Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Fewcher of Gerbilism

As I've said many, many times, any publisher who posts local or exclusive news on a web site and lets people read it free is just plain stupid. The puny ad revenues of web site banner ads and the small number of stream video ads don't justify giving journalism content away. The key to saving newspapers (and magazines) is for the wire services to ban the use of their material on the Internet and for newspapers to take almost all of their local and original copy off their web pages. Information has value, and no smart business person gives valuable stuff away. Its as though lawyers would post downloadabke will kits and how-to instructions on registering a house sale or do-it-yourself divorce tips. For some reason, they don't.
Contrary to what academics and some TV types say -- and I heard another one yesterday -- the future of quality journalism is not on the Internet. There is no business model that supports the shift of mass media to the web. Instead, companies like Canwest, CTVGlobemedia and the Toronto Star have cannibalized their journalistic resources to pay for a web-based convergence that does not make them any money.
The problem is the ad departments are calling the shots. Having never valued journalism, they see no problem in giving it away in hopes of generating some web site ad money.
Interestingly, at least in Canada, the more a company has adopted a covergence model -- print, broadcast, Internet -- the worse its stock has performed.
Convergence has resulted in job losses, circulation declines, and, worst of all, a serious reduction in the quality of individual stories.
This piece, from Time magazine, makes the case well.
I would have bought the magazine just to read the article, but Time was dumb enough to give it to me for nothing.
Meanwhile, the company that has done the most to "converge" its media businesses continues to become unglued. Canwest is unloading several TV stations to raise some cash to keep the bankers at bay.
That decision drove the stock up one shiny penny. It's now just a bit less than half the price it was at Christmas, about 1/15th of where it was a year ago, and 1/50 its price before it was sucker... um, bought Conrad Black's newspaper chain.

HT for the Time piece: Small Dead Animals.


JA Goneaux said...

While not discussing journalism particularly, my old college teacher Jim Henshaw makes some great points over at his blog "The Legion of Decency":

Having grown up in Saskatchewan and using small ferries to get over the rivers:

The ferryman was our conduit to the outside world and our link to news and entertainment. Everybody gladly paid him for his services.

And then they built a bridge.

And then the ferryman had to earn a living doing something else.

Canadian television used to do all the things the ferryman of my youth did. It's carried the news, provided access to entertainment, helped a number of Canadian artists earn a living.

But a few years ago, somebody built a bridge. They call it the Internet and it carries far more than the ferry ever can. And since the bridge went in, our television networks have done nothing but bitch about how hard it is to make a living, instead of realizing that their world has changed and they need to change with it.

And as I've agree with you before, "go local" is my mantra to media. Why would I need to read the 10,000 article on the Toronto Star's web page about Obama? What I need to know is why the building just down the street from me fell down last year.

Geeze, ever since my barber retired, I can't get any good local news.

Ottawa Watch said...

Local news costs money. It's the first thing to be cut.
Canadian journalism is like the farmer who becomes so greedy that he sells his seeds.

Chris Mehrlein said...

"Canadian journalism is like the farmer who becomes so greedy that he sells his seeds."

Isn't that a great metaphor for Canadian business in general?

Anonymous said...

I think you make some excellent points.

Some thoughts-

-I think it's to late in the game for the wires to restrict their content.

With Canwest's desertion of CP the newswire is becoming more dependent on online revenue.

-As for newspapers I think they need to do some serious soul searching.

The question for their execs is - if you were to stop printing your newspaper, shut down the presses, reduce your ad/admin staff, - in other words become nothing but a website with paid reporters - could you still turn a profit?

If you can't will you ever be able to?

If the answer is no to both, then you might want to focus your resources on the so-called "dead tree edition." *

*Doesn't apply to Canwest, with its debt the company is pretty screwed either way.

Ottawa Watch said...

Good points.
I keep trying to see past Canwest to what the newspaper market will be in five or ten years. It may look like Winnipeg's, where the local paper, orphaned in various take-overs, was bought by local investors and turns a profit. I suppose that would be the best-case scenario. More likely: foreign ownership by an outfit like Murdoch. I think that's where Canwest pins its hopes.

JA Goneaux said...

I think its a generational thing. I've been on the internet since 1993. I signed up with Toronto Free-net and found that, legally or morally or otherwise, I didn't really have to pay for anything I wanted to read, see or view.

Even when I started paying for an ISP, likewise.

And the generation after me is worse.

When the Star went up to $1.50 a copy up in Muskoka, my parents simply stopped buying it. When they started getting charged for far more channels they wanted, they cut their satellite package way back to basic.

I can envision a day when we'll have more "boiler plate" entities like HBO "Canada". Unless you have huge American bucks (and they are diminishing), you either go small or go broke.

Ever read that the first mammals were wee tiny lemur-like creatures hanging around huge reptiles?

Sorta like that.

Ottawa Watch said...

That's what I think, too, except for a few really good newspaper.
This martket will no longer support the crap of market monopoly newspapers. There is no such thing as a one-newspaper town anymore.