I really, really like Martin Langeveld’s blog, News After Newspapers. Mr. Langeveld is a veteran of 30 years in the newspaper business, and his recent post summarizes what he calls his “core preachings:”
- Getting started: introducing myself
- Why printed newspapers are doomed
- Why not wikify your newsroom?
- The basic unit of news
- Foundations for a new business model
- Why readers won’t pay
- The economics of moving away from print
- Maximizing online ad sales at newspaper sites
- What an “online-first” newsroom means
- Predictions for 2009
In their totality, these posts present about the most concise and sensible prescriptions I’ve seen for on-line news gathering and presentation. That’s the good news. The bad is that despite some of the tantalizing section titles, the type of entity Langeveld envisions (seeing the “fact as the basic unit of news; “wikifying” the newsroom) will never make money. Ever, at least as far as I can see. His mantra: “reputation and attention are the new scarcities; monetization will follow” is a half-truth which if followed, will prove fatal to news organizations which seek to be self-sufficient based on advertising (although probably no more fatal than current course and speed). While reputation and attention (or “expertise,” as I’ve seen it stated elsewhere) may be the new scarcity, the notion that commercial success will follow is a wish, not a statement of fact.
All scarcities, after all, don’t produce equal value. Think of it this way: which is the least valuable of the following: (1) the skill to paint like Gaugin; (2) the good fortune of owning a Gaugin; or (3) the expertise to put Gaugin in his proper art historical context? At least in the mind of advertisers, time was when the content of the daily newspaper was sui generis, and the rate card reflected it.
NEWSPAPERS THAT SEE SERIOUS JOURNALISM AS THEIR PRIMARY OBLIGATION WILL NOT MAKE MONEY, with a very few exceptions. Let’s just be honest. Serious journalism is a public good which has been provided for 150 years as an accidental externality of the monopoly and then oligopoly industry structure of mass media. The inability for the market to provide that public good in adequate quantities is a market failure which is the result of a radically and permanently altered industry structure. Saying that “the market” will ultimately forge a business model to sustain quality journalism because “there is a demand” for quality journalism is like saying that the market will produce adequate clean air because there is a “a demand” for clean air. Clean air is a public good. Civic journalism is, too.
Mr. Langeveld’s suggestions are of huge relevance to a non-profit newspaper, one supported by private philanthropy. And that’s where his real value lies.