Sorry to tell you, but the market doesn’t care

Like a Molotov cocktail hurled into a crowd, Publishing 2.0 blogger Scott Karp has ignited the already heated debate about the future of journalism and publishing with his most recent post, entitled “The market and the internet don’t care if you make money”.

He’s pinched the title from Seth Godin, the marketing pundit who is peddling his latest book Tribes, but Karp takes the idea and runs with it in a long screed about how the Internet has broken the newspaper industry’s business model, a topic about which plenty of people including myself have written about ad nauseum. But Karp offers a detailed and particularly articulate discussion of this issue, writing that “Nobody has the right to a business model – Ask not what the market can do for you, but what you can do for the market.”

As usual with this sort of thing, the comments are as entertaining and thought-provoking as the blog post, and as a former journalist I can relate to the responses from people in the traditional media. The words of Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence, still echo in my ears as one of the main reasons I got into the media business: “Given a choice between a government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I would not hesitate to choose the latter.” The media have an important role in informing society and keeping governments honest. But while Jefferson specifically mentioned newspapers, if he was here today I think he would understand and approve of the Internet and blogging. It is the same principle he was talking about back in the 18th century – free speech. Whether it’s Rupert Murdoch or Ariana Huffington or Joe Bloggs exercising that right doesn’t matter.

At the end of the day, say what we will, the market doesn’t care about ‘quality’ journalism and comprehensive local news coverage. We collectively need to find a model that works in this new and changing environment. I agree with Karp that a future business model lies in the power of networks, not the power of monopolies.

[Reproduced from Zazoo blog]

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Relevance, timeliness and accuracy will always have an audience

Amy Gahran has produced a very articulate opinion piece in the continuing debate about the future of journalism. Responding to a question posted on the Public Journalism Network blog asking whether, if people aren’t prepared to pay for quality journalism, perhaps journalists should just stop writing, Gahran argues that the question contains a number of fallacies. She points out that it is advertisers, not consumers, who pay the lion’s share of journalist salaries.

She goes on to write: “(However,) just because people aren’t willing to directly pay cash for something does not necessarily mean they don’t ‘find value’ in it. For instance, when’s the last time you personally chipped in for a clinical trial? And how are you paying for that air you’re breathing right now?

“Some benefits are assumed to be part of the environment in which we exist. That’s what it means to have an environment. If a benefit grows scarce to the point that people feel they must directly pay cash from their pocket to keep getting it, there’s probably a far more dire calamity at hand than that single point of scarcity. Most people will almost always seek other free sources of a benefit first.

“I think it’s important to bear in mind that people value benefits, not necessarily forms. The key benefit that journalists and news organizations have provided has been relevant, timely, accurate information that helps people make decisions, take action, and form opinions. For over a century we’ve established an ad-supported business model around packaging that benefit in a form known as “journalism.” But that’s not the only form this benefit can take, and many parts of the “American public” (and the advertising industry) are figuring that out.

“…Therefore, I think the real question isn’t whether we should “stop doing journalism” if people won’t pay for it, but rather: How can society continue to receive the benefits of journalism, given the current media environment? Also, which players might provide those benefits, and how?

“Probably that solution (or more likely, set of solutions) won’t look or work like traditional journalism. It might not be done by ‘professional journalists’ or ‘news organizations.’ It may have different values and standards. It might not even be ‘a business.’ And yes, the big risk is that society could experience harm during this transition. But society also can participate in finding new solutions.”

Visit Gahran’s article (on the Poynter.org site) to see the lively debate this posting has already created.

Journalists: Business is not a dirty word

At the Future of Journalism Conference at Harvard last week, 100 journalism researchers and professors heard repeated messages that the mainstream media must embrace, not fight, the blogosphere and that serious reporting can survive by catering to niche audiences. Here is a summary of a report on the conference from the journalism institute Poynter.org (the full report is here).

Carl Sessions Stepp, a University of Maryland journalism professor, said journalists should consider themselves entrepreneurs and find ways to make more money from existing news services like archives. From Gutenberg to Google, he added, “Young marginal upstarts with great ideas is a journalistic tradition.”

Robert G. Picard from Sweden’s Jonkoping University, said that although journalists hate the words “business” and “money,” they must develop new revenue streams. He said news organizations should abandon their “all you can eat buffet” offerings of mediocre coverage of all subjects. Instead, Picard said, they should provide higher quality news for smaller audiences, present information in various media, and reuse and reconfigure existing content.

Clyde Bentley, a Missouri School of Journalism professor, said, “we’ve had our head in the sand” about the blogosphere’s impact.

The debate over bloggers’ influence “is over,” he said. “Blogging is a numbers game. It’s there and we’ll just have to deal with it.” Noting that 120,000 new blogs a day dwarf the country’s 1,427 dailies, he said editors should treat the blogosphere like a giant wire service.

Bentley said that while consumer demand for content decreases, their demand for content navigation increases. “There will always be a place for the journalist who can craft a story better than anyone else, but there will be a bigger place for the journalist who can help media consumers find the information they want.”