newspapers say we don’t read them, or need to

March 11, 2013

newspaper face

If you were to listen to today’s newspapers, blogs provide nothing but sensationalism, rehashes of other blogs, and are just generally ran by rather untrustworthy people sitting at their kitchen tables in their underpants, looking for whatever brings in the big hits. Yes, all major newspapers now feature blogs on their sites but don’t tell their editors that because all to many of them seem completely unaware of this fact as they boast about the need for newspapers to do the longform investigative work that seldom gets done anywhere else, and use this to justify keeping a quickly failing business model afloat through paywalls and lawsuits. And this is why it was very odd for a case against a news clipping service to basically say that readers don’t need any more than the clipping provides, arguing that giving away the lead of the article renders the whole thing totally irrelevant to the public which is why the clipping service should have to pay the papers.

Now it’s true that only newspapers sometimes have the resources to send reporters on complex assignments and work on stories that will take months to result in a huge article that shines new light on something we thought we knew, or exposes a case we want to know more about. Since newspaper ownership is now more of a prestige symbol than a viable business, profits could be sacrificed for the PR value of the resulting story. But PR doesn’t pay the bills and the barriers to investigating big stories keep getting lower and lower. If you’re a professional blogger, you can get a really good chunk of your research done with Skype, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, and when you do need to go out and track someone down for some answers physically, airfare can certainly be justified since you could work from your laptop anywhere with a wi-fi hotspot. You’ll also get a well-researched story and it will cost you less and make you money in ad revenue.

But instead of learning from bloggers how to work more efficiently, newspapers are sticking to a dead tree with ink model and trying to mount paywall after paywall to protect what they’re saying people don’t even need to read past the first paragraph or two. And that makes me wonder why even read them until a huge story comes along. Why print all that paper? Why bother with good, old-fashioned column inches and not simply go all digital with an on-demand print option? The big papers are already doing that with e-readers so why not kill the trees, cut the prices and get bloggers in on the act, learning form them how to attract hits and make the best use of their time and resources? Of course not Nick Denton style mind you, but more of an Ars or Wired who are in the tech game and absolutely get it despite being owned by the dinosaur Conde Nast, which just so happens also made a winning choice on buying Reddit. If there’s so much stuff that’s not worth reading past a few paragraphs, why waste time and money trying to get paid for it?

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  • TheBrett

    Why print all that paper? Why bother with good, old-fashioned column
    inches and not simply go all digital with an on-demand print option?

    The advertising rates for print publications are still far higher than those for digital sites, and there’s no sign that that’s going to change.

    If I were a newspaper, I’d be doing the same thing – constricting access aside from a handful of “free” articles on my website unless people subscribe to either a cheaper combined print & digital subscription, or a more expensive digital-only one. I’d especially be doing that if I was a smaller regional and/or local paper, since my list of print subscribers would be my most valuable asset (advertisers buying my print ads could be reasonably sure that they would hit someone in the area in question).

  • wahiba

    What is a newspaper for?

    I used to regularly read a daily paper costing 1.20GBP

    I now read a daily costing 0.20GBP not missing at all the waffling columnists. Also still find it easier to do a suduku on a newspaper than on line!

  • Paul451

    Newspapers tend to cut their own throats online.

    They use advertising networks for their online content as if they were a one-man blog, networks which a good percentage of readers will block; and they ignore that they already have, and have always had, their own internal advertising departments (which would result in vetted ads, hosted on their own network, which by default none of the blockers touch.)

    Likewise, they channel readers into extremely limited blog-like comment systems, instead of richer systems such as reddit and slashdot; or even better, user-contributions like wikis.

    I mean, how mindnumbingly obvious to have a system that allows users to suggest spelling and grammar corrections, a second tier of trusted users who can okay the changes? (Likewise fact checking, and the like.) Rather than dump it all into one generic story comments. How dumb is it not to have a system of allowing users to create their own comment topics?

    Similarly, basic copywriting of bulk-filler, like turning press-releases into articles, or localising AP stories. In return, those users get access to the raw materials, as well as the actual byline for their work. (Essentially the newspaper/magazine splits into four tiers: Raw material, draft material, “published” online stories, and finally the “best of the day/month” published print version.)

    Why do newspapers turn their back on potentially free labour doing all the things their paid staff don’t want to do anyway. Leaving paid investigative journalists and “serious” writers.