Get off the lawn

There’s one thing that Rupert Murdoch, Arianna Huffington, Steve Brill, and I agreed on yesterday – and and there’s probably nothing else one can imagine this group would ever find consensus around. At the two-day Federal Trade Commission “workshop” (read: hearing) that asked how journalism will “survive” (their word) in the internet age, we all told the commissioner to kindly butt out.

Murdoch talked about a drumbeat building to bail out newspapers and how that would be a mistake, just as bailing out GM was. The government shouldn’t save companies that make things customers don’t want, he argued. Huffington said there’s no need for government intervention and after her speech (read: testimony), I interviewed her for my upcoming Guardian MediaTalkUSA podcast and when I pointed out that she agreed with Rupert, she pointed out that he was asking for government favors in his threats to try to rewrite fair use. Brill started his talk begging government to stay out.

And I told Liebowitz that the future of news will be entrepreneurial not institutional; the institutions had and blew their chance. What we need is a level lawn where the tender shoots of these new businesses can grow without government trampling them on its way to try to protect the legacy players.

But the commissioner’s title for this “workshop” alone – “How will journalism survive the internet age?” – is prejudicial, a foreshadowing of the results they have already prescribed: it implies saving the legacy players when, as the Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton said at the hearings today, journalism doesn’t need to be saved, it needs to be created. (The reason I’m not there today is that I am teaching my entrepreneurial journalism course. That’s one way to save journalism: build it.) The choice of speakers was itself prejudicial: mostly the old players who played their tiny violins. The questioning was prejudicial: an FTC bureaucrat threw a newspaper exec a soft ball to decry aggregators and suggest how he wanted to get money out of them (not hearing the idea that aggregators who are adding value to the content). Liebowitz’s presumptions about the event were prejudicial; in his opening talk, he said he has already scheduled more hearings to talk about copyright (read: changing copyright to favor the dying institutions).

My requestion to Liebowitz and company: Get off our lawn!

Maybe, just maybe, he heard a bit of this. He told the Wall Street Journal last night, “I think the message from today is be very, very cautious before you do anything.” How about nothing.

But from the looks of Twitter, it’s worse today. Rep. Henry Waxman told the group today that “Congress responds to market failures.” But this is not a market failure. It’s a market, doing what markets do. Let the market do that.

Rep. Waxman: Get off our lawn!

  • http://peterdawson.blogspot.com /pd

    Changing the copyright law for the dying institutions ? That by itself is a darn shame and an outright disgrace!

    Changing it to protect the entrepreneurial journalist would be better !!

    • http://andforeveryoung.blogspot.com/ Stay forever young

      Staid dying institutions grasping at straws, blaming everyone but themselves for their demise. My goodness, we all wish we’d thought of what Google thought of! It’s all so simple and brilliant that those who cannot now keep up are spewing sour grapes. I have a bright teenage son who’s never read a newspaper, but who’s better informed by far than i was at his age. Move over Rupert, and let the rest move forward. Stay forever young

  • Gerry Rauch

    Jeff, I follow you on twitter and read your blog faithfully because I value everything you’re saying. I want to make sure I don’t miss your ongoing conversation about media. I can stand missing the NYT or the WSJ, but not Jarvis. On the other hand, if you started to charge a “fair” price for your blog and your tweets, like Murdoch, et al., contend they want for their journalism, I’m sure I’d be out the door on you. So if I wouldn’t pay for conversation that I don’t want to miss, why would I pay for jourmalism I can stand to take a pass on anyway.

    • http://www.annrbrocklehurst.com AnnB

      Gerry, I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t pay to read someone of whom you say, “I value everything you’re saying.”

      Do you buy books, magazines, newspapers?

      Speaking for myself I read a lot online, traditional news outlets and personal blogs, all of which are free. If they all went behind a pay wall, I would pay certainly for some if I considered the price fair. Others, I would likely give up, and if ever there is a micropayment system that works, I would pay by the piece to read them when something really piqued my curiosity.

      • Gerry Rauch

        Ann, I can’t remember where I read this
        (was it on BuzzMachine?), but someone explained the
        “psychology” of paying in a case like this: it’s too hard
        to predict the value of what you are paying for with either
        micropayments or a “subscription” to a conversation (after all Jeff might be talking about his cancer instead of media), so
        most people won’t do it. Also there are lots of other blog conversations I don’t want to miss (too many to follow them all, even though I want to).
        I did eagerly buy Jeff’s book WWGD?
        because I knew what I was getting and wanted it available
        for re-reading whenever I needed.

      • http://www.earthlab.net Brandon Keim

        I agree with some of what Jeff says about the market not failing, but simply being a market. But you’ve got to take into account how the rules of the market have changed — and Gerry’s case is a perfect microcosm of it. There’s no reason to pay for content that he loves and values, because Gerry can just get other stuff for free (or read other people who extensively quote and derive their work from Jarvis.)

        Is this type of market, with such massive barriers to competition, really good for the public interest? It’s easy to talk about “entrepreneurial journalism” when you’ve got a cushy academic gig and plenty of speaking gigs, but I want concrete examples of how those entrepreneurs will be paid to produce decent content.

      • Tex Lovera

        @Brandon-

        How is having so many sources of news (or opinions, or whatever) via the internet, most of them free, a “massive barrier to competiton”? Everybody gets to play, if they want. If the return (in dollars, personal satisfaction, ego-building) isn’t worth it to you, then you quit.

    • Gerry Rauch

      Ann,
      I found the piece on why micropayment systems don’t work, which I was thinking of in my last reply. It’s from Clay Shirky:
      http://shirky.com/writings/fame_vs_fortune.html
      Also, I noticed I overlooked your question about other print I buy:
      an extremely rare newspaper; four magazine subscriptions (Wired is the cheapest, Harvard Business Review is the most expensive); loads of books.

      • http://www.annrbrocklehurst.com AnnB

        I liked Shirky’s piece on the strange business model of newspapers (Bloomingdale’s paying for foreign correspondents) a lot, but I don’t agree with him on micropayments, and he doesn’t have any data to back him up. He merely cites other people who agree with him.

        In any case, you wouldn’t be willing to pay to read this blog but I would indeed pony up if there were a simple, reliable iTunes-ish way to do so. I value it at about $2 a month, $25 a year which means I’d pay as much as $3 a much.

        For that price, I’d like to see a “Recent Comments” feed on the site plus I’d like the button which allowed you to subscribe to comments returned. I’d expect better service.

        Would you really not be willing to pay that much?

      • Gerry Rauch

        Ann,
        Great discussion. You are making me think more fully about this issue. So here goes:
        I would not pay for this blog, because while I don’t want to miss it there are enough other voices on this topic to keep me more than busy. But I would also add another reason. Media is highly important to me, but it is not where I really live. Where I really live is in the world of philosophy, and more particularly in the philosophy of Antonio Rosmini. If there were an ongoing blog on Rosmini that gathered people who knew what they were talking about, I would pay up to $450 a year (or so) to be part of it. So your point is well taken: There would be some blogs I could think of that I would pay for — a good Rosmini blog would not be the only one.

    • http://annrbrocklehurst.com AnnB

      In the end, many people will pay for content as long as it’s what they want and it’s convenient.

  • Robert Levine

    I’m happy to hear you think the government should butt out of the market and not advantage one set of companies over another.

    So I can only presume that you’re against Google-backed government giveaways like net neutrality, tax breaks for broadband providers, sales tax exemptions for online commerce sites and safe harbors from copyright violations for online publications. While we’re at it, maybe we should cut out state-level tax breaks for some of Google electricity-generation products. I’m eager to hear you express support for these positions . . .

  • Dermitt

    Google is limiting you to five free news stories I just learned. Rational News

  • http://blog.ericreasons.com Eric Reasons

    If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. :-)

  • Dermitt

    Democracies all end up killing themselves. We can’t even afford our press that is killing itself. Kill more trees.

  • cm

    Is real journalism more important than customer demand (ie. market forces)?

    The real reason Murdoch et al don’t want bailout is that they don’t want the regulation that comes with it. I doubt they really care about journalism. I expect they really care more about making money. If the market just want celebrity columns etc then that is what they will produce. Real journalism has been on the skids for a long time and is getting worse,

    Real journalism (as opposed to the celebrity watching rubbish) is surely important to keep the world informed and governments honest. Surely that’s important and is worth preserving even if it needs external stimulus?

    Valuing something and willingly paying for it are not the same. “The market” doesn’t pay for many things we value: roads, military, street lighting. Perhaps journalism needs the same treatment?

    • Andy Freeman

      > Real journalism (as opposed to the celebrity watching rubbish) is surely important to keep the world informed and governments honest. Surely that’s important and is worth preserving even if it needs external stimulus?

      “worth preserving” implies that said “real journalism” actually exists. It doesn’t. It hasn’t for decades.

      It’s just a story used by journalists looking for handouts.

      However, telling it does tell us that journalism hasn’t changed and has no interest in doing so. Is that your intent?

      If you want respect, be respectable.

      • Robert Levine

        >>>It’s just a story used by journalists looking for handouts.

        Not asking for handouts here. Just asking for handouts to stop going to the other side.

        Look at Jeff: Every day he wakes up to a secure job at a government-funded institution, uses a government-invented network through tax-subsidized connections, talks about his book about a company that’s benefits from government handouts and blogs about the glories of the free market.

        If so many of you are against government handouts, lets hear some criticism of some of the ones that exist for the other side! Or would that offend the Knight Commission too much?

      • Andy Freeman

        Levine seems particularly incensed by net neutrality, and thinks that it specifically benefits Google.

        The folks arguing against net neutrality say that Google makes money and they don’t get a piece.

        First of all, they are paid. I pay for bits to arrive at my house. Google pays to send bits.

        So, AT&T’s argument is really that it can’t charge based on the meaning of the bits. It is arguing that it should be paid more when you call a biz that is making money than it is paid when you call your mother.

        AT&T is also arguing that it should be allowed to control what people do with their bits. We decided otherwise in the Carterfone decision, which predates Google by decades.

        Note that AT&T is only subject to neutrality regulations in its monopoly services. It is perfectly free to establish whatever rules it likes for connections where other folks are allowed to provide service.

        However, as long as it has an exclusive right to provide network access to specific customers, those customers have the right to impose restrictions on what they’re willing to accept. That’s just like a customer’s right to go elsewhere in non-monopoly situations.

  • http://wyman.us/ Bob Wyman

    Jeff, if you had been there today, I think you would have enjoyed listening to the presentation by Lisa George (an economics professor from CUNY/Hunter). While your work on new business models has focused on the “micro-level” by describing the structure of the new news organization, George’s presentation looked at the economics of the industry from a more macro level and built a strong case for the kind of news organization that you support.
    See her slides at: http://ftc.gov/opp/workshops/news/docs/george.pdf

    bob wyman

  • Dermitt

    You mentiomed your name as if I should recognize it but beyond the obvious facts…I know nothing whatever about you. The Norwood Builder Some solutions involve analytical skill that cannot be reduced to rules. You do the math.

  • Dermitt

    Hitler had VW. We have GM. So now we must reengineer the media to work with airbags. Yeah and close all newspapers. Burn your books and buy a fake Christmas tree too!

  • Tex Lovera

    1) There should be no “bailout” or any other funding of the media by the government. Neither should there be any regulation of the media by the government. Once you have the government controlling any part of the journalism process, it is no longer independent and is subject to manipulation by it.

    2) The same goes for “new media”, bloggers, etc.

    3) The traditional media should have no protections not afforded to an ordinary individual citizen. Citizen journalism is what we had in Revolutionary times; it did not seem to hurt us then, did it?

  • Brianna Day

    Agreed. The more I look at the bailouts occuring, the more I come to disagree with the idea. Our Nation evolves, and over time, our nation has “updated”. Newspapers are like any idea, they are great and useful, but eventually something is going to replace them. The same thing happend in the early 1900’s when T.V. replaced the radio, or when suburbs replaced cities. The government cannot subsidies things the community flat out doesnt want. For my community, most people have stopped accepting the newspaper, especially in economic hardships. It is just one less bill they have to pay that month, and cancelling comes with little costs; most of the information we get is online. Newspapers are becoming obsolete, therefore, what is the point in the government paying to keep them around. I don’t want people to think I am heartless and am not considering the future for newspaper producers, but I realize in this nation that things come and go as technology develops and there is little that can escape this truth.

  • Dermitt

    This digital tech is all rigged to surveil and track us. At least dead tree media can care less what you do or think.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Very good post!

    Hopefully one day JJ will extend this logic/insight and realize that things like *genuine healthcare* also need to be *created* at the expense of the failed command-and-control, govt distorted system LEGACY SYSTEM.

    And I’m referring to what we have even well before the Obamacare aggravation.

  • Hugo

    It’s fascinating to me how the debate over the future of media has seen a new flourishing of the hard-right, libertarian, anti-government ideology that is evidenced in an increasing number of Jeff’s posts, including this one, and in the pronouncements of others. From what I understand, Jeff’s generally a liberalish sort of person, as I know are many others on his side of the argument. And yet what’s gathering pace here is a fixation on keeping the government out, and on letting capitalism do its “creatively destructive” work no matter what the consequences, that in any other domain — healthcare, social security, education, etcetera — would be seen for what it is.

    Ayn Rand would be thrilled — which means everyone with a lick of sense should be at least slightly scared.

    • http://andyscheurer.oecii.com Andy Scheurer

      I don’t really think capitalism is “creatively destructive.” Innovation is, however.

  • Hugo

    Ha, I think DaveC’s comment actually referred to CaptiousNut’s comment, which makes my point for me! If you think scorn (as evidenced here in Jeff’s post and many of the comments) is the only appropriate response to the notion that government might have a role to play in protecting things we consider socially and culturally valuable — if you think that letting the market do its thing HAS to be the way forward — then at least accept that you are making common cause with the Tea Partiers and other associated nuts.

  • Robert Levine

    >>>Note that AT&T is only subject to neutrality regulations in its monopoly services. It is perfectly free to establish whatever rules it likes for connections where other folks are allowed to provide service.

    Not as I’ve heard it. Can you prove otherwise?

    And I’m not incensed that Net Neutrality benefits Google. I’m mad that Obama and Eric Schmidt ha’ve dressed up a government giveaway as a tool to fight censorship when Google itself censors anything China asks. What I’m incensed about is that our government takes Jeff seriously when he hasn’t thought through these issues.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Not as I’ve heard it. Can you prove otherwise?

      No, I can’t prove anything about what you’ve heard or haven’t heard.

      > I’m mad that Obama and Eric Schmidt ha’ve dressed up a government giveaway as a tool to fight censorship when Google itself censors anything China asks.

      Except that it’s not a govt giveaway.

      As I pointed out, AT&T thinks that it should be paid more when you make a call that results in income than when you make a call for entertainment. Does Levine really agree?

      Yes, Google obeys Chinese law in China. Does Levine think that foreign companies should be exempt from US law in the US? Or is it that Google and or China are special?

      Besides – the complaint doesn’t make any sense. We should do what’s best for the US in the US regardless of what other people choose.

      BTW – Does Levine really believe that the good/bad of net neutrality has some relationship to whether Google supports it?

      • Robert Levine

        >>>Yes, Google obeys Chinese law in China. Does Levine think that foreign companies should be exempt from US law in the US? Or is it that Google and or China are special?

        I guess that depends how seriously you take this whole “Don’t be evil” nonsense,

        As far as the other stuff, I can’t discuss net neutrality with someone who doesn’t understand it. Read up, educate yourself and get back to me.

      • Andy Freeman

        > I guess that depends how seriously you take this whole “Don’t be evil” nonsense,

        Actually, it doesn’t. Journologic aside, “X did bad thing, X wants to do Y, therefore Y is bad” isn’t actually a valid argument. (FWIW, I think that “don’t be evil” is puffery.)

        > I can’t discuss net neutrality with someone who doesn’t understand it. Read up, educate yourself and get back to me.

        My description is a paraphrase of what AT&T execs say that they want when arguing against net neutrality. See, for example, Ed Whitacre’s comments in http://www.businessweek.com/@@n34h*IUQu7KtOwgA/magazine/content/05_45/b3958092.htm . He was CEO of AT&T when he made those statements.

        If Levine wants to argue that Whitacre is wrong (or lying) about what AT&T wants to do, let’s see the evidence.

      • Andy Freeman

        Of course, bringing up “don’t be evil” was a dodge. Levine didn’t tell us whether he thinks that Google should break Chinese law or when companies should break the laws that they’re subject to.

        Then again, as I pointed out, what Google does in China has nothing to do with what’s good for the US.

  • Gregg

    You are clueless

  • http://andyscheurer.oecii.com Andy Scheurer

    Jeff – fascinating, per usual.

    In my opinion, a government bail-out of traditional journalism would be even more outrageous than one of the car industry. Just about anyone can afford a newspaper, we just don’t want to buy them anymore. Cars are still desirable, we just can’t afford them.

    Despite siding with most things democratic… if democrats bail out an irrelevant industry (GM was pretty close…), I’ll be reconsidering my party lines.

  • quackking

    Mr. Waxman: Congress *causes* market failures. Thanks but no thanks. Don’t let the door smash you too hard as you leave.

  • RickT

    I would go even further to suggest we lobby Congress to repeal the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970. JOAs have made newspapers more monopolistic, less competitive, and more vulnerable to market upheaval.

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  • Robert Levine

    >>>Then again, as I pointed out, what Google does in China has nothing to do with what’s good for the US.

    That’s not my point. My points are that, first, the “don’t be evil” tagline is ridiculous. Second. there are situations when _following_ Chinese law would _violate_ U.S. interests, international norms or morality. I doubt most people here share my politics, but would you be comfortable if Google had done business in ’70s South Africa?

    My point about net neutrality is that it *is government intervention* – just like tax breaks for broadband providers, state-level tax breaks for Google data centers, etc. But you will never see Jeff arguing against those things. I think the poor dear has started to confuse Google _with_ the government, only natural given that they use the same airfield.

    • Andy Freeman

      > My points are that, first, the “don’t be evil” tagline is ridiculous. Second. there are situations when _following_ Chinese law would _violate_ U.S. interests, international norms or morality.

      So what? The tagline is irrelevant to a discussion of net neutrality.

      As I wrote “Journologic aside, “X did bad thing, X wants to do Y, therefore Y is bad” isn’t actually a valid argument. (FWIW, I think that “don’t be evil” is puffery.)”

      > My point about net neutrality is that it *is government intervention*

      So what?

      Suppose that we agree that Google is evil and that net neutrality is wrong. That doesn’t imply that govt handouts to journalism is a good idea.

      You remember “govt handouts to journalism – good or bad, discuss”. It’s the topic of discussion….

      Even if you expand things to “what will it take to save journalism”, “google, good or evil?” isn’t relevant. Neither is net neutrality.

    • Andy Freeman

      If Levine wants to talk about net neutrality, let’s talk about it.

      AT&T has thousands of partners. It’s likely that at least one of them considers Levine’s biz to be a competitor.

      For the purposes of discussion, let’s assume that I’m a reader of Levine’s on-line publications, under terms that both he and I find acceptable. Furthermore, let’s assume that I get my net connection from AT&T.

      Net neutrality opponents, such as Ed Whitacre (ex AT&T CEO, who I have cited), think that AT&T should be allowed to block my access to Levine’s publications. Google says that AT&T should not be allowed to block my access to Levine’s publications.

      Does Levine agree with Whitacre or with Google?

      • Robert Levine

        If you feel I’ve strayed from the topic at hand, my previous posts should make it obvious why.

        But I can’t get more specific because I can barely understand what you’re saying and I’m not going to respond unless you call me by my first name.

      • Eric Gauvin

        hee hee… so I’m not the only one who thinks Freeman sounds like a robot…

      • Andy Freeman

        I pointed out that Levine’s argument about net neutrality was irrelevant to the issue at hand, that he didn’t know what net neutrality is, and that his position on net neutrality is probably wrong.

        Given that, he didn’t have many options for a response.

        Here’s another one – I’m wearing ugly pants.

  • Dermitt

    Get off the lawn or I’ll shoot usually works better. It’ll land you in the newspaper though! So say something like get in or under the lawn.

  • Dermitt

    P.S. Get down under the lawn is good too. If you want to be Aussie about it mate.

  • http://geistbearbrewing.com Thomas

    Waxman never saw a lawn he didn’t want to tell the person how to run.

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  • Dave Scott

    The FTC is really strengthening and empowering the FTC with this plan to provide public subsidy for failing newspapers.

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  • http://www.progettazionegiardini.info Progettare Giardini

    “How will journalism survive the internet age?”
    The answer for me is “In the same way it survived until now”, at least in those cases where no governement helps have been received… Good news, good articles, all require professional work, and professional work in most cases have to be payed. In other words: paper or Internet, it’s the same. With no professionality and no good content you cannot attract many readers…

  • DaveC

    Jeff, the above comment looks like spam. Maybe email the commenter and ask them a question like: “what is your profession?”