Cold Type

No slug is safe in today’s newsroom

Archive for June 2009

We need to earn sense of value

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Like many in the newspaper industry, I’ve been reading off and on the past week about the recent “secret” meeting of newspaper executives in Chicago. There’s certainly no shortage of commentary about it in the blogosphere, including Cedar Rapids’ Steve Buttry’s take on the situation and Salon cofounder Scott Rosenberg’s insights as well. You can even read the white paper the execs read and discussed at the API meeting.

As Rosenberg points out in his blog, the thrust of this latest executive summit is to advocate for a pay wall as a means to put an end to the financial bloodbath plaguing the industry. That pay wall argument takes a new tack in Alan Mutter’s Newsosaur blog, where he reveals he is involved with a micropayment model called ViewPass, which then also gets thoroughly dissected in the ensuing commentary (including a reminder to read Clay Shirky’s post on why micropayments won’t work).

I’m not sure yet what to make of ViewPass, though it seems like a for-profit version of the donation-driven model put forth by kachingle. I’m not sure either will fly but, as one commenter on Mutter’s blog says, if you care about this industry, you eventually need to do or stand for something to keep it alive.

As tempting as it is to want to believe a pass of some sort could work, I am now in the camp that a pay wall of any sort is not a good idea simply because, as heretical as it might sound to some, I don’t know that newspapers are providing the value we think we are. Do we really think people will pay two nickels for that city council story or the latest installment on the salmon vs seals saga when so many won’t even pay two bits for a whole newspaper on the stands? Maybe, but I’m skeptical.

I think Publish2 intern Daniel Bachhuber is onto something with his “open memo on how to right a sinking ship” where he asserts that newspapers need to provide more value to readers with better journalism and more of it. He also argues for newspapers to retool their newsrooms for the digital age, transform audiences into communities and trade in proprietary software for open source solutions that are more nimble and Web-centric. He’s right on all counts.

That said, I have to admit I wonder if even all that would be enough to save a newspaper. Some papers have retooled their newsrooms, though maybe not far enough. Some papers have embraced and began work to build online communities with blogs, Twitter feeds, live chats and online conversations with the public. And some papers have certainly gone with open source Web content management systems, though few of those probably integrate all that well with the proprietary system used to put out their print products.

I think the key lies in the value of the news and information we provide. We need to offer more interesting stories and related visual content, become more available and transparent as journalists (via those aforementioned online conversations), continue the muckraking we’re known for and keep improving the design and reach of our products. Sadly, we’ve cut back severely in the past year (I believe I heard 14,000 and some journalists lost their jobs last year), so the challenge is now to work harder and smarter with less and that’s a bitter pill for any employee to swallow.

Therein lies the rub, though. What choice do we have? Walling the content off and charging admission isn’t going to create value. We need to build the value with innovative thinking and hard work, as others point out.


Written by coldtype

June 5, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized