News After Newspapers

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:”

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.





One Response to News After Newspapers

  1. Hi John, thanks for linking! Your points are valid, but I do think that there is a business model in a for-profit, mainly online news enterprise with a once or twice weekly newspaper of a different kind than we know today. I’ve described that kind of model at News After Newspapers, and others have pointed in that direction.

    For example, Marc Andreessen, asked a few months ago what he would do if he owned the New York Times, said he’d kill the print edition right off. But in reality, he would figure out that the Sunday paper is still hugely profitable; it’s the rest of the week that’s putting the operation in the red. A web-first weekly will make money, but not nearly as much as the old monopoly print newspapers did.

    The basic question you raise is whether newspapers, or news enterprises, in the future can be in the business of selling content (serious journalism), or selling advertising that’s presented along with content. There are still some who hope that consumers will somehow pay for news content, but the general realization is that they won’t, so news organizations need to focus themselves on creating a robust, loyal online community that can be monetized. Huffington Post is doing that. It’s really no different from CNN, which is engaged (mostly) in serious journalism, but makes money because it has captured a valuable audience.

    Here’s the big problem: many newspaper publishers have run out of resources to maneuver with—their capitalization is zilch, they can’t borrow money, and they have no cash. So with few exceptions they are just not able to invest in the news business ecosystem of the future. Besides this they have resistant internal cultures that get in the way of transformation. This creates some real opportunities, I think, especially at the local level, for new enterprises launched on the new model.

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