What’s really changing the news biz

What’s really changing the news biz

: Citizens’ media isn’t changing the news business nearly as much as business is changing the news business.

Craig Newmark of Craigslist has been touting the potential of local citizens’ media — as do I — and he has been taunting us with hints of content plans — I can’t wait to hear what’s on his mind. But it seems he has felt a twinge of caution about this as he said:

Hey, there’s a lot of furor now around the emerging area of citizens’ journalism, where ordinary citizens complement the work of professionals and maybe go beyond.

That’s a big topic, best discussed elsewhere.

I just want to remind everyone that people’s jobs are involved, writers, editors, delivery people, PR people, and more.

When an industry goes through a major shift, sometimes people lose jobs.

I don’t have anything smart to suggest, except that news professionals starting looking hard at the blogging phenomenon, and try to get ready.

But Craig himself is having more impact on jobs in the news business than any blog phenom. I’ve said this to him over dinner.

In one oft-quoted study, CraigsList eliminated $65 million in newspaper classified revenue in one market alone: San Francisco. He didn’t shift it from the papers to his pocket. He destroyed it, burned it up — gone — as consumers got a new deal. I say that with no judgment: Let the market decide. And, in fact, I’ve also said — and said to Craig — that I believe he and Monster and company are only waystations to a different future, a distributed future when these buyers and sellers won’t need to come to a centralized marketplace but, instead, will sit out there, anywhere, on the internet waiting to be found by some specialized successors to Google that put them together (with, perhaps, no revenue at all). See this chart on Craigslist showing pageviews of the major job sites and know that there’s another colored line — called distributed — that hasn’t even shown up yet.


Now add to this the factors we know: declining print circulation… increasing competition from the internet and from new, free print products… declining viewership of network news…

I gave my blogboy presentation to a bunch of strategic guys at a certain major mass media company (not my employer’s) the other day and said that the mass market was dead, to be replaced by the mass of niches, and the young MBAs in the room screeched as if I’d goosed them. Fine, I said, imagine that things won’t change and others will come along and eat you up bit by bit. You’ll still be there, but you’ll have new competitors and your growth will be gone.

The business of news is changing and anyone with an ounce of sense knows that. And many in the business fret about how we are going to be able to support quality journalism; it’s a real worry.

But — now, at long last, here’s my point — citizens’ media and other innovations may not be the threat but one of the solutions:

1. You’ve heard me say before that citizens’ media may be a new source of news, information, and viewpoints that established media cannot afford to gather on their own. That’s the idea behind hyperlocal citizens’ media. And the hope behind it is that it opens up a new opportunities to attrack new audiences and advertisers. This doesn’t replace existing jobs; it expands existing coverage and, if it works, helps support existing operations — though that’s all still quite unproven.

2. Online provides a means of diversification for big media. That’s what the Marketwatch deal meant for Dow Jones: a way to get more ad-supported traffic and less-expensive content and audience. That’s what the About.com deal means for The New York Times: a way to get search and cost-per-click advertising that is going, instead, to Google now and a way to expand into distributed networks of niche content. If these deals work, they, too, help support existing operations.

3. Citizens’ media and online tools show the way to much, much cheaper content creation. Note my silly blogcasts for MSNBC last week: a $100 camera and a $40/month internet connection and I was broadcasting to the world. Video, audio, and text tools show how to create content at a far lower cost. This does, indeed, affect jobs — but restructuring has come to every other industry, why not content? If we put less money into commodity content and into production hoo-has that don’t really matter, then we can maintain budgets to build unique and valuable content.

At the same time, all the new competitors of online do what new competion always does: wake up the old, established players and enliven the good ones and kill the bad ones. That, too is good.

The news business is unquestionably changing. But it’s not necessarily for the worse. There are more news outlets; I believe that in aggregate, people will consume news more; and there are new efficiencies and new opportunities. It may not be an easy road to get there, that’s all.