Net Costs

… conned by the numbers from their web departments and aided and abetted by laughably inconsistent web metrics… newspaper owners will strip newspapers of the resources they need to reinvent themselves in order to nurture an internet beast that they believe is a rottweiler puppy but is, in fact, a fully grown poodle. They are barking mad.
– John Duncan, former managing editor of the Observer, 1999 to 2005, Press Gazette

Class Acts

Curious to note that sensitive US indie-rock band Death Cab for Cutie — catch them on Atlantic Records, a subsidiary of the colossal Warner Music Group, catch them on the OC, Fox’s top-rating TV drama about the affluent youth of Orange County, CA — ultimately gets its name from sociologist Richard Hoggart, from The Uses of Literacy, his 1957 critique of British popular culture.

In conversation with the once angry young man, now grand old man of British cultural studies, DJ Taylor evaluates Hoggart’s thesis 50 years on — a culture devised by ordinary people for themselves is being stamped out by a mass culture devised by corporations for maximising shareholder profit.

Carrots, Sticks, Journalism and Nick Denton

Writers at NYC’s Gawker Media get paid bonuses for the volume of traffic and page views their stories generate, according to bitter and jaded hacks getting drunk in one of the dives on Fifty-second Street uncertain and afraid as the clever hopes expire etc an inside source.

In a profile of Gawker boss Nick Denton, a “born mischief-maker who has made a fortune out of gossip”, by the Guardian’s James Silver, a Gawker underling reveals:

We got quarterly bonuses based on traffic which results in this all-day obsessive monitoring of traffic. As long as page views stay high, advertising rates stay high, which is all that matters to the company. We are paid to get traffic and that dictates what stories you do.

From the lofty heights of Gawker Towers, former FT journalist Denton, pecking at a laptop, monitoring traffic on his sites, says he’s “distrustful” of dotcoms set up just to make money:

You obviously have to make money otherwise it’s no fun, but those kinds of projects lack internal energy or a driving-force.

The driving-force behind Gawker Media? Denton says it’s publishing the kind of stories not getting published in old media newspapers, publishing what journalists tell each other after deadline, over a drink or three.

Rich Pickings

The motto of the bubble was get big fast. The rule today is get big cheap… What tickles my checkbook is the success of capital-efficient startups where the users themselves often contribute the feature road map, software and marketing.

David Cowan, Bessemer Ventures in Forbes Magazine

[The bankrollers] don’t care about your newfound ability to publish your thoughts or your pictures. They are just glad that you are doing so. Why? Because in an information based economy, data is your primary natural source. And flow of data creates movement which can be harnessed.

Like a water-mill.


Harmful If Swallowed

Yeah, the Kool-Aid does taste funny. Molly Ivins tears into the assumption that the newspaper business is dying because it isn’t delivering profits. Sure, there’s a steady decline in the industry over the long term. But profits are still happening. What’s killing newspapers is a mania for profits at any cost. Cut reporters and the space devoted to news. Profits will certainly go up. But then newspapers will certainly die. Which wouldn’t matter if newspapers weren’t fundamental to the creation of a well-informed citizenry.

Yeah, but – isn’t the growth of the blogosphere making up for this? And acting as an offshore balance to the power of the mainstream media? Please, don’t pass the Kool-Aid. Ivins is dismissive of bloggers – they don’t have the size, interest and skills needed to go out and gather news; they remain “opinion-mongers”:

No one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter — nothing like interviewing all four eyewitnesses to an automobile accident and then trying to write an accurate account of what happened.

Molly Ivins, Alternet

Give some of them time, Molly. Otherwise, good stuff. Particularly if you think that Rupert Murdoch assigning you a friend when you sign up for MySpace is mildly creepy, indicative of what lies ahead.

Publish and Be Financially Independent

It sounds like a mission impossible: set up a progressive publication, one which doesn’t shirk from flicking the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, and don’t worry if the money doesn’t immediately roll in.

Robert Scheer, former columnist at the LA Times, sacked, he says, because of his opposition to the Iraq War, is trying to do exactly this. Truthdig is “an attempt to put out a good solid magazine of substance that has a progressive point of view.” Rather than competing with old media, he aims to produce “evergreen” copy giving readers in-depth analyses on current news stories. How to keep the “webzine” financially afloat? No get rich scheme, Truthdig will eventually depend on ad revenue as well as sponsorship for specific projects.
Online Journalism Review

Two further suggestions from Joe Mathewson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, banker and corporate lawyer. Newspapers benefit our civic health in ways which far outstrip the profits they bring to their investors. Simple tax legislation could make it easier for newspaper owners to convert ailing businesses into not-for-profit companies, into tax deductible gifts. Or newspapers could follow the US real estate investment trust model: distribute all profits to shareholders and get an exemption from federal taxes.
Editor and Publisher

Press Exchange

At an in-house pow-wow last month looking at what’s next for the Guardian following its shrink from broadsheet to Berliner, editor Alan Rusbridger, chatting to blogger and Guardian Unlimited columnist Jeff Jarvis, downplayed the newspaper’s gleaming new printing presses.

They may be the last presses we ever own.
Alan Rusbridger, Buzzmachine

Way to go, says Jarvis. While US newspapers fret about their problems – staff layoffs, increased competition, less revenue, lower stocks, general fear and loathing, European papers are reaching out to zeros and ones.

Like their European counterparts, US newspaper folk should seize the digital day. Newspapers need to become places rather than things. The trick is to create online communities which can then be tapped for oodles of advertising revenue.