Friday, December 10, 2010

Costly Mistakes  | American Journalism Review

Costly Mistakes | American Journalism Review

In this AJR piece, John Morton's got some very good points. You can look at about any daily paper in the nation and it is a shadow of its 2003 self. Still a lot of quality work being done, but trimming of staffs was necessary considering the drop in revenues. We all, big and small papers alike, were giving it away for free.

Still, as a left-leaner, I wish all these corporations that own so many papers would be more realistic about a lower profit margin and stop trying to live up to the 30 percent they were making back in the 1970s and early 1980s. The bean counters have definitely affected the quality of newspapers.

You can almost trace the acceptance of newspaper site pay walls along generational lines. One young consultant I know sings "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" every time a site drops their pay wall. But others, mostly a little longer in the tooth, know that it costs money to produce, so why would you throw it out for free?

We put up a pay wall for our weekly newspaper and heard some griping, but we also more than doubled our electronic subscription count over a year.

I also watched a discussion with Hollywood "super agent" Ari Emmanuel and while it didn't deal with newspaper, it did deal with digital content. He says people in Silicon Valley are naive if they think movies and other created content should be free. He said it's simply theft to take it, even if it is easy to take.

The best thing I heard at the last newspaper convention I attended was that this transformation to digital is a 50-year process and we are still in the toddler years. It's best that newspapers: Stay on top of what is happening; try some things and stop others that aren't working; and, most importantly, realize that no matter what you do, it's going to change again, probably sooner than you would like.

Personally, I don't believe there is anything wrong with charging for the service you provide. No one, from publishers to producers to prostitutes, is going to stay in business long if they give it all away for free.