Jack Fuller at ONA

Jack Fuller at ONA
: Jack Fuller of Tribune company is giving his keynote. He admits that the company has spent $600 million onlline — net. Yow. Entertainment Weely went through $200 million before it broke even but it’s now a $300 million-a-year business. Compare and contrast.

However, they did make 2.75 billion on AOL stock. “Net-net, we’re real happy how it all turned out.”

: He admits that, at first, “I looked at the new medium and saw the old one. I saw a newspaper — online.” But, of course, that has changed.

: “It’s easier to destroy value than to create it with this new medium,” he says.

The frictionless transfer of information “creates perfect markets,” he says. “… and as any soybean farmer will tell you, you don’t want to be in a perfect market.”

Yes, that is a moral to this story: News is a commodity.

So we need to ask (me talking, not Jack) whether news is really our business. See this alternative from commenter Hugh MacLeod (which I’ll repeat yet again on my panel tomorrow):

Perhaps online newspapers should stop seeing themselves as “things”, rather a point on the map where wonderful people cluster together to do wonderful things. A Joi-Ito-like [Joi being a central weblogger] brain trust, held cohesive by good editor. Some of the cluster will be paid (the journalists), others won’t (the audience). But everybody is welcome to contribute, and is kinda working together with the same goal: to create the most vibrant intellectual collective that they can.

: Fuller says “it may have been our biggest mistake to persuade people that everything should be free.”

Well, but if what you offer is a commodity….

He says it is demonstrable tha the audience is shifting from ink-on-paper into “the medium where we still have not figured out how to make a lot of money… at least, not with news products.”

: “The news that draws a crowd is not the latest in a long and wonderfully written series of articles, lyrically written and wonderfully reported.”

Damn right.

“It is sometimes humbling to look at what people actually come to on our sites and compare to what we put on our front pages.”

Damn right again.

He says that doesn’t mean they are putting the wrong things on the front page but that people come to different media for different things.

He’s trying to dodge that ball. Smack.

: He says online proves that “we can reach young people with … news… If we don’t make the news reports too demanding, too difficult.”

I’d sure express that differently. But I know what he’s trying to say because he just said it a minute ago: Short is good.

I read the Tribune’s almost-free youth tab, Red Eye, over lunch and compared it with mothership Tribune. In many cases, the story in the free tab was all we need.

Mothership Tribune had a long story about moving a U-boat inside at a museum. Red Eye told that story in three graphs. That was more than enough; it told me what I want to know.

You see, young people aren’t dumb and they’re not looking for less-than-difficult news. They’re busy. They don’t want us to waste their time. If we drone on, we waste their time.

(By the way, Tribune’s free tab in Chicago is a helluva lot better than its new equivalent in New York.)

: “My biggest worry is that newspapers as institutions are defensive, perfectionist cultures that don’t adapt easily.”

  • One question Fuller took at the end of the talk:
    Audience Q – weblogs and newspaper reporters? challenges?
    Fuller Answer: there are issues: if someone who is part of paper and they blog, unedited, there is a quality control problem; without clear ideas of discipline, if chief correspondent could go online savaging one candidate and lionizing another, there is a problem with that; and others: with a prominent writer, it’s not unlike writing books, its a complicated negotiation about income for paying someone to write and gain expertise, and then they give it away for free, those are the kinds of issues that come up… people who work for the paper in a more continuous way with the audience need to have standards.
    I have to say, I don’t think he gets it. Blogs are about trying to find as much truth as possible, to be fair and accurate, to get as close to meaningful information as possible, but they are not impartial, and we, the audience are desperate to know what people think, especially those that have developed expertise in a particular area, with access and time (because it’s their job..) to things we don’t have time for, to hear their comments and to be able to comment back. We, the audience, understand that blogs are partially journalism, but also opinion, constantly iterated, and the usefulness is in this more temporal aspect. Also, money? Why? Post ads just as the online newspaper does…. I just don’t see the problem.

  • Sandy P.

    — Fuller says “it may have been our biggest mistake to persuade people that everything should be free.”–
    Too bad that’s not their editorial policy. I canceled “Pravda by the Lake” over a year ago.