With newspapers talking about starting a Craigslist competitor (HA HA HA HA HA!) and bringing back paywalls (good luck with that), it's important to note what those Big Media companies are really after. Hint, it's not "journalism".
But here's the terrible argument I mentioned: In contending that the paid-content movement was not so much about revenue per se, Isaacson used this alternate rationalization: Paid content models are necessary “to protect creativity.”
That's a pretty stunning statement, even in the favorable context of trying to save an industry in which people are compensated by middlemen for their published work. And so when I got my turn at the mic, I rose and asked him: What profit margins will these paid-content models have to generate in order to protect creativity?
Isaacson never responded to that question, unless you call staring at me with a horrified expression a response. Instead, Merrill Brown, a senior strategist at paywall-startup Journalism Online LLC, rose in his defense. It's not about a profit margin, he said...and... well... then he said some other things (you can watch it here, although I don't know that listening would lead to a more accurate paraphrase). He did eventually concede that stockholders might have certain profit expectations.
Yes. Expectations like 20 and 30 percent profits.
So can we finally, finally call this thing what it is? Quality journalism is expensive, andto the extent that it provides a public good, we will find ways to fund it. But top-heavy, poorly run, arrogant-to-the-bitter-end media companies? This is their crisis, not our crisis, and it certainly isn't about journalism.
In other words: If Isaacson wants to join us in protecting and expanding creativity and quality, welcome aboard, Walter! Because we can do THAT for an awful lot less than what it's going to cost to bail out our brain-dead media companies on behalf of shareholders and executives.
That was written by an industry veteran, by the way. If I seem callous at times about the fate of the newspaper industry, it's for this reason -- with the advent of the corporate newspaper chains, the notion of "journalism" has taken a back seat to the pursuit of 30 percent profit margins. Newsrooms have been decimated. Investigative journalism has been slashed. "Serious" writing has been replaced with Brittany-style fluff. The product has become more vapid, less substantive. Local reporting has been replaced with cheaper (but soulless and generic) wire copy. Many newspapers would survive as stand-alone entities, but are being dragged down by over-leveraged corporate owners who've spent the last few years bleeding their media properties dry.
What the newspaper industry is trying to save right now isn't "journalism", it's "shareholder value".
Maybe paid content is good for journalism because it's going to hasten the fall of this terrible system. It's going to create a vacuum in which innovators will be able to make a difference. Maybe the best thing these old media companies can do today is fail quickly.
Newspaper circulation peaked in 1993 (combining daily and Sunday circulation) -- before the blogs, before Google, before the web. Daily circulation peaked all the way back in 1985. The industry's problems are certainly self-inflicted, no matter who they try to blame.