During the race, CNN talking heads would ask viewers to follow them on Twitter. What Kutcher was doing was a live stream broadcast, reading people's twitter messages out loud, asking questions and responding to questions. In other words, he was interactive and responsive, CNN was unidirectional. New school vs. old school.

Mainstream media just doesn't seem to get it. One of the most important things that happens during Easter that people don’t often reflect on, is that when Jesus dies, the curtain in the temple is torn apart, ie. there is nothing separating people from the holiest of holys.

Why is that important here...the curtain has been torn again. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. People do not need a multimillion dollar TV studio or printing press to get their message out. There are many streams of information that our outside of the control of the media and other information or entertainment technology.

The message is out of the bottle, what used to be controlled by a small group of agenda setters is becoming democratized. Welcome to the new world.

Monday, April 13, 2009

it's in your hand

Our CEO forwarded a link to me that points out something so obvious you might have missed it.

Do you wonder what will replace news on paper in the future? You may be already holding one in your hand: the iPhone.

Mark Potts on his 'recovering journalist' web site references a post on Joe Poz's blog about the iPhone. Both posts discuss that they are able to customize what they used to get from newspapers on their iPhone with different apps (applications for those not in-the-know).

That means they can get the sports feed they want, weather, find what is playing at the movies near them and they can customize WHAT THEY WANT. It used to be the news on paper was one size fits all, not any more.

You can even volunteer via the iPhone with the Extraordinaries.

I know that news on paper companies don't want to do it or recognize it, but they are now in the computer/media/technology field and that means innovation, every 18 months. Sorry, that is reality.

Friday, April 10, 2009

the times have already changed

Arianna Huffington hits the nail on the head with her latest post 'the debate over online news: it's the consumer, stupid.'

As with most things in our world, the consumers are voting with their feet and walking away from newspapers to the internet. Sorry, it has already happened. We can cry about this, or we can stand back up and lead, follow or get out of the way. My fear is that a number of news on papers are getting out of the way.

'Charlie Rose summarized what I(Huffington) was saying: "We have seen the future and it is here. It is a linked economy. It is search engines. It is online advertising. That's where the future is. And if you can't find your way to that, then you can't find your way."'

News on papers used to control the debate and the dissemination of information, sorry, not any more. By not linking, by not aggregating, by not allowing video to be embed somewhere else the news on paper crowd is sliding off, quicker than they expected, into oblivion.

Monday, April 6, 2009

healthy debate

A former colleague just posted a link to Alan D. Mutter's Reflections of a Newsosaur and his latest post about how failing newspapers bring me joy post written by an anonymous blogger (supposedly). My colleague wondered if she had been part of the giant 'journalistic cabal,' although if you read Joe Bageant's 'We've let corporations and media rob our souls' and you might start to think they are both on to something. But I digress...

A look-see over the newsosaur's blog highlighted a number of topics for future posts:

  • Publishers zero in on charging for content

  • How to charge for online content

  • Why media must charge for web content

  • Bridge to nowhere, nonprofit press

  • Sense a theme yet?

    The best argument I have heard about giving things away for free is that people begin to believe that free is what you think it is worth. Thanks to one of our AME's for that gem. I have watched a TBC employee try and give away free newspapers where the supposedly educated population lives in town, and NO ONE would take a FREE paper.

    I will address each in a post, but as I have commented to most people who politely listen to m rantings on these topics, this is a very interesting time to be working in journalism. There is a saying that approximately goes 'may you live in interesting times.' Lately it has been far too interesting and the newsosaur even comments on how this is the best and worst times for journalism a la 'A Tale of Two Cities.'

    As I will continue to point out, last time we went through a major upheaval of the means of communicating, we had the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Makes you wonder what will happen this time?

    Friday, April 3, 2009


    In the depths of our economy and the journalism field, some words of hope.

    Andy Hall over at writes about his take away thoughts from the recent conference in his post "Words of hope in an era of calamity."

    As we all know and recognize, we are undergoing a monumental shift from print to digital. The dominant medium of expression for over 500 years is giving way to something new that none of us fully understand. As with all deaths and births, it is exciting and frightening.

    Andy shares some positive thoughts about alternative forms of journalism and news gathering, and that I believe is where the future will be. There will just not be newspapers (in whatever form) and TV; there will be citizen journalists, there will be small non-profits, there will news aggregators, there will be small staffs of news gathering and analysis organizations.

    There will always be the need for gatekeepers, analyzers and referees and that is where journalism needs to find its new home.

    for fun

    "Saving newspapers: The Musical."