I had trouble finding time to watch this, and if we wait until I have time to comment on it, I’ll never get around to posting it. I have actual work to do.
So… I urge y’all to watch it, and comment, and I’ll jump in and join you later.
I’ll just say that the piece is well-done, and accurate. The truest thing Oliver says is when he indicates that no one has figured out a good way to pay for the journalism our society needs going forward (now that print advertising, which used to be like a license to print money, has essentially gone away). In other words, he says a lot of things I’ve said before, in a less entertaining matter. (My Brookings piece, for instance, wasn’t crafted for laughs.)
That’s the truth, and the tragedy. One can make fun of all the media executives who are trying various stupid strategies to keep going, but the indisputable fact is that no one has come up with the right approach yet…
I won’t have time to watch it until later but I have to ask – what are examples of the strategies newspapers ARE trying? I had a brief discussion with Robert Ariail at your party where I told him the
best thing The State could do would be to put his cartoons on the front page of the paper and the website. People would talk about those cartoons if they actually could see them. And as I’ve said before, the fact that the content producers at The State aren’t big Twitter users, don’t do much (if any) in the way of podcasts or videos is a sign that they are missing the boat.
It’s inevitable that the daily hardcopy newspaper will not exist in, what, 5 years? 10 years for sure. Why not jump the gun on that now and stop focusing on the delivery mechanism and instead focus on the content? People want content. They want it now, they want it accurate, and they want it in a form that is interactive or visual or in a podcast. They want tweets that link to specific articles or video. They want newspapers to be advocates for the general public. They want niche information they can’t get anywhere else. The market is out there. It’s the demand for what many newspapers are trying to push that isn’t there.
I just don’t see much difference when I look at the way The State does business – other than doing less and less of what they used to do. A brave publisher would shut down the daily delivery and create a whole new entity focused on delivering the news that is important to South Carolinians and the people who live in the Midlands. Spawn off a dozen “brand name” content producers like Ron Aiken’s Quorum tied together under The State umbrella.
Take a look at Bill Simmons’ new endeavor for HBO called The Ringer. It’s a website but it’s also a platform for delivering content – email stories, web stories, podcasts, TV shows, documentaries, etc. Simmons built that platform from scratch in just a year and now it employs dozens of top writers. He started as a sports blogger in Boston twenty years ago. Now he hangs out with Malcolm Gladwell, Ben Affleck, etc.
Everything you just described here is currently being tried by newspapers:
But here’s the thing that I keep trying to explain, and which Oliver does, too: It’s not about content or delivery systems. In fact, if newspapers could convert all their dead-tree readers to online instantly, it would be a great blessing (on one level) because it would eliminate all those costs associated with a 19th-century manufacturing and delivery process.
BUT… that does NOT in any way address the core problem of newspapers, which is this: Print advertising is what has always paid for reporting and editing and producing and delivering the paper. And print advertising is going away, and NOTHING is on the horizon to replace it. Online ads simply do not bring in anywhere NEAR the profit that print ads did, and it pretty much looks like they never will. The online market just won’t bear print ad prices. Online revenue has grown enormously, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous losses in print. As Oliver points out, the benefit of growing online ads is like finding a quarter on the sidewalk on the same day that a hacker empties your bank account — it’s not much help.
Why has print advertising (and for that matter, local TV and radio advertising, to a great extent) gone away? Because businesses don’t contact customers the way they once did. They are not interested in what newspapers (and local TV and radio — everyone notices how newspapers have shrunk, but meanwhile TV news staffs have shrunk and radio reporters are an extinct species) offer, which is eyeballs across a particular geographic market. They’re interested in reaching out to individual customers directly. This trend started with direct mail in the early ’80s, and just took off exponentially in the ’90s and ’00s with the Web.
And forget about READERS paying for the news. They never have (what they pay for subscriptions has never covered more than a tiny fraction of the cost of newspapers), and there’s no indication that they ever will — not in the numbers necessary to support a newsroom.
Anyway, I hope I’m succeeded better than I have in the past in making the issues involved clear…
But you keeping ignoring the fundamental fact – hardcopy newspapers are dead. Cut out all the costs of producing and delivering papers and you might be able to make a profit on selling content. How much does it cost to run a printing press? How much does the newsprint and ink cost? How much is The State paying people to load trucks, drive trucks, deliver papers? All that cost goes away in the digital world so you don’t need to generate the same amount of ad revenue.
Again, I go back to The Ringer. There are no ads on The Ringer. Why? Because the website drives traffic to the podcast which has 3-4 30 second spots in each podcast and the TV show (on HBO, paid subscription). There is PLENTY of money to be had in advertising out there if you get the right content and the right format. Why is John Oliver on HBO? Because he drives eyeballs to the channel and that drives viewers to pay for it. He’s not printing a pamphlet and sending it through the mail.
Newspapers want things to remain the same. Their collective heads have been in the sand for more than a decade when anyone with a reasonable idea of what was happening could see print was dying. Yes, people will lose their jobs. That’s what happens. Digital photography killed Kodak but they have emerged as a different company now after bankruptcy. The same will happen to newspapers. The best content creators will find other avenues to distribute their wares. The total sum of dollars spent on advertising won’t evaporate. It will likely continue to grow, just funneled through other mediums that are responsive to change.
“Next year will mark a major milestone for ad spending, as total digital surpasses TV for the first time, according to eMarketer’s newest quarterly ad spending forecast. In 2017, TV ad spending will total $72.01 billion, or 35.8% of total media ad spending in the US. Meanwhile, total digital ad spending in 2017 will equal $77.37 billion, or 38.4% of total ad spending. – See more at: http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Digital-Ad-Spending-Surpass-TV-Next-Year/1013671#sthash.788sMTNs.dpuf”
So advertising spending is growing year over year… it’s just not going to newspapers. Not a shock. The money is there for those able to get it.
And a great chart here:
Shows that newspaper advertising is expected to shrink from 14% to 10% of total advertising spending by 2018 while digital grows from 25 to 33%.
Facebook and Google are pulling in billions in ad revenue… probably sucking it away from newspaper more than anything.
Radio reporters are an extinct species? I better tell that to Melissa Block and the other NPR folks…
On the local level. Call a local radio station and ask for the news department. There’s no Les Nessman any more.
Still, I exaggerated SLIGHTLY. There is a South Carolina Radio Network that operates out of Columbia and provides content to stations across the state.
But good luck finding a local station with reporters.
I may be in the minority, but I pay for Slate Plus and subscribed to The Atlantic just because I read them so much on Facebook. I am considering adding The Guardian to the mix, too. I am a “Sustaining Star Member” of ETV-Radio, chiefly to support the news…
I started out thinking Doug had missed the boat here – here being the importance of ad revenue to sustain the content production consumers still do, in fact, want.
However I think he is correct, and there is an excellent case study out there for how a content provider/channel can adapt its business model to revolutionary change(s): HBO. Just because newspapers haven’t figured it out doesn’t mean that other media enterprises haven’t overcome similar situations/odds.
Other industries that have died did so as a result of the end demand disappearing. With news this hasn’t happened yet – because consumers still want news. So it’s more like newspapers are in a state of purgatory – enough ad revenue to not die, but not enough business innovation to actually thrive.
And what is the “innovation” that is missing?
And remember — we’re not talking about content or presentation. It’s not that news organizations cover too much of this, or not enough of that. Content and presentation have NOTHING to do with the business model. And if you think that can BECOME the business model — if you think readers and viewers will suddenly start pulling their weight in terms of paying the actual cost of gathering and presenting news — well, good luck to you, sir. They’ve never done so before, and I don’t see any indication that they’re likely to start.
It would be great if they WOULD.
But… even if they did… that would tempt news organizations to be all about clickbait — anything to drive an interaction. So the content would be all stuff like listicles of hot actresses’ wardrobe malfunctions. And Doug would never, ever get the coverage of the Richland County Recreation Commission that he wants…
The disconnect we had before, with the business propped up by something that had nothing to do with the journalist-reader interaction, made for independence. It freed editors to go after stuff people NEEDED to know, and not just stuff they WANT to see…
I’m already getting the coverage I want. Ron Aiken is doing the work The State should be doing. And I donated to his website to support his efforts.
I’ve paid for content many times when it it’s worth it.
Newspapers are dead. They just haven’t reported it yet. The choice is simple: dwindle away or radical change. I showed the data..advertising dollars are out there to compete for.
Blythewood has two weekly papers and the Free Times seems to be full of ads. They’ve both probably taken away a lot of ad revenue from The State. Niche, low overhead players are fine.
Weekly papers do not have nearly the news windows to fill (although The State’s is ever shrinking, it’s still considerably larger than The Free Times, and FT gets most of its news from The State!)
I watched the video. A lot of snark, a lot of hand wringing. But no suggestion of how to fix the “problem”. Because it is unfixable. Change or die. The only thing that ‘s dying is print journalism. Because it is slow. Because it is resistant to change. Because it is becoming more obvious every day that people want their news in different formats than the print industry is willing to work to offer.
I’m sure the CEO of the llast company selling typewriters moaned about customers using newfangled computers that didn’t require whiteout.
The fix will require someone willing to take a risk. Unfortunately, the majority of newspaper reporters are too close to retirement to do that.
Your newspaper subscription in the “old days” only paid for the paperboy, not all the reporters and editors.
Here’s something that journalists don’t care for — the notion that advertising itself is a kind of news.
People want contest more than ever, and are less likely than ever to pay for it. Ask the music industry about Napster.
Part of the problem is that bean counters trying to keep newspapers going don’t understand the strength of their own product. The first people to get the boot are columnists, political cartoonists, local sports writers, three-dotters, feature photographers and all the others who make your local paper a unique product, providing what you can’t get elsewhere.