Newspapers and magazines are losing money very quickly. News content remains very popular, but most of it is available for free. News aggregator sites serve newspaper content to large audiences for free, and Craigslist has killed the major source of ad revenue that newspapers need, and people are used to getting magazine content for free online. Newsweek is exiting the mass-market, and it appears that many large newspapers will as well. Many people agree that journalism is an important part of a functioning political culture and society, but no alternative to the present course has emerged.
Henry Blodget points out that even if it stopped printing on paper, the New York Times could not pay for it’s news room full of reporters and writers. Walter Issacson proposes a “pay by the slice” model, like iTunes for music. Amazon introduces the Kindle 2 as an analogous device for newspapers. Chris Anderson says “free” is the only business model that works, and it’s okay if that doesn’t support a lot of journalism. Andrew Keen says “mass-amateurization” is destroying our culture and must be fought. Michael Kinsley says that it’s okay if we have a much smaller number of newspapers. Dave Winer says kill all the elitist journalists, we can make a new journalism out of bloggers and participatory media.
The conclusion I come to is that the sea change that has happened is the end of ‘passive’ culture, not journalism. It should be possible to re-invent journalism as a richer, participatory medium, with experts and professionals directly collaborating with (and directly responsible to) the enthusiasm and amazing creations of bloggers, makers, photographers, people of all kinds. The more sharing and creating of things that’s happening online, the more engagement and value there will be there, and it will become something that can pay the bills for those who do it well.
Large media companies and newspapers could protect their futures best stopping the attempt to hold on to existing ad rates and formats, and instead moving their best advertisers quickly into performance-based online properties and formats. No one yet knows what will work, but they can do themselves a huge favor by trying a dozen experiments instead of moaning. And the bloggers & geeks can help invent new things, instead of imagining that this is a revolution where it will be a victory if a valuable part of society goes away.