The new divide: Walled v. open

Tweet: The new divide in media is walled v. open. Here’s why I think walls are bad for the builders and us all.

In the discussion about news, there’s always a divide – because news loves divides. The splits have been old v. new, MSM v. blogs, professional v. amateur, institutional v. entrepreneurial, and lately paid v. free.

But I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open. The legacy players – in what I believe is their last-ditch effort to save their old ways, models, and empires — are threatening to put up walls. News Corp. is forever rumored to be putting up both pay walls and more walls to keep Google’s hordes of Huns (aka us useless asshats) out.

Some say: Fine, digital suicide couldn’t happen to a better mogul. But I say we should fear the precedent, the balkanization of the web into isolated worlds. It’s true that all the data on the web is not today available via search — content trapped in data bases, in Flash, in comments, in video — though I see continuing efforts to bring that content into the tent. The momentum is toward including ever more data. But now come Murdoch and Microsoft, threatening to take their balls and go home. It’s their right to do so; as Google always points out, it’s also easy to do so.

But I would hate to see walls go up just as we are tearing them down. That’s how Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger began his road show on the mutualization of news for my students a week ago: showing the wall between the press and the people coming down. But then, Rusbridger recognizes that the future of news – any industry, really – is about handing over control. That is what Murdoch et al fear most.

I fear balkanization. I fear stupidity, too – that others will follow Rupert the Pied Piper over the cliff. And I fear the impact on democracy.

At some events lately, I’ve heard it argued that information needs to be free to be democratic. I don’t agree. But I do say that when information is free, it becomes more democratic. Or put it a better way: the cheaper news and information is, the more people can be informed and the better that is for democracy.

Rusbridger reminds us that advertising freed newspapers from ownership and control by political parties and special interests who exercised that control via patronage. Advertising gave journalism independence. Advertising also subsidized news and reduced its cost so more people could get it. Surely the mission of news is to serve as many people as possible and so things that serve that end serve the mission; things that don’t, don’t.

I’m accused by those who don’t listen to what I say of arguing that – in the too-often paraphrased half quote – news (information, content) wants to be free, as if that is my cause, my religion. No, I say that I want to support news in the most sustainable and profitable way possible — and I believe today, that’s still advertising, which will work better in the open. I want to make news more efficient and less expensive so it can, again, be more sustainable — which will also work better in the open as networks, collaboration, and links serve that efficiency. And I want news to be as open as possible so as many people as possible can use it — that’s as close as I get to a cause: not that information wants to be or must be free but that it is better to be open.

Murdoch thinks Google is doing evil — kleptomania — because he doesn’t understand the new realities of media. Microsoft knows better. Its alleged attempt to woo old-man Murdoch is an act of deepest cynicism. It’s evil.

I believe that the next wave of virtue in society will flow from openness: from government transparency, from corporate transparency, from personal publicness and an ethic of openness that will bring greater accountability, deeper connections, and meaningful sharing.

Walls used to contain value; that’s why it’s the reflex of the legacy powerful to want to build them. They don’t see that today, in an open society and economy, walls no longer preserve value, they diminish it.

So I’m not rooting for Murdoch to build his walls as good sport. I really wish he wouldn’t, for his sake and ours.

  • Grazyna

    I live in Poland. For 50 years we had censorship. I really believe in open information. There is only one thing – the advertisers. In my country they are the new censors. How will they like the open media?

    • Andy Freeman

      What makes you think that advertisers care?

      For the most part, advertisers want relevant viewers. Period.

      They aren’t trying to save your soul, smite evil, or do any of the other things that govts like to do. They do get peeved if you trash their product, but they don’t care if you trash someone else’s product.

  • http://twitter.com/nwjerseyliz Liz

    I see your points but what this amounts to is giving people more choices. This is just the supply part of the equation. I think it’s also important that we work on education (“media literacy” some call it), to provide people with the knowledge resources to evaluate all that is out there since there one can’t depend on editorial fact-checking to decrease the number misquotes, rumors, and plain untruths that circulate in sources that consider themselves “news”.

    I think that it also must be acknowledge that while editors/gatekeepers served as news filters, they also did a lot of the legwork for readers & viewers. Being responsible, evaluating the credibility of authors, making judgment calls on the authority of news sources, even devoting the attention to care about this all is time-consuming in a culture with an ever short attention span.

    Fewer filters not only increases the supply of what is available (which is great!) but requires more work on the part of the reader & I hope people are ready to embrace that responsibility as well as all of the benefits of the ample supply of news coverage that exists these days.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Fewer filters not only increases the supply of what is available

      You don’t understand this “intertubes” thing. It’s not fewer filters, it’s far more filters.

      > Being responsible, evaluating the credibility of authors, making judgment calls on the authority of news sources

      I’m sure that you believe that but we’ve found that the reality was different, that they were intentionally shaping things wrt their biases. Of course, even unintentional shaping is bad enough, but intentional is why no one outside of journalism cares.

      That’s why “more filters” is a threat. They’ve lost control of “the story.”

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        Andy,
        Yes, we are trying to solve what Clay Shirky calls “filter failure.” And you’re quite right that outside filters take control away but then it also solves the alleged problem of havingn too much.

    • Dermitt

      Ads have expanded supply. That is due to Google. Automation:-]

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Liz,
      I agree. I have started telling my students that they need to look at journalism as adding value. That can take many forms. We will want more editing: vetting, curating, and teaching.

  • http://sputnik.pl/ Michal

    I think they just haven’t really thought about what the alternative is — Google could start a sort of automatic newspaper where news quality is crowdsourced and personalized, and authors are paid a portion of advertising revenue on their articles.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I don’t want Google to now compete with us in content. Google doesn’t want to. It wants to organize the content not host it or own it. No need to give up and hand it all over to them. There’s great opportunity here.

    • Andy Freeman

      > [Google] wants to organize the content not host it or own it.

      Not so fast. Google is doing a lot of content hosting these days. It owns Blogger, Picasa, GMail, Docs, Appengine, Apps, Sites, Groups, Code, YouTube, Knol, Earth, Patents, and there’s something that may be even bigger that I can’t find right now.

  • http://www.jay.fm Jay Levitt

    Walls? What’s wrong with walls? Walls are great! Who doesn’t like walls?

    Jay Levitt
    AOL 1989-2001

  • Dermitt

    Detroit — The Detroit Goodfellows will be out early Monday at downtown locations to sell their special edition of The Detroit News and Free Press to raise money for disadvantaged children.It’ll be the 95th year the Goodfellows will have their sales parade through downtown. We might need to raise funds for disadvantaged journalists soon.

  • http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com JennaMcWilliams

    Just wondering: You write this:

    At some events lately, I’ve heard it argued that information needs to be free to be democratic. I don’t agree. But I do say that when information is free, it becomes more democratic. Or put it a better way: the cheaper news and information is, the more people can be informed and the better that is for democracy.

    If I read this post accurately, you seem to embrace an ‘open not free’ approach to news. I wonder if this stance is ideological, practical, both, or neither. Given your (much appreciated) position that openness is better for democracy, what position might free-ness play in the furthering of democratic values?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      What I said: Free is more open and better but I do not say that free is a requirement. If news can be cheap or free – as it has been because it has been subsidized by advertising – there are advantages there.

  • http://alexandraschmidt.com/ Alex

    i will totally use bing if it means publications i love get paid for it.

  • http://www.onlyintherepublicofamherst.blogspot.com/ Larry Kelley

    The Great Wall of China or the French Maginot Line failed to keep the bad buys at bay. Those who fail to learn from history…

  • http://javaunmoradi.com/blog Javaun Moradi

    I feel your pain Jeff, but I have faith that the market and the internet will figure out how to stay free (free enough).

    There has always been a dichotomy of open vs. walled content on the internet (and everywhere else for that matter), and there always will be. I agree that certain information (like basic, factual news), and I don’t see a threat to it. For paid content to survive, whether that be news or other paid content (i.e. my training plan) it needs to be remarkable and unique or add a layer of value to what is freely available.

    Someone will emerge to fill the vacancy left by providers that put up walls. And if pay walls will keep a few companies in business, good for them. However, I suspect as you do that in the majority of cases it will simply expedite their deaths.

    Finally, I’m not sure about the viability of advertising, at least not in its present form. I don’t think there is an oversupply of online inventory, I think there’s actually a dearth. The problem is this antiquated notion of CPM. It was the first thing we could measure, and someone thought it was nice to have a yardstick to compare sites, but I think content providers and advertisers alike will be better off when we scrap this way of selling ads. The quest for PVs leads content providers to bait viral sites, break short articles into multiple pages, and all sorts of other user-defeating tactics. I’ve liked your previous suggestion that content providers cultivate more engaged audiences, and I remember the interview with Leo LaPorte when he pitched a better audience and a higher CPM (say $70). I like that idea, but instead of CPM, let’s look at a measure of engaged, recurring uniques.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I agree, Javaun: the market will figure this out. It is now. But fools will kill themselves in the process – and their their employees’ jobs along for the ride down the cliff – and that’s too bad when its unnecessary.

      I wouldn’t want to be a journalist working for News Corp. today. (And mind you, I used to be one, at tV Guide.)

    • cm

      In a link/ad economy, “the market” is just what attracts the most eyeballs. No longer is journalism about investigation etc, but just the generation of sound bites and headline to suck eyeballs to ads.

      Subject matter no longer gets rated by its bearing on important issues (democracy,…) but rather by its fashion value. Less about real social issues and more celeb gossip.

      Does the market really want journalism? What editor needs real journalists when gossip columns etc are more valuable (ie attract more eyeballs).

      Even Reuters is now generating many of those rubbish “Survey shows xxx makes you fat” style articles.

      Looks to me like real journalism is obsolete.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        No, it’s not always “the most,” cm. There is greater value in specialization and targeting, which lowers costs and raises ad value. That’s another way to go.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Subject matter no longer gets rated by its bearing on important issues (democracy,…) but rather by its fashion value. Less about real social issues and more celeb gossip.

      The author is pining for a past that never was.

      Journalism was never about important issues. It was about what journalists thought was important.

      And no, they weren’t saints. They had their thumb on the scale.

      And they lied about it, lies that modern journalists repeat, destroying their own credibility.

      If you want journalism to be seen as credible, it has to actually be credible.

      If you’re going to serve fluff, don’t be surprised when folks pick better fluff (Britney Spears gossip anyone).

  • Dermitt

    Good all in reporting is expensive. Newspapers are into all sorts of odd stuff as the business suffers. Being a newspaper does not keep you busy enough? I tried a new venture. A wallboard made with recycled newsprint. Chinese wallboard made it and my deal crashed. Now we have empty houses full of you guessed it.

  • http://www.jbspartners.com Jim Spencer

    I was chatting with a correspondent for an international daily newspaper yesterday and he was cheering for, but not employed by, Murdoch and those that join him.

    The reason is simple, he does not want to see the current economic challenges of his industry lead to its complete collapse.

    Walls or now walls, what were are talking about is providing information to a democratic society for a fee. The advertising model in print publishing is failing. A subscription model is one alternative.

    You can learn all you want to about search engine optimization for free on the web. That is if you can discern which sources with diametrically opposed positions are correct. Our you can subscribe to an authoritative group like seobook.com and spend more time taking action and less time evaluating which action to take.

    The notion that everything on the web should be free needs to change. There is value in good editorial content, excellent photography, thorough research and great page layout. These things cost money. If it is a choice between payment (wall) or complete disappearance, I vote for payment.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      The advertising model is not failing. It is not sufficient to cover the legacy costs of an industrial structure of news. That’s what may take your friend’s job unless he or she works for someone smart enough to exploit the new realities rather than just complain about them and wish them away.

      • http://grandcoulee.com Scott Hunter

        The advertising model is also insufficient to cover non-legacy costs, if my little paper is any indication.

        We have no ties to legacy iron or infrastructure at The Star (circ about 1900), and I would have no compunction about killing the print product and going strictly online (thereby eliminating more than half the cost of goods sold) if I thought it would fly.

        It won’t. We cover a rural area, much of which has cheap access to fiber, and the population is pretty wired. Our unique online readership is about three times our print circulation, but online ads just don’t carry the impact of print and certainly won’t earn what we need for an online news operation, the required minimal overhead, plus any kind of profit.

        Far from wishing away the new realities, I would love to exploit them if it’s possible. I just don’t think it is, yet, at least not just through the advertising subsidy.

        A year ago, I argued at a statewide conference for putting up a pay wall. I decided shortly after that we would give it another year and make a concerted effort to get more online ads. We made the effort and we failed to get as much as I’d hoped. Since then, the whole pay wall debate has re-erupted with some of the big media players getting serious about it.

        I’m still not convinced either way, but I just want to make the point that these guys are not crazy or stupid as some posters suggest (sorry, @jayrosen, I don’t have time for links to them right now). Even if you don’t have the kind of ties to the old infrastructure that a NYT or News Corp. have, the web is still an exciting but scary place. Turning even a small news organization into an effective web enterprise still requires a major investment into a reinvention, the profitability of which seems far from certain.

      • http://www.jbspartners.com Jim Spencer

        One additional monetization factor in this question is the disintermediation that has crept in. Is it right that most print news publishers had direct relationships with their advertisers?

        Now If an online publisher uses Google ad services, then the publisher is only earning a percentage of this lower total ad spend.

        Google and other ad networks provide a service, but they are also exacting a price that the publishers may not be accustomed to paying.

        In addition to the life time of a piece of news, a different way to look at the new business is by market segment; local, regional, national and international. I think that the regional news organizations are most at risk.

        They need a larger organization than the local paper (which just provides local news) and yet have to provide the local, regional and national (and even sometimes international news) content to their readers.

      • Robert Levine

        >>>The advertising model is not failing. It is not sufficient to cover the legacy costs of an industrial structure of news.

        By this, Jeff means it is not sufficient to cover middle-class salaries for journalists. Let them eat Googlejuice!

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Rob, did you rend your garments for the pressmen and drivers and mailers and typesetters and stereotypers and reel-room workers and loading-dock hands and drivers’ helpers and copy boys and classified ad takers who went before them?

        • Robert Levine

          >>>Rob, did you rend your garments for the pressmen and drivers and mailers and typesetters and stereotypers

          You mean the people whose lost jobs brought us to more than 10 percent unemployment while the digerati kept telling us that the Internet would help everyone? Why yes, Jeff, I did. I’m pro-labor. But I have my doubts about tenured professorships, because I think they make some people lose touch with reality.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Ah, yes, Rob, and union leaders have been strategic visionaries willing to make the tough calls and prepare their members for an entrepreneurial future with new skills. I’m so glad they saw that innovation is more important than protectionism. You betcha.

          The point is that you have to deal with the economic realities we have. Wishing them away or cursing them won’t accomplish a thing. The way out of this for journalists is learning new skills, including business and entrepreneurship. That’s why I chose to teach it.

        • Robert Levine

          >>>The point is that you have to deal with the economic realities we have.

          Yes. And one of those economic realities is that advertising will not support a major newsgathering operation. The only way to do that is to charge. Murdoch is facing that reality. You are hiding behind techno-utopian theories that have already been proved false.

          Someone will inevitable point out that Murdoch makes an unlikely champion of labor, to say the least. I know – at this point, I’ll take anyone I can get.

        • http://www.jay.fm Jay Levitt

          Here’s the problem: There’s a widespread assumption that if advertising will not, in fact, support a major newsgathering operation, the solution is to charge for a major newsgathering operation. We must do something; charging is something; therefore we must do it.

          But we’ve seen over and over that most people won’t pay when they can get “good enough” for free. Free newsgathering seems to be good enough. Maybe that’s because newspapers have already raced to the bottom; maybe if the business/editorial wall had stayed stronger, newspapers would have a more compelling quality argument. But they don’t.

          Charging is something, but it won’t work either. That’s the real lesson. Maybe Jeff’s wrong, and the solution can’t be found in the link economy, but again – that doesn’t mean charging’s the right answer either. If you have elite, compelling content that doesn’t get attention and inbound links, nobody’s going to read it. How many non-professionals do you really think sign up for Elsevier, or Lexis/Nexis, or the WSJ, or Gartner to read one article? Articles aren’t iPhone apps. I read them and I’m done with them. They’re pure, transient low-value impulse buys – and if I can’t read your article for free, I can usually read someone else’s that’s nearly as informative.

          Look, there are plenty of services and products in the world that would benefit the public, but that nobody wants to pay for. Some of them we call “public goods”, and we put the government in charge: firefighting, roads, schools. News can’t be a public good; the propaganda incentive is even stronger than the profit incentive. They don’t mix well.

          There are other services that we like, that we wish we could have, but that not enough of us are willing to pay for. We have a framework for those service providers, too: Resumes.

        • Robert Levine

          Well said. But I think you’re making two assumptions that may not hold up.

          First, people _are_ paying for news. Many pay for the WSJ already. Many more pay for physical papers.

          Second, you’re assuming that the quality of free news remains stable. Right now, as you point out, most people would rather read the NY Times for free than the Wall Street Journal for money. OK, fair enough. But that could change if the Times, under financial pressure, cuts its budget, and thus its staff, and thus the value of its reporting. Then, would most people read an NY Times that’s not as good as today’s, or would they rather read the Wall Street Journal for money? That’s a far different question.

          I don’t have the answer, but I suspect the smart strategy is to do whatever the competition doesn’t. If several big news outlets end up giving away decent but essentially unambitious news – which is what any paper that’s free online is headed toward – why compete with them when you could have a premium market to yourself? Many strategies that don’t look smart in the abstract are brilliant in the context of a market. In the abstract, should HBO have charged for television when everyone else offered it for free? Maybe not. But since it offers a differentiated good – one that will be increasingly differentiated as TV budgets decline – this works.

        • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

          Sorry for the double-post. I meant to respond to this discussion, but the comment feed put my comment way up in the middle of a previous discussion:

          ——————————

          Another piece of the puzzle: news is not one of life’s basic needs (like food and water). If people consume it free & easy today, and it becomes more expensive/difficult tomorrow, many of them will simply do without.

          I’m not talking about breaking news or commodity news (to borrow jtrigsby’s taxonomy), I’m talking about Features/Analysis. The big media houses of today (e.g., Murdoch) have the resources, reputations, and credentials to get at more of the story than the current digital resources. Crowdsourced “tweeters” can tell you that the bridge collapsed faster and more accurately than the New York Times, but they can’t ask probing questions of the local government officials to find out that someone’s been taking kickbacks to contract out maintenance to a sub-standard vendor.

          My fear is that true investigative reporting will wind up behind the pay walls, given its higher overhead, and that it will eventually die out because the majority of people will simply do without it – choosing instead to click by on the breaking & commodity news that’s easy to search for & retrieve.

        • Robert Levine

          >>> Crowdsourced “tweeters” can tell you that the bridge collapsed faster and more accurately than the New York Times, but they can’t ask probing questions of the local government officials . . .My fear is that true investigative reporting will wind up behind the pay walls, given its higher overhead, and that it will eventually die out because the majority of people will simply do without it

          This is what’s truly offensive about the news-will-find-me attitude promoted by the online world. (See Jeff’s new post: “Media has to come to us. Media must insinuate itself into our streams.”) The idea that being a citizen in a democracy comes without any kind of responsibility, that news is something that has to be marketed to you like breakfast cereal or liquid Tide.

          This weekend, the Times reported that 36 million people in this country were on food stamps. Jeff, was that news in your stream? (Before I read the article it wasn’t in mine.) Did you blame this, too, on unions? Let them eat Googlejuice!

        • Eric Gauvin

          Jeff Jarvis has tenure?! Holy crap!

        • cm

          Yup it is sad to see people being displaced by technology, but that’s nothing new. The car put buggy-whip makers out of business, electric lights wiped out lamp-lighters and spreadsheets killed off book keepers. But that’s just inevitable.

          In many ways it is more worrying is the death of access to really well constructed articles and investigation…. those things that journalism is supposed to provide in a democracy.

          In a new world order that is obsessed with links and tweets where is the quality input going to come from and who is going to pay for it? Frankly I think news was better when things were not instant.

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  • Quietzapple

    The real problem is that opinion and disinformation are peddled by so many old and new media, and even the old media are not subject to reasonable curbs such as libel. Corrections are not mandatory even after a costly libel suit, let alone of sufficient prominence that the damage can be even slightly undone.

    If the genie won’t go back into the bottle we must regulate him, somehow, by insisting than an address for service of summons accompanies his/her blether.

  • http://www.charlesarthur.com/ Charles

    “I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open.”

    I think this is overstating it. The truth is that there are paywalls for written content all over the place online – but they’re very rarely absolute. Even the WSJ’s isn’t, after all: you can read anything for free if you come in via Google. (That may change of course.)

    The difference is that the model tends to be more freemium that premium.

    I’ve just spent a few days looking at paywalls, or pay-for-content access, around the web, and you can’t chuck a football without hitting one. ESPN has one. (ESPN Insider.) Many other sites do too, but they’re a “pay us something and you’ll get special stuff” presentation. Have a look at Ars Technica, for example. General purpose computing news? How can you put a paywall anywhere there? But it does.

    This really isn’t as absolute as it’s being portrayed, and I think there’s a danger that casual readers (ie most of the web) will see “paywalls” and mistakenly think that everything is being walled off, where in reality there are multiple different approaches being tried, in some cases quite successfully.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Are there REALLY as many pay walls as you say? All over the place?

      Of course, it’s not absolute. But I think you’d have to agree that paid content is by far a very tiny minority of the content available. and that’s the competitive landscape for those who wish to try charging.

  • http://www.jtrigsby.com jtrigsby

    Good post Jeff! Super comments all!

    I think I’ve finally figured this out. Lets see if any of the great minds here can shoot holes in it.

    First, you have to recognize that there is a lifecycle to news. I think it goes something like this:

    Breaking News – Tiger Woods had a wreck, more to follow.
    Commodity News – All the factual details of Tiger’s wreck.
    Feature / Analysis / Deep News – A history of Tiger, what this may do to his career, other golfers who’ve had wrecks, etc
    Knowledge – Everyone knows all the details, kids learn it in school, etc

    Second, recognize that only certain elements of the lifecycle can have value and thus be monetized. I believe there are two: Breaking News and Feature News. Breaking news because there are legitimate industries where having the info first will make a difference (but only for milliseconds). Features because people enjoy reading them, the Sunday edition of just about ever paper should be proof enough of that.

    This leaves “newspapers” with a sort of freemium model that Charles pointed out is in place and seems to be working at other sites. Put the Commodity News out for free linking to premium content and features behind the wall. You know, kind of like the WSJ?

    Assaults on my theory encouraged!

    @jtrigsby

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I like your taxonomy. The question becomes HOW to exploit each. I don’t think there’s time to exploit breaking news because it is so quickly a commodity. Even the WSJ digital head concedes that.

      • http://www.jtrigsby.com jtrigsby

        Thanks… and agreed, HOW is the question, and that’s the same question facing all of us as we are migrating into the new web economy. How do I monetize my old way of doing business. Some just may not be able to AND stick to their current business. For instance, the ice man had to evolve into a mechanic when the electric refrigerator raced into prominence.

        As for monetizing breaking news, maybe we’re talking about the same problem facing orphan drugs. So few need the service that its not economically feasible to pursue it… but the ones that need it REALLY need it. Of course, if the distribution is broad enough fast enough, then the real advantage to knowing first becomes moot.

        @jtrigsby

      • Robert Levine

        This is really smart.But my question would be, how can you monetize analysis if any of the points made in an article like that can be lifted?

        If other news organizations want to take breaking news or commodity news, that seems OK to me. But what happens when they take analysis – not by quoting it (which they’d be prevented from doing by copyright law) but by summarizing it?

        Take, for example, the front-page New York Times article on the growth of food stamps. I thought it was brilliant, but the value was in the analysis, not the prose (which was great, just not as valuable as the ideas). Any blog can take all of the relevant points, add nothing and make money on the investment of the Times. (If they add substantial analysis, good for them – that’s great – but plenty of blogs don’t. Gawker, for example, just added sarcastic comments.) If you have a system that allows some businesses to profit from reporting without doing any, the businesses that do reporting will gradually die. And the businesses that reference their reporting won’t be far behind, since they’ll have nothing left to steal.

      • http://www.jtrigsby.com jtrigsby

        Hi Robert,

        Isn’t the is the same problem writers/publishers face now? Isn’t anything published to the web subject to this sort re-use?

        It seems that existing systems should be able to address this problem for publishers that opt to put their premium content behind the pay wall. A good Terms of Service should give the publisher all the ammo they need to ban bad users (ie re-purposers).

        In the end, just like breaking news, brilliant analysis can’t remain hidden forever. Sooner or later it must see the light of day and then becomes subject to re-use. Moreover, with proper attribution, why wouldn’t the publisher WANT the content to be re-used? If not immediately, maybe a couple of days down the road at least. The re-use creates more inbound links (good for Google juice) and spreads your expertise virally (good for reach & exposure).

        Maybe the answer is a low barrier pay wall, say $5/month or 25 cents per story, on the web site plus a $5.99 iPhone app plus $100/mo API access to the direct feed. This keeps the pay wall low for the casual user, give niche users a premium product, and exposes your full content to those that are willing to pay for unfettered access.

        At least that’s one idea…

        @jtrigsby

    • Steve Segarra

      I like the idea of a news taxonomy. But I think the taxonomy has to start from how people use news — not from how news organizations produce news. Otherwise, the taxonomy can’t identify which categories within the news business can be monetized.

      The entertainment category stands out as the first red herring. For instance, much of what we call “news” (Tiger’s crash, Palin’s book tour, the let’s-you-and-him fight political roundtables) isn’t actually news. We don’t need to know these facts to run our day or to vote. These are just cogs in the machinery of entertainment, celebrity, and political spin. Have these water-cooler topics compete for attention next to the cute animal photos, the red carpet coverage, Heidi Klum’s return to modeling, or the Hulu broadcast of the Daily Show. For these items, ad-supported is the only way to go, because no one will pay for any particular distraction when the next one over is free and just as meaninglessly fun. There’s no way to one-up Google on these distractions. News services shouldn’t even try to keep this part of the business.

      Even the “real” news categories divide by consumer usage, not by kind. 95% of people want to know what happened or a superficial analysis (e.g Iran’s statement they are going to enrich more uranium, Obama’s sound bites on trade and currency during his China trip, etc.), but they don’t have the patience or interest to hear the details (e.g. what’s happening in Iran’s internal politics that make the enrichment a savvy political move, or what the actual figures around development in China that drive China’s decision to fix the Yuan.) Great. Give these 95% of people these bits of facts, one-line analyses, and sound bites absolutely free.

      You don’t even need ads, because the remaining 5% that want all the nerdy details, conflicting but well-reasoned opinions, and background facts will gladly pay for news that is well-organized and actually worth reading.

      We can’t underestimate the value of editorial effort, even in the age of Google. Take for instance, Rhapsody.com. Rhapsody’s interface is a wonder of organization for music, music history, chains of influences, channels of content, and personalized content. Rhapsody’s organization gives you insight and saves you time, and so Rhapsody can sell pricey subscriptions to stuff you can Google-up absolutely free on YouTube or the radio.

      Just as Rhapsody organizes music better than Google, news editors need to organize the news better than Google. Doing so takes a deep understanding of their own content, sources, and customers which, frankly, is lacking in most news organizations. But this is one key to the stickiness they will need to turn free readers into paid subscribers.

      The other key to stickiness is meeting the quality bar. Editors need to ruthlessly root out every single sentence that isn’t absolutely worth reading. This is a different mindset than pounding out pages to deadline. It means going through drafts with a highlighter and not a redacting pen. But it’s the other key to making sure that people who use a trial of the paid content find they just can’t do without a subscription.

      • Robert Levine

        >>>It seems that existing systems should be able to address this problem for publishers that opt to put their premium content behind the pay wall. A good Terms of Service should give the publisher all the ammo they need to ban bad users (ie re-purposers).

        Maybe. But it hasn’t worked for Hulu (content taken by Boxee). Or Craigslist (which recently sued a scraper). As long as there’s money to be made in repurposing, people will do it. A sign saying ‘Please don’t steal’ is no substitute for one that reads ‘Shoplifters will be prosecuted.’

  • http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com JennaMcWilliams

    @jtrigsby,
    This is fantastic. It seems that the continuing value of traditional media outlets falls into category three, feature/analysis/deep news. Investigative journalism like the recent st. petersburg times piece on scientology would fall in that category, and social networks like twitter and facebook can help drive traffic there.

    Does this articulation of the four-part structure solve anything? It’s not clear. Perhaps it’s kind of like that moment in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye asks Golde if she loves him. It doesn’t change a thing / but even so / after twenty-five years / it’s nice to know.

    • http://www.jtrigsby.com jtrigsby

      Hey Jenna,

      Thanks! I agree, the greatest opportunity to add value is in the feature category. Its will also be a great opportunity for writers with their own following to exploit and monetize.

      I’m not sure if articulating the structure solves the problem but hopefully it does give us a structure to talk about. We’ve been talking about “news” in the macro sense, one big block. My thought was to break it down into more meaningful, bite sized bits. By identifying the the elements that have an opportunity, we can be more focused on the parts with a chance and let the others go.

      @jtrigsby

    • Paul

      Except Facebook itself is a walled garden. You might not have to pay money to join but if you don’t join you don’t have access to the content there.

      • http://www.jtrigsby.com jtrigsby

        Hey Paul,

        Don’t forget, just because WE don’t have to pay to get into Facebook’s walled garden, doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the wall. Just like grocery stores who sold us on the little key tag discount cards a decade ago, Facebook is making a mint (well, should be any way) off the demographic data associated with each user.

        As an advertiser with $1,000 to spend on ads, would I rather spend it on a newspaper (or news site) on a CPM basis for all users to see or on a Facebook ad that will only be displayed to the women, aged 29-31, with 2 children, that live in zipcode XYZ?

        As long as there are advertisers with products to sell wanting to reach specific market segments… this model seems like it will work. Now, how long advertisers will continue pursuing this model… that’s another issue.

        @jtrigsby

  • http://www.twitter.com/MacSmiley MacSmiley

    Just an observation: Didn’t Microsoft advertise Windows as “Life Without Walls”??

  • Dermitt

    Scrap vacant houses do not vacate newspaper offices. Build new better walls digitally. Price low! Press on!

  • Dermitt

    Spruce Falls 1700 pound rolls each more than five miles of newsprint. Not a fly by night operation

  • http://www.oldroads.org/blog Martyn50

    I would be interested to hear your take on Google and the academic world. Everything in the MSM may be on Google, but for academic topics we are still stuck in a multiple search world.. perhaps sort of like the Balkanization Murdoch would want. It’s not just a rearguard action to keep things free and open, but large segments of contemporary discussion need to become Google-ized.

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  • Eric Gauvin

    quality v. quantity.

  • Sauron

    Okay, open is better. But walled is more logical: some services represent more value than ads can represent. So Google should find better ways of dealing with walled content. Google should have a system that searches through walled content. That’s the real solution.

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  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    Robert Levine wrote:
    “I suspect the smart strategy is to do whatever the competition doesn’t.”

    Innovation and creativity has *always* been the smart strategy. Competition is for suckers and those not smart enough to seek a path not already taken. Smart people don’t compete, they offer alternatives and create new markets.
    (Note: Do not be fooled into thinking that there is wisdom in word games that claim that offering alternatives is a form of competition…)

    bob wyman

  • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

    Another piece of the puzzle: news is not one of life’s basic needs (like food and water). If people consume it free & easy today, and it becomes more expensive/difficult tomorrow, many of them will simply do without.

    I’m not talking about breaking news or commodity news (to borrow jtrigsby’s taxonomy), I’m talking about Features/Analysis. The big media houses of today (e.g., Murdoch) have the resources, reputations, and credentials to get at more of the story than the current digital resources. Crowdsourced “tweeters” can tell you that the bridge collapsed faster and more accurately than the New York Times, but they can’t ask probing questions of the local government officials to find out that someone’s been taking kickbacks to contract out maintenance to a sub-standard vendor.

    My fear is that true investigative reporting will wind up behind the pay walls, given its higher overhead, and that it will eventually die out because the majority of people will simply do without it – choosing instead to click by on the breaking & commodity news that’s easy to search for & retrieve.

  • http://alexandraschmidt.com/ Alex

    >>> Let them eat Googlejuice!

    awesome

  • http://alexandraschmidt.com/ Alex

    > Let them eat Googlejuice!

    awesome.

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  • Andy Freeman

    > This weekend, the Times reported that 36 million people in this country were on food stamps. Jeff, was that news in your stream?

    Umm, that’s not news. There’s nothing new about that number. It’s also not something that was previously unknown.

    This is an example of where the “thumb on the scale” hurts standard news organizations, such as the NYT. The Times may report the number, but you can be sure that whatever they say in addition will not be useful in doing something good about the number. In fact, it’s likely that whatever they enable will make things worse. It’s almost like they stage car wrecks to have something to report about.

    I’d like to think that this is a consequence of “make a difference” news, which is absurd because journalists at best know how to write, they don’t know how to make things better. However, it may be a more fundamental problem.

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