Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thought Flickers on the News Biz

Before bed my brain fires random thoughts in my mind just to keep me from falling asleep. I call these random thoughts, "thought flickers."  Sometimes they're very insightful, but mostly they're mundane. Recently, they've been about the stumbling news business. It seems all media is struggling, but newspapers are getting the biggest headlines (as ironic as that may seem) because that industry is falling so much faster than the others.  But why are things so dire?  More of the world has access to news through the internet than ever before.  So, if more eyeballs are reading the New York Times, why is there talk that the newspaper industry deserves an auto-industry-sized, government bailout?  Why is it that newspapers charged readers for their printed paper while failing to monetize the exact same stories online?  I truly believe that the industry leaders did not foresee the internet's growth and its potential.
This news biz will change in the next few years.  And today might be the day that set the change in motion wrote reporter James Warren. Warren, Former Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief and Managing Editor, wrote a story on Huffington Post with the headline, "Shhhh. Newspaper Publishers Are Quietly Holding a Very, Very Important Conclave Today.  Will You Soon be Paying for Online Content."  
Warren says this "conclave" may be the start of an industry revamping its money-making model.
Warren doesn't think that charging subscriptions for online papers is the only answer.  Warren writes, "ultimately, many in attendance will start charging for some online content because they don't know what else to do."  
News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch says subscriptions are the answer.  Interviewed on his own cable network, FOX Business, Murdoch said, "The Web as it is today will be vastly improved, they'll be much in them and you'll pay for them."  
"Them" referencing the papers he owns.
As a younger journalist, I'm not fearful of where the industry is headed.  I envision an online, hybrid news model, where readers pay a subscription for special services, but are also allowed free access to some general news.  I also imagine advertisers eventually paying the money for online ads that they once paid for print.  Some editors say that newspapers shot themselves in the foot when they failed to monetize news online.  These same industry leaders say that now, still less than a decade from when online news readership skyrocketed, it is simply too late to charge for online news - the public will never pay for what was once free.  
I just can't believe that to be true.  The public needs news to live their lives, know what's safe to eat, what roads are closed and whose running for city council. People will always need news, so let's slap a fee on it - and a little bit of advertising too!
I forgot to mention in my lead that those "thought flickers" I have about the media are positive.  Once the internet generation takes the reigns, we'll bring the creativity and innovation back to the media industry.   In the next twenty years, a news model will emerge -one that the nineteenth-century print boys couldn't even imagine in their wildest "thought flickers."

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