Breaking news: broken news

And an update on yesterday’s post: Yes, this really is quite a “week in the drama of the printed word” (and I write this on Wednesday!). Several heavyweights of the blogosophere have now weighed in on the debate over micropayments and the future of newspapers.

If this interests you, you can stay abreast of it by reading just a few blog posts:

  • Clay Shirky (arguing against micro-payments, previously featured here)
  • Nick Carr (predicting a horrifying bout of blood-letting and creative destruction as the “over-supply” in the news industry corrects itself)
  • Matthew Gertner (rebutting Clay, and starting with a blood-curdling 😉 anecdote about how and why he has just dropped his subscription to …. The Economist!)

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7 thoughts on “Breaking news: broken news

  1. I think Clay has blinders on. I agree with Nick Carr, obviously, and I’m also wary of anyone who says “it’s not worked in the past ten years, so it won’t work now.” We’ve seen some things fail, but there might be a model that will yet emerge.

    To me Isaacson is really saying he and a lot of publishing people were stupid to give content away in the first place, and whether or not newsprint survives, news is going to have to be paid for.

    The comments on Gertner’s post were very interesting to read, and he’s right — the Economist shouldn’t be giving away its content to iPhone users. They can definitely afford to pay for it. And you’re worth it.

  2. Thought-provoking articles. I glean from them that the critical factors are the fluctuations between supply and demand for journalistic news, and the amount of freedom in the news-consumer’s environment.

    Currently, there is a huge over-supply of journalistic news, making it a readers market. It would follow that there’ll be a great hollowing-out of news-supplying institutions ie creative destruction. After this, the reduced numbers of news-suppliers will take back the reader’s current power, leading perhaps to a news-suppliers market, resulting in news-suppliers having the market power to charge fees for news. Well……perhaps. Or perhaps not.

    Regarding the freedom in the reader’s environment, this is no longer a function of geographical mobility, for the internet has made this issue redundant. Well, mostly.

    But what about local news, of the sort in suburban or neighbourhood newspapers? The locals seem still to want to know about the murders, robberies, and mayhem, in their community, plus advertising information for local goods and services. Perhaps it’s these local newspapers, with content only of interest to…..well……locals, which may still successfully demand payment for their online news and advertising content.

    In other words, the solution to whether or not to charge for news won’t be all-or-nothing, but may lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum – the indispensable middle where solutions usually reside.

    It seems (well, to me) obvious that the time is nearly upon us when well-nigh all news will be purveyed online. News printed on dead trees (is this becoming a cliche?!!) will be as rare as mauve stripes on a zebra.

    I noted the following from (I think) Nicholas Carr “………. The capital requirements for an online news operation are certainly lower than for a print one, but the labor costs remain high. Reporters, editors, photographers, and other newspaper production workers are skilled professionals who require good and fair pay and benefits and, often, substantial travel allowances………..”.

    Nicholas seems not to have thought about India, where much of the best writing today in English is coming from. A cost-conscious American news corporation might profitably shift most of its activities to India, where it will employ only Indian journalists, book film and culture reviewers, political commentators etc, and pay them a pittance compared with what it would pay their equivalents in the US. American news would, of course, still be the bailiwick of American journalists and reporters. But with the growing economic, political, and demographic importance of Asia, it makes sense that, for English-language news journalism, India would be the appropriate base of operations.

    I’ve gone on long enough. Is there food for thought in any of what I’ve said?

  3. Reuters two years ago (or is four?) hired people in India to write up small business news from the U.S. A small paper in California outsourced all of its reportage to India, as well. So there are already companies experimenting with that model.

    It won’t produce good investigative reporting — some of that still needs to take place in person. Good feature writing is difficult, though not impossible, to do on the telephone.

    It may not be a panacea to use Indian reporters in place of Americans. There may be great writing in English coming out of India, but I’ve done work for a hybrid Indian/U.S. publication. The editor told me he paid a great deal less for what he got from India, but at the same time, the use of English (or American) was also much worse. He spent a huge amount of time rewriting, and sometimes re-reporting.

    I suspect economists and financial analysts will shift to India before journalists will.

  4. My dog should meet your cat. She loves anything a cat outsources.

    Andreas, can you think of any other word to use instead of outsource? Like so many other neologisms, this ugly hybrid, reminds me of input.

  5. Very intriguing thoughts above.

    First: “Outsourcing”. Yes, Cheri, yuck. “Farming out” is the old (agricultural-age) synonym. I don’t like it either.

    Also, people confuse offshoring (having a job done in a lower-cost country, whether or not it is by your own employees) and outsourcing (having a job done by people who are not your employees, whether or not they are in your country).

    I think what Christopher suggests is actually offshoring (with possible outsourcing as well).

    I’m pro-India in almost everything, and I think more good journalism will come from there. But journalism is not an obvious low-hanging fruit for offshoring.

    The ideal offshoring industry is one that relies on executing systematic routines at great scale. Examples: software. (Check). Call centers (check, although only after language training to make the gal in Bangalore sound as though she were from Tulsa). Tax preparation (you can TurboTax or have an Indian accountant).

    By contrast, service industries such as psychiatry or, yes, journalism are more touchy-feely. They rely on local knowledge and empathy and sensitivities. They are not about routines (filling out forms etc).

    Ironically, if there were one news publication that COULD benefit from offshoring to India, it might be a totally global magazine with a footloose and culturally disembodied readership. Let’s see…. Oh, shoot, The Economist….

  6. Yes. I believe it was in Thomas Friedman’s book that he used the Nighthawks example, right? The radiologists in India watching our E.R. digital images (while we sleep) and making recommendations from Mumbai.

    Call center kids ought to speak English with their own accents.

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