How to kill newspapers in one easy lesson

Frequent commenter JennyD sends along a link to an utterly numbnutty idea in the SF Chron from lawyer and journalist Peter Scheer:

Here’s my proposal: Newspapers and wire services need to figure out a way, without running afoul of antitrust laws, to agree to embargo their news content from the free Internet for a brief period — say, 24 hours — after it is made available to paying customers. The point is not to remove content from the Internet, but to delay its free release in that venue.

A temporary embargo, by depriving the Internet of free, trustworthy news in real-time, would, I believe, quickly establish the true value of that information. Imagine the major Web portals — Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN — with nothing to offer in the category of news except out of date articles from “mainstream” media and blogosphere musings on yesterday’s news. Digital fish wrap. And the portals know from unhappy experience (most recently in the case of Yahoo) just how difficult it is to create original and timely news content themselves.

Uh, counselor, you assume that you can still control the news. You can’t. That’s the whole point of the internet. Others can easily step into whatever void there is and report what you don’t report; you’re only opening the door for them. Oh, but they don’t have what the papers have? Look again: It’s worth cataloguing just how much in a paper is commodity news that is known elsewhere. So you would make papers staler in a world that demands freshness. You would tell you customers — your former readers — to continue living by your schedule instead of theirs. You would drive the last nail into papers’ coffins.

  • Jeff, I can’t help but laugh at that one. As you stated, the void would be filled by others. And to think, they could even assist the bloggers who are looking to up their page views – all I need to do is buy a copy of the paper and post summaries of the articles that I think are of interest. As you said – they played right into my hands. Impressive.

  • Tom

    It looks like lawyer and journalist Peter Scheer took his one swing as a visionary and it is time to head back to the dugout

  • LOL, Tom!

  • Doobie

    What a maroon!

    Let’s see, in Peter’s World, a newspaper reporter will cover an event, talk it over with her editor after he gets out of his third meeting of the day, and then write a story, which the editor will eviscerate for fear of offending conservative readers in the suburbs, send it through the copy desk and have it appear in the newspaper the next day. Meanwhile, a blogger at the same event will blog it on the spot, have a cup of coffee, and then blog something else. Yeah, that’s the ticket for longevity. Say, how did the SF Chronicle circulation do in the past year? Yep, down again.

  • Perhaps news embargoes don’t work once the news is released, but how many media outlets hold up stories (book and movie reviews, for example) until the “release” date? Even news releases from scientific journals like “Science” and the “New England Journal of Medicine” are embargoed until the journal says OK. If you don’t want your story released then don’t send out a press release, wait for the reporters to read their copy that arrives in the mail like everyone else.

    What about all the news outlets that agree to play into the hands of the spinmeisters by allowing them to speak “off the record”. Even entire press conferences are now anonymous. When the Times and WaPo stop going along with this charade then maybe it will stop. If there is more than one person listening it can’t be off the record (this protects whistle blowers).

    Why should John Bolton or Karl Rove get a free ride?

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  • Yeah, only one thing wrong with the “embargo” theory… bloggers! Ooops, there goes one now. And he don’t need no stinking editor.

    This blogger, see below, scooped the AJC bad – on this one item alone. Was like shooting fish in a barrel too, as the whole topic had blown-up into a national conversation, one that must have been embargoed to newspapers until bloggers and talk show hots had their way with it.

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  • Delia


    Interesting experiment, except the other way around: get “the internet” to assemble a news portal that ignores newspaper and wire services for 24 hours after their release on the internet and see how well it would or would not work.


    P.S. Wondering if NA could test this (just state the premise and invite contributors). You’d probably have to do it for quite some time before you conclude if it could work and how well.

  • LeeW

    Agreed. News has a shelf life and if a newspaper were to embargo its news content this would not yield great result as someone else would get there first, after all news is a commodity. However if the content is exclusive – i.e. written by a particular author (Jeff for example) or on a particular subject that the news paper or content provider is the most trusted source (frankly, the majority of bloggers don’t fall into either of these categories) then the contents value is not so temporary and thus I’d argue that embargoing could work. How does this then effect newspapers – well, they don’t all just produce news content.

  • Well, JennyD’s heart is in the right place … she’s casting around for a way to support the journalism. I think the embargo idea could never work, for reasons already given here. But there will continue to be a lot of important stories that bloggers will not or cannot cover. I think it’s important that we continue to have paid journalists whose job it is to keep up the old watchdog role and also do the digging. The question remains: Where’s the money going to come from?

  • Oops — I should have said Peter Scheer’s heart is in the right place.

  • Peter’s idea of embargoing news for a period of time for subscribers only may not work on news with many providers or where it is likely that others will jump in but it works fine for community newspapers. We’ve used this method for years.

    Bad news: gets about the same number of online subscribers as other online subscription methods.

    Good News: protects newsstand and print subscription sales and assures when people research issues covered by the paper they’ll find archive stories and be introduced to the newspaper’s website (because the archives are open for search engine spiders as well as the public). Also, we’ve found that charging the local print edition rate for online subscription generates the same number of subscribers as other online subscription methods. For combonation of print and online we discount only slightly.

    More info here, here, here
    and here.

  • I see a new TV show on the horizon: “Lawyers Say the Darndest Things”. Ah, aren’t they cute?

  • Northcoast

    They’re still hung up on that economics-of-scarcity thing commented on a ways back. Let’em die of their self-inflicted wounds. Like the other [presently] big media biz, music distribution.

  • “Uh, counselor, you assume that you can still control the news. You can’t. That’s the whole point of the internet. Others can easily step into whatever void there is and report what you don’t report; you’re only opening the door for them.”


    No, Mr. Jarvis, newspapers and other media still do very much *control* the news. No other force has as many people uncovering and exposing the news, features and other information. Sure, they’ll be the periodic scoop by an individual.

    But, day-in and day-out, no individual nor entity can compete with newspapers for gathering news.

    The papers just have to get a handle on embracing the ‘net, not fighting it. That was my main point when I wrote about Scheer’s column Monday evening.

  • J. Weinstein

    Sorry. THE point (aka “THE math”) is that the AUDIENCE is no longer passive and is as much in control of the news as media.

  • J.,
    How is the audience — you and me — in control of the news (other than mostly futile attempts trying to “make” it)? How can you or I or anyone individual compete with the established news organizations?

    Yeah, every once in awhile someone will scoop the MSM, but that is rare.

    I do agree that the audience is no longer passive. We have the ability to comment on the news via blogs and the papers’ own sites, in many cases. That’s good. But, still, the primary sources of the news — at least in reporting it — is the established media. That includes all media, from the WSJ to the Bedford NOW newspaper (the weekly that serves where I live).

  • I agree that this idea will never fly, but that’s not because bloggers would step into the void.

    Unless they’ve got way too much time on their hands and a way to get into news conferences and behind police lines, bloggers aren’t going to report the news quicker than the army of full-time reporters out there. Blogging, with all its power and promise, is still often very reactive and akin to armchair wrestling. Newspaper reprorting, on the other hand, is often (but still unfortunetaly not often enough) about pounding the pavement.

    One place where this is obvious is business journalism. Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Reuters charge thousands of dollars a month for delivering timely, accurate and reliable news to traders around the world. The Internet has shrunken their advantage over freely available sources to mere minutes if not mere seconds, but it is those seconds, combined with their reliability and commitment to accuracy that warrants the high cost.

  • peter

    funny, how come Peter Sheer doesn’t propose that all great columnists like him form a cabal and hide all their opinions behind a great fire wall and only paid subscribers will get to read their great insights? i’m shuddering at the thought already….please no…I’ll pay whatever you columnists want…

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