Don’t Try to Save Your Newspaper. Try to Save News.

February 11, 2009 at 2:21 am Leave a comment

Walter Isaacson has been out flogging his Time magazine cover story, “How To Save Your Newspaper.” Last night he was on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’m not sure which made me feel more tired–reading his article or watching him as he offered a poorly thought-out “solution” on televison. His big idea, which boils down to micropayments in exchange for content, betrays a profound ignorance of how people use the internet to consume news in the 21st century. Of course, this should not surprise us, as the story was commissioned by a news weekly, which, in an age of instantaneous information, may be the only form of media more archaic than a daily newspaper.  

How to save your newspaper is the wrong question. The very idea of a newspaper is, for all practical purposes already dead. The right question is where will quality reporting come from in the post-newspaper (and post-television) news eras? I’m not sure we know the answer yet, and it’s a damned important question, since an energetic and meddlesome press is absolutely critical to the health of any democracy. I have no doubt that maverick reporters will continue to break an important story now and then. But when we take away the business model that has historically supported news-gathering operations, will what passes for news in America be dumbed down even more than it already has been? Will the number of reporters who can afford to spend months in pursuit of a single, complex story dwindle to a handful?

The question the news industry must answer is how will it monetize “free”? It is the same question that Chris Anderson of Wired has identified as central to the new digital economy of abundance (as opposed to the analog economy of scarcity). And will there be such a thing (singular) as the news industry, or will it be fractured into thousands of pieces by the democratization of technology and the destruction of old business models?

For more on Mr. Isaacson and his regrettable ideas on the newspaper industry, visit Techdirt.

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The Death of the Newspaper Sweepstakes and Strategic Bankruptcy

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February 2009

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