Saturday, February 28, 2009
My cocker spaniel, Buster, collapsed onto the kitchen floor shortly after dinner last night, and Maria and I have been going to and from the Emergency Vet in Carytown ever since. He's doing better today -- ambulatory and hungry, definitely wanting to leave and go home with us -- but he has a mass in one of his sinuses that has to be diagnosed via CAT scan on Monday, and then surgically removed.
Needless to say, as the stoplight signifies, I won't be blogging until he's relatively safe, and Maria and I aren't stressed like this.
Friday, February 27, 2009
The author was right on target -- the only thing is, he couldn't predict that papers would all keep trying to do the same old things they've been doing for a century . . . but completely failing at them today.
The bow ties didn't get it then, and they won't get it now.
Heading for extinction.
You can send in the clowns, now! Oh, don't bother -- they're here.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
That's a direct quote from Tom Rutledge, CEO of Cablevision, which owns Newsday, the newspaper that covers Long Island, NY.
Here's the whole story. It's obvious that he and the powers-that-jerk-themselves-off high in the ivory towers of Cablevision have no concept of what the Internet is, or how users regard "content providers."
As a friend of mine Twittered today, "Four years in new media taught me that people expect free online content. I predict Newsday will be sadly disappointed."
You think any of them will ever get it?
The , Denver's newspaper for the city's entire history, will shut down Friday after nearly 150 years of operation. Rich Boehne, chief executive officer of Scripps, the paper's parent company, said in a prepared statement, "The Rocky is one of America's very best examples of what local news organizations need to be in the future. Unfortunately, the partnership's business model is locked in the past."
The italics are mine, because Boehne's opinion ties in exactly with mine, as I posted yesterday in The Peter Principle is destroying our newspapers.
Here's the whole story from the Associated Press.
The '70s was for me the finest era of movie making. It was as though the half century of films that had come before somehow collectively inspired a generation to work their best at their craft. M*A*S*H, the first two Godfathers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Star Wars, Jaws and Close Encounters, Taxi Driver, Carrie, All That Jazz -- I could go on and on, and you'd recognize every single title.
One of my favorites was 1976's Network. It had a huge impact at the box office and on the audience. Even today, people still scream, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"
It wasn't the catch phrase alone -- it was Network's sheer power up on the screen. It was satirizing the worst of 1970s television in a way that we laughed at -- it was unreal, shows like that could never happen -- yet the machinations that went on behind the scenes and in the characters lives were all too real. That's why "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" became so popular -- it resonated through the American audience because we could all relate.
And all the shows that could never happen . . . have all happened.
Mark Evanier blogs out of Los Angeles, and in a recent post, To the Victors Go the Spoilers, he writes about how he thinks we should see new movies without listening to critics, without spoilers and comments on the Internet: ". . . the relentless promotion of some movies these days has damaged the whole film-watching experience for me."
I can't disagree with him, especially when all the funniest parts of a new comedy are given away in the trailer.
He mentions an advance screening of Network which he attended in 1976, and I think this quote from his blog shows just how much power and impact Network had. We need more writers like Paddy Chayefsky, and we need more courageous executives and studios to make movies like this again.
I saw Network at the Writers Guild Theater a good six weeks before it hit regular cinemas. The place was packed and no one knew one thing about it other than it was Paddy Chayefsky taking a shot at television. By the day it opened, half of America was screaming "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," having seen it in the promos and clips. It was a lot more effective to not know what was coming. (I was sitting next to Ray Bradbury when I saw it. When the film ended, he looked around the hall and said, "There isn't a person in this theater who isn't wishing he'd written that.")
I haven't seen Network on cable in years. But it's available on DVD, and I urge you to run out and get one of the most intelligent and insightful films ever made.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Although newspapers across the country are playing a grand game of layoff bingo with their employees, not many of the bow ties on the upper floors are worrying about their salaries and bonuses. And they should: a new study just came out that indicates the upper echelon of many megacorpconglomeranationals are really the individuals who are incompetent.
And how could anyone disagree? The Peter Principle made the matter clear back in 1968:
In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.
The bow ties can't go any higher, but their legacy of micromanagement and incompetence sure lives on . . . and trickles straight down to Middle Management, where it oozes out of their cubicles like pus from a boil. Derailment is the norm, where good work is ignored, kissing ass is rewarded, and managers maintain their own, petty, power-sustaining agendas in a never-ending series of turfwars.
Yes, the workplace in most metro dailies really is out of Dilbert.
Here's the email I got that explains it all in business-ese:
Leadership Risk Analysis
The flagging economy may have soul mates on your company’s executive board. According to “Leaders Without Sea Legs: Threats to Staying Afloat During Tough Times,” a new white paper from Development Dimensions International (DDI), your company’s leaders also may be its worst enemies. Here are key findings from the report, which analyzed information about the performance of 3,623 executives who participated in DDI assessment centers around the world, and some tips to take away:
• Nearly three of 10 executives (29 percent) are deficient in their ability to drive execution. In addition, two in 10 (20 percent) are strong or moderately strong candidates for derailing due to a lack of discipline. Combining the assessment and personality data (and eliminating overlaps), 43 percent of the executives are at risk of being “hit-or-miss” leaders. Thus, the report states, “there is a high threat to the organization from executives who fail to take full operational control.”
• Assessors rated only a few leaders (8 percent) in serious need of an effective executive bearing. However, another 19 percent are at a high or moderately high risk for being emotionally unpredictable under pressure.
• Some 26 percent of executives are at high or moderately high risk of derailing by remaining detached from others. There also is a moderate risk that leaders will be too downbeat to inspire a sense of optimism about the organization’s future.
• More than one-third of the sample (34 percent) have a development need in the competency of empowerment. Exacerbating this lack of skill are tendencies to micromanage (20 percent at high or moderately high risk of derailing) or poor interpersonal relations (14 percent at high or moderately high risk of derailing).
Companies can do the following to keep these undesirable leadership profiles from emerging:
• Explain and discuss the impact of derailing personality patterns on key business drivers. For example, if your business needs to identify cost controls or innovative ways to generate sales, consider the impact of a leader with an arrogant derailing tendency. If the leader acts like a know-it-all in meetings, dominates the discussion, and prevents others’ good ideas from surfacing, he or she becomes a barrier to generating effective solutions.
• Ensure leaders have a 100-day action plan that identifies their derailers and specifies the actions needed to manage those behaviors. The plan should be reinforced with processes such as time frames, required support (e.g., coaches), and measures to indicate improvement.
• Heighten self-awareness and sustain improvement in managing derailers by creating an open environment and ensuring leaders have feedback skills. “A leadership team that understands each others’ derailment tendencies and the skills and receptivity to provide feedback,” the report notes, “will be more successful avoiding situations that trigger potentially destructive behaviors and their associated business execution flaws.”
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
I have to take my politics one small dose at a time. So when I get tired of all the Republitard zombies, shambling around, mindlessly trying to retake control not only of Washington but of our individual rights -- and our wallets -- I turn to sites like Think Progress and balance everything out.
Think Progress's Matt Yglesias agrees with me in this news report and sound bite. Today's old-fashioned paper -- virtually unchanged for more than a hundred years -- doesn't make a lot of sense in contemporary America. No matter how much I love the newspaper, the concept is no longer sustainable:
A newspaper is something much more than a just a venue for producing hard news stories. It’s a physical bundle of paper that bundles together stories of all different kinds: weather reports, sports coverage, arts, book reviews movie reviews. And there’s a particular logic to assembling that kind of bundle, but its an economic logic that has to do with the economics of printing and distributing pieces of paper and its not a logic that really makes sense in the present world.I, personally, try not to argue with logic.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Looks like the GOP Governor of Louisiana doesn't care about 25,000 of his constituents -- only the well-off Repubicans who might vote him into the White House in four years.
Here's the story. It's just another beautiful day in our political paradise, huh?
I guess that Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger saved so many lives just isn't good enough for some holier-than-thous.
This is a real letter, posted online this week, that was written to the Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan.
Letter: Why didn't flight crew mention God?You can read the letter at the original website here, and please scroll down to the reader responses to read the hilarity that ensued. There are more than 500 responses on this forum at Fark.com, starting with this gem:
by Dena Malda | Muskegon
Monday, February 16, 2009, 11:37 AM
On the Feb. 8 "60 Minutes" program, we were captivated while viewing the Katie Couric interview of the crew and passengers of Flight 1549.
However, we were struck there was not one mention of God, who directs pilots of planes and secures the safety of passengers.
We have written CBS and asked them for more realistic programming. Help protect our freedoms. Write CBS about this.
If God wants a mention on tv, he can land his own damn plane....
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Welcome to the second part of this creature that might be an essay. I began it yesterday with Part I: Is News Dying Along with Newspapers? Part II should, rightly, be subtitled, How a Smart-Ass with 14 years Experience in Newspapers Thinks Newspapers Have to Evolve . . . and Survive.
Look, you already know this, but I'll say it anyway: This is crunch time for print journalism. The old ways are dying, but newspapermen (and -women) are reluctant to give up their valued traditions. Hence, I believe, the major conflict in newspaper offices today: The CEOs and managers simply do not understand how to face the future. The options available to them are being clouded by a host of critical short-term problems which not only demand immediate action, but they obscure a view of any promise that might be in the future.
The news business is always reactionary; content depends on things that happen, every day, and we report it; our business models change as customer needs and demographics change.
At least, they're supposed to.
But we're in a period of massive upheaval now, and change has to come immediately -- and be radical. In short, any change has to be big, it has to be fast, and it will by its very nature go against the grain of every tenet newspaper people believe. The industry cannot afford to act traditionally right now -- instead it has to take some chances, make some gambles, and -- GASP! -- be innovative.
We have to create our own future as much as we can. News reporting, itself, is reactionary. But the business side cannot afford that philosophy any longer. The business side has to come to grips with a fast-moving, dynamic future . . . one that, frankly, is already here.
This means a lot of change and a lot of turmoil. It means that the business side is going to have to keep an eye on the basic problems every newspaper faces, as well as the ever-increasing competition; and if you don't remember how I define all that, I'll repeat it from a previous blog post:
The cost of newsprint is ever-increasing. General readership is dwindling. Its remaining readers and subscribers, generally over 40, are dying off day by day, and today's youth -- everybody under 40 -- are turning elsewhere for news and information. The Times-Dispatch's competition isn't Style or the Richmond Free Press; it's everything: television shows, radio, books, soccer practice, church, shopping, going to movies, dining out, surfing the Web, having sex, driving in rush hour, washing the dog, texting, Twittering, Facebooking, going to the National, vacationing, the Skins game...every damn thing is competition.So: what to do?
A friend at the Times-Dispatch emailed me a few weeks ago and asked me what I think we had to do to save newspapers, and I'll tell you what I told him.
We can't save them all.
That's it, bottom line. It's a hard truth to face, but the shakeout that is inevitable is going to thin the herd substantially. Seriously. Many more than you think right now. Hardest hit, I believe, are going to be the metropolitan daily newspapers, of which the Richmond Times-Dispatch is a perfect example.
The reason why is simple. Fragmentation.
Over the years, with each new generation of technological advances in communication, the general audience -- for everything -- has gradually fragmented. Go to the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble or Borders. There are no copies of Life or Look (remember Look?). Offhand I can't think of a single magazine that caters to a general audience other than Reader's Digest. (And I would argue that RD is NOT general interest; no one reads it unless they're fifty plus, right-wingers, and they keep stacks of them in the bathroom. They have a definite target audience, with about a five- to fifteen-minute reading threshold before they have to flush.)
General interest magazines are failing -- and have been failing for years -- because their audience is fragmenting. The audiences (plural, now) are turning to magazines and shows and websites that cater to their interests, including news outlets. This is one important and overlooked reason the readership of the Times-Dispatch and other metro-dailies is dropping off rapidly.
The product isn't interesting to contemporary America.
That's a harsh concept to face, but newspapers must come to grips with it, and now. Newspapers can no longer afford to be all things for all people, when most of the audience in their circulation areas actively choose NOT to read the product.
Instead, to survive, metro-daily newspapers are going to have to change beyond the scope of what any tradition could ever imagine:
1. Physical format
Downsize the newspaper to the tabloid format, like the Village Voice or the New York Daily News. I can't guarantee that this will save money or not -- the bean counters in the ivory towers will have to sort all this out -- but talk around the RTD while I was there was that switching to tabloid would cut newsprint costs.
More importantly, the current broadsheet format of most newspapers is ubiquitous, and, therefore, not impressive to the populace. At all. It's ignored. Dull. We're talking about perception here. A tabloid format will probably be looked upon as innovative and interesting, new and different; not at all like the old-fashioned papers that only old people are buying, anyway.
2. Change the logo.
Seriously. Not kidding.
Fifty years ago, an old English masthead stood for something, giving the impression that the newspaper not only had substance, but it was impressive, it was dynamic; it was a rock upon which citizens could depend.
It represents exactly the opposite nowadays -- that the product isn't keeping up with the times or the new generations -- and the old-fashioned logos most newspapers use have actually become liabilities. They do exactly what mastheads and logos are supposed to do -- represent the newspaper in every way -- but the public now perceives it in a completely opposite manner than intended.
If the public can't be changed, then the product has to change.
3. Change the content radically.
Survey after survey tells the Marketing people that readers want more local news in the newspaper. The RTD has responded with publishing a big-headline local story, usually above the fold, every day.
It 's not enough.
This is going to be the biggest change the metro-dailies will have to face. It is both a content change and a philosophical change, and it is going to be both hated and highly controversial:
Metro dailies must change their content to focus 80% on local news.
And this is why: National news is regarded as free online and on television, and it is clear that readers prefer getting national and world news from those sources.
Okay then. Let them have it.
The core newspapers readers want more local news. They want it in a physical format that they can cut out and frame when their friends and family are featured.
Give it to them.
And this is what's going to happen: people seeking national news will reject the newspaper, because they can get all the news they want online. The people wanting local news will probably be very happy. The audience may actually grow as communities are featured more and more; and instead of focusing on general interest, bigger-picture stories -- which the public doesn't want -- reporters will examine the ins and outs of daily life in our tight communities.
Bottom line: journalism is a business that has to pull in revenue. Newspapers can no longer afford to give the public what they think the public needs. They have to give them what they want.
This is not a metro-daily that I particularly want to read, and I know it's not one that most reporters want to work for. But remember the core demographics of the newspaper today: over 40, white collar, college educated, household income generally more than $75,000 annually. These people are already reading the paper, and they're asking for more local content -- why not give it to them and see if circulation increases with stories about little Bobby's softball game, and how the local church group made quilts and raised $10,000 for malnourished African babies?
Three points newspapers have to face:
We are talking about publishing to a niche audience, not a general audience.
General interest publications are no longer viable in the marketplace.
Newspapers must adapt or die.
4. After defining your core niche, create new publications that focus on your region's other niche audiences.
You should have heard the howls of indignation and outrage in the RTD offices when Boomer Life appeared on the stands. It was right after the RTD publisher, Tom Silvestri, brought in the high-priced guru behind the Boomer Initiative, which quite correctly identified the core Times-Dispatch audience as members of the Baby Boomer generation. The RTD was gearing up to focus on this primary audience when issue #1 of Boomer Life was suddenly available in racks at Ukrop's and Food Lion, for free.
Imagine the journalistic body slam that shook the building.
That core audience -- niche, if you will -- is the RTD's bread and butter, baby. Turning the focus toward that audience, instead of a 100% general audience, would have been a smart step. But Boomer Life was a banana peel under the RTD's foot just about a year ago; and then this recession hit the newspaper industry like a tornado in a trailer park. Focus suddenly switched to survival.
There is a lesson, though. They were on target. Boomer Life took a little wind out of their sails, but the RTD was right to target that audience.
Now other niche audiences must be defined, and new publications must be created to cater to them. These magazines -- not newsprint products, but magazines, whether free or for sale -- ideally will replace and surpass the revenue lost by the paper's changeover to a Locals'-interest
newspaper. Consider: a daily paper, a month mag for women, a monthly mag for boomers (why not?), a monthly for parents and families, a bi-weekly for central VA tourism and museums, a home and garden bimonthly . . . and accompanying websites, with both local AND national advertising, PLUS web content updated at least weekly . . .
This is a new world we're talking about, and the Jurassic managers must evolve or . . . I think you get it.
(Why magazines, you ask? Because newspapers are considered common. Low. Magazines on glossy paper are upscale. Contemporary. Exciting. It's all about perception, isn't it?)
5. Sex it up.
I don't mean to add sex and sex stories to the paper or any new magazines (however, given the number of adult shops in metro Richmond, there might be an argument for an adults-only monthly mag . . .). What I mean is: Newspaper content has to be "sexy," as in, it has to be entertaining and has to make the public WANT to read it. The old argument that "Our news is best" or that the public needs our news just doesn't hold up today. They have to WANT to read the paper if the RTD expects people to pay for it. Stop telling news stories in the old-fashioned, boring, highly structured ways. Be creative with the use of language. Meet your readers at their own level -- not of intelligence or a reading level, but on a level of excitement, of fun, of experiencing what the world has to offer. Give articles an edge, damn it! Stop writing for pedestrians. Write for people who want to live! Give them what they want.
6. Consider a free, 100% advertising-supported model for the new Richmond Times-Dispatch.
I know it goes against everything newspaper people have stood for since time immemorial.
Get the hell over it. Do P & Ls out the ass. Swallow your pride and start thinking about surviving. Circulation will increase. The higher the circ, the higher the ad rates. That should mean more revenue, if you do it right. If.
6. Parent companies must diversify in news, non-news and non-publications areas.
NEWS: I'm thinking specifically, exploit the web. Create websites with news and articles for NATIONAL niche audiences. Stop thinking in local terms when you think about the Internet. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE. News, showbiz news, sports news, financial news, weird news, tech news, shopping news, food news . . . each topic could have a daily-updated website, like Slate or Salon, and the pioneering news company that created this pantheon of sites (hint, hint, Media General) would be extremely well-positioned when the bottom finally drops out of the print news business within the next ten years.
And it will.
NON-NEWS: Websites with features and information, rather than just news. Game sites; opinion sites; cartoon sites. Even -- now, think about the damn revenue alone, okay? -- porn sites. (Time-Warner-AOL offers it in America's hotel rooms. Should MG or any other intermeganationalcongloporation be different? Holier than thou?)
NON-PUBLICATIONS: Newspaper corporations traditionally offer news and information. What's missing from that formula? Entertainment. Create Web content and television and YouTube and iPhone and iTunes content that is fun. Build a commercial audience. Think beyond news and think about what people want.
7. Look at basic cable.
This is my last point (thank you, I can hear the grateful sighs of relief from here). When the bottom drops out, and it will, only a handful of big newspaper companies will have the resources to create a national presence of any kind. The New York Times Co., yes. AP, yes -- but they won't. They are traditionalists who follow the rules instead of making them. Media General? Why, yes. What I'm suggesting is consider that "news" -- quality news -- cannot die with the slow death of newspapers.
What could, oh, say, a Media General do?
Online outlets -- and outlets in whatever the next big thing will be -- will need resources for news. When the news corps die, only a few will be left standing, and I predict they will all vie for dominance, offering their services to online outlets in much the same way as basic cable works today. Comcast will choose Media General; Time Warner will run with the AP; the Internet providers will pay for the news services, and then pass the costs on to the consumer. It will be only pennies, in the long run, to each consumer, so it's just a raise in "basic cable," if you will, and there will be little outcry. But it's serious revenue for the news corps that make it that far. And Richmond's own Media General is ideally situated, with all their sources of news. If they were to start thinking now, placing reporters and mini-bureaus in each state, even internationally, creating a digital infrastructure that would be able to report and publish on all their various and newly-created websites . . .
But this is all conjecture, though, isn't it? Not a damn thing is going to happen until the bowtie-wearing dinosaurs in the newspapers across the country finally pull their fat asses off the toilet, throw the paper on the bathroom floor, look around and say, "Something's got to be done."
But will something be done? Let me close with this story. About five years ago, I was asked to be on a task force at the RTD. We had a list of questions to answer -- each task force would pick one. As I remember it, we ended up with the question no one wanted . . . and I jumped at it. I will paraphrase, for my exact memory is fifty years worth of faulty: What can we as a newspaper do to increase circulation and advertising revenue . . . without changing anything that we are currently doing?
I laughed, and then we got to work. And our conclusions were much what you'd expect. If you're doing almost everything wrong, you can't expect to succeed without change.
Once the report was turned in, I asked one of the directors at the RTD, a friend, what was happening with it. I did this once a week, I think. Over a month later, she finally admitted to me, "You may as well stop asking. They didn't like it. It's quashed."
So . . .
Will something be done?
Thanks for bearing with me so far. Now, please let me ask you a favor. No, I'm not asking for donations through PayPal. I'll never do that. I blog for myself and I do not beg. BUT . . . If you enjoyed the posts about newspapers (and believe me, I'll continue them), if you were entertained or intrigued at all; if you think I have any skill as a writer (or even as a chimp who can type), I ask that if you have a line on any jobs in media, marketing, advertising or writing, please pass the information on to me. I've needed a job since before Christmas; but more importantly I also have a bunch of skilled and talented friends in the communications fields who need jobs, too. We were all fired or laid off from the Times-Dispatch -- we did our jobs very well, and we all kick ass. Send me an email and I'll send you some resumes, including mine.
Best practices. Convergence. Synergy. Web-first. We know what we're doing.
Yeah. Maybe you should learn how to listen to your people.
Here's a sample paragraph from "What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It for Something Else":
When it comes to the Net, a lot of us suffer from Repetitive Mistake Syndrome. This is especially true for magazine and newspaper publishing, broadcasting, cable television, the record industry, the movie industry, and the telephone industry, to name just six.After you read this highly illuminating article, click on the link on that site that reads "Rise of the Stupid Network" or you can go here. It's extremely technical, but you can see what the writer is saying: that keeping up with technology in order to keep your company in business goes hand in hand with valuing the employees:
Former Shell Group Planning Head, Arie deGeus, in his master work, "The Living Company" (Harvard, Boston, 1997), examined thousands of companies to try to discover what it takes to adapt to changing conditions. He found that the life expectancy of the average company was only 40 years - this means that telephone company culture is in advanced old age. De Geus also studied 27 companies that had been able to survive over 100 years. He concluded that managing for longevity - to maximize the chances that a company will adapt to changes in the business climate - is very different than managing for profit. For example, in the former, employees are part of a larger, cohesive whole, a work community. In the latter, employees are "resources" to be deployed or downsized as business dictates. As the Stupid Network arrives, as the business idea shifts from scarce physical infrastructure to something more knowledge based, company culture will need to adapt to the truth that, "Nobody knows as much as all of us."
Whatever we discover to be the new Stupid Network value proposition, my working hypothesis is that it will be based on intelligent end user devices, intelligent customers, employees whose intelligence is valued as a corporate asset, and companies that can learn.
Thanks for coming by. I'll post Part II of "Is News Dying Along with the Newspaper?" in short order.
The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk made an announcement today:
The Virginian-Pilot, battling the recession, will lay off 30 more workers and suspend the print version of Port Folio Weekly, its 26-year-old free arts and entertainment weekly.
Port Folio’s last print edition will come out next week, said Maurice Jones, The Pilot’s president and publisher. Its Web site, http://www.portfolioweekly.com, will remain, and The Pilot will consider reopening the weekly paper when the economy improves, Jones said.
The Pilot also will close Mix, a free multicultural monthly that opened in 2007. The March issue will be Mix’s last.
Both publications were losing money, Jones said.
Around lunch time yesterday the powers that be at Media General, aka the Richmond Times-Dispatch, aka timesdispatch.com, Brick Weekly and Centro de Richmond, let their employees know they were each getting ten more vacation days this year. Unpaid, of course.
This is how the MG bowties are trying to staunch a wound. Newspapers are in some deep shit right now, and it seems like everybody BUT the bowties in charge want to face up to it.
You can't cure a disease with mere band-aids.
Here. Read this salon.com editorial before I go on. Salon.com writers are usually pretty bright, and this guy is no exception. Go on, read it; I'll wait right here.
[...sound of tv remote being clicked rapidly through 547 worthless Comcast channels...]
Hey, welcome back. Let me mute High School Musical 13 . . .
Okay. For what's it's worth, here's my take:
Gary Kamiya may be right about the future of journalism. He's right about mostly everything he says in this piece, actually. The paradigms of the news industry are in total upheaval, and everyone with a vested interest in newspapers, journalism and communications is scared shitless that the bottom is going to fall out.
Now get over it. And let's figure out what's next.
The bottom already is falling out, and now it's time to start thinking differently, instead of the old ways of thinking.
But this is where the Salon.com writer is wrong. One very old way of thinking that Kamiya still holds precious: "The Internet gives readers what they want; newspapers give them what they need."
That is a dinosaur talking.
Since the decline of newspapers started in the 1990s, the fossils behind the newsdesks have not yet figured out why circulation is declining, why they can't do anything to increase it; so they raise the price, raise the advertising rates, lay off a few people, redesign the paper to cut pages, thereby costs . . .
And nothing works. The situation just keeps getting worse. It's circular reasoning that borders on insanity.
The problem starts with the concept that The newspaper is needed.
It isn't. It's a groundbreaking communication vehicle . . . for the 1700s. Ben Franklin is long dead, and so are the days of moveable type. Cell phone, TV, radio, computers: we have virtually instantaneous sources for news, including this blog. Hey, look: scroll down a few entries, to February 15. See that post about the guy beheading his wife?
Know when I saw the story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch?
Yesterday, the 18th. Three days after I wrote about it.
Does that mean a blogger broke the story in Richmond?
If the newspaper is to survive -- and I think they can -- they have to evolve. We are living in a world of digital information and speed-of-fiber-optics delivery. The newspaper has become as functional as the Pony Express, and it is perceived as unwanted, too expensive, a burden, boring, black and white, old-fashioned, too traditional, and Jurassic. Slow, like a brontosaurus.
Now is not the time for band-aids. It is too late to try and fix things and return to the status quo. It's time for newspapers to evolve. It's time to give readers what they want.
This was a lesson newspapers understood in the 1930s to 1970s. Back then, papers wanted people to read the classified sections. To entice readers, they anchored the classifieds with single-panel cartoons. They gave readers what they liked and enjoyed, and it also served the purposes of the business.
What are newspapers today giving us that we really want? And, let me ask all you directors and managers at America's metropolitan newspapers: Open up your paper, right now. Go page by page and ask yourself if readers really want the Middle East War stories, or do you still think "that's what they NEED;" if today's readers really want Mary Worth or Peanuts reruns; if readers really want "Today's Prayer" and a bunch of made-up horoscopes; if they really want the column on playing bridge. Stocks are much more important, but you took out that daily listing. Ask yourselves: IF READERS REALLY WANT ALL THE STUFF THAT MAKES UP THE TRADITIONAL NEWSPAPER, WHY AREN'T THEY BUYING IT?
It's a new century, believe it or not, and the days of Hearst and Woodstein are over. Traditional is not only long gone; but tradition is killing journalism. Ask, instead, what types of publications are being bought today, right now, on the newsstands, that contain news. Look on the Internet and find the real sources of news -- the sources that people are going to.
You will discover, I believe, that a valid business model is NOT to give people what YOU THINK they need, but to give them what they want.
The news is most definitely needed. The printed form, and the traditional way of choosing what to publish, is most definitely not.
And that, my friends and gentle readers, is the end of Part I. Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel, for Part II: How a Smart-Ass with 14 years Experience in Newspapers Thinks Newspapers Have to Evolve . . . and Survive.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The rockers are asking Cantor to stop using their song, and here's the story.
Eric is definitely the party of NO. As in, "No more, Cantor. No more."
American Scary looks like a labor of love, and the list of horror hosts and experts the filmmakers interviewed is certainly impressive:
Forrest J. AckermanBut my two favorites aren't on here. When I was growing up and living in Hampton, Jerry Harrell created Dr. Madblood for the Hampton Roads NBC affiliate. In 1975, Harrell's not-so-mad doctor was wonderfully counterculture, a perfect mix with that new show on late on NBC, Saturday Night. Madblood, I think, is still on, too -- on another channel -- and he has a website that I urge you to visit.
Douglas Agosti - Dr. Shock
Ernie Anderson - Ghoulardi (archive footage)
Bob Billbrough - Hives the Butler
Jerry G. Bishop - Svengoolie
John Bloom - Joe Bob Briggs
Bill Cardille - Chilly Billy
Shane Dallman - Remo D.
John Dimes - Dr. Sarcofiguy
Richard Dyszel - Count Gore DeVol
George 'E-Gor' Chastain
Frank J. Dello Stritto
Jeanne Dietrick - Joan E. Cleaver
Brian Easterling - Butch R. Cleaver
Reed Farrell - Christopher Coffin
Hart D. Fisher
Joseph Fotinos - Professor Anton Griffin
Donald F. Glut
Jim Hendricks - Commander USA
Timothy Herron - Baron Von Wolfstein
Bob Hinton - A. Ghastlee Ghoul
Barry Hobart - Dr. Creep
Joel Hodgson - Mystery Science Theater 3000
John Kassir - The Cryptkeeper
Eric Lobo - Mr. Lobo
Hayden Milligan - I. Zombi
Michael Monahan - Doktor Goulfinger
Mark Newman - Dr. Mor B.S.
Kevin Novotny - Ghoul-a-Go-Go's Vlad Tsepis
Maila Nurmi - Vampira
The Patient Creatures:
Bob Beidman - Carpathian
P.D. Cacek - Moira the Banshee
Andrew Ely - Grimm
Virginia Ely - Kuzibah
Mia Rotondo - Miss Scarlett
Kevin Rice - Ghoul-a-Go-Go's Creighton
John Rinaldi - Big Chuck and Li'l John Show
Keven Scarpino - Son of Ghoul
Chuck Schodowski - Big Chuck and Li'l John Show
Karen Scioli - Stella
Roberta Solomon - Crematia Mortem
Ron Sweed - The Ghoul
John Stanley - Creature Features
Larry Underwood - Dr. Gangrene
Bob Wilkins - Creature Features
John Zacherle - Zacherley
Even more important, in my formative years prior to Madblood, as I started collecting Famous Monsters of Filmland, Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie, and my favorite, The Monster Times, we did not have cable television. Channels from far distant lands would occasionally bleed through the invisible airwaves, and on the weekends, if I angled the rabbit years just right, I'd be rewarded with WXEX Channel 8, and the best and funniest horror host I've ever seen: Richmond's own Bowman Body.
I've written about Bill Bowman and his late night impact before, in one of my previous blogs and in the Richmond Times-Dispatch at Halloween 2007, so I won't repeat myself too much here. My only wishes are that the filmmakers had interviewed Bill about hosting a horror show in the South in the early '70s . . . and that Bill knows how fondly his viewers remember him thirty-some years after crawling out of a puke-green coffin in cape and hi-tops.
As far as I'm concerned, Liberty still rings the ol' bell!
Eric Cantor, Republitard-VA, our self-appointed "Next Newt," has already made up his mind about the mortgage issue before President Obama has even announced what the GOP will be frothing at the mouth against. Read about it here. The public comments are especially funny.
If you want more, here's a little background on Cantor from a blogger in Midlothian. Insightful reading.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I've never read anything by Charles Coleman Finlay before, but I will now. He's begun a trilogy of historical fantasy novels, and the first one is free to download as a pdf here.
Make sure you check out the rest of his website and bibliography, and let me know what you think about The Patriot Witch -- I'll probably post a mini review here in the next week or so . . .
If anybody you know ever asks, "What kind of grown-up reads comics books?" this essay explains what their magic is all about.
They're about the secret adventurer that's hidden in every single one of our hearts, just waiting for the right moment to jump in a phone booth and then save the day.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
The Adventurers Club, sadly, is closed now, devoid of improv, comedy, special effects and songs, except when private banquets rent the place out (which I hear will cease some time this year). Our friends, however still exist. We keep in touch with two very good ones, Darin DePaul, a Broadway actor, and Mike Speller, a writer and actor in Chicago, both of whom I've blogged and bragged about. They are two of the nicest and most talented guys I know -- and the last of the true gentlemen.
We lost contact with Paula Pell, a wonderful comic actress and voice talent when we knew her. She was the first actor at the Club to talk about how she loved it in Orlando and that we should move from Virginia. Then she left Disney and somehow found her way to New York, where she currently writes for Saturday Night Live. She pops up occasionally on the show, as Lorne's wife or, usually, as a member of the studio audience. Not a bad gig.
I was downstairs in the kitchen tonight, my fingers oily from rubbing skin medicine onto my cocker spaniel's nose, when I heard Maria scream incoherently shortly before 11:00.
I yelled upstairs, "You all right?"
Silence. Then, real fast: "GETUPHERE!"
I smeared the meds on a paper towel and took the steps three at a time. Maria was grinning as she pointed at her TV. There was Genie Francis, getting married to Ted McGinley in the final scene of some ubiquitous Hallmark cable tv chick flick.
And there, in the center, officiating at their wedding, was another alumnus from the Adventurers Club, and our friend, Kristian Truelsen.
The tv movie is The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love, and you can read a little about it on Kris's blog, Ghost Balloon. (The exact post is here.)
It was great to see his smiling face on the screen, if only for a few seconds. We usually only exchange Christmas cards nowadays, and that's a shame, because Kris is a fine and dedicated actor, a hell of a comic talent and improv artist, and a great conversationalist. He turned me on to lateral thinking puzzles, for which I will NEVER forgive him, on the same day he, Mike, Darin and I attended a Clinton-Gore rally in Orlando in 1992. Then we had lunch at the best restaurant in Orlando at the time, Pebbles (now just a distant memory).
Please visit Kris at his blog or at his professional website, and please go to his post on IMDB to check what movies or tv shows you may have seen him in. And if you drop him a line, tell him Rusty sent you...and that Maria and I miss him!
Here's my latest, a book review of Mr. Playboy by Steven Watts.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Mark Evanier is an incredible writer in Hollywood, and his blog is one I read every day. (He's also very smart, and a very nice guy: he feeds the possums and the cats who drop by his back door on a regular basis.) Here's a link to his latest post, about backstage politics in Washington. Because it's short enough, I'll also reprint it here, along with some important links he provided:
Years ago, I saw this wonderful interview with Tip O'Neill, who was then the Speaker of the House. The following is a paraphrase from memory.
O'Neill said that in Congress, the job of each party's leader was to be able to count; that if you were ever surprised by any vote by more than a margin of more than one in the Senate or three in the House, you were utterly incompetent and should resign. And the importance of being able to count was that there are often (quite often) bills that you want to vote against and still see pass or vice-versa...so you have to make sure you don't accidentally pass or defeat a bill just because you're voting in opposition to the way you want to see it go.
He told a story about a Congressman from one state. There was a bill pending that would have been very good for this guy's state and he thought it should pass...but the hardcore part of his base back home was opposed to it. They were a small minority but he couldn't afford politically to tick them off. So he kept coming to O'Neill and asking, "Have you got the votes, Tip?" Meaning, "Will it be safe for me to vote against it so I can please the nut jobs?" And he was a happy man when O'Neill informed him there were enough votes to pass the bill even without his.
You get the feeling that's what we just went through with the Stimulus Bill? Arlen Specter made a statement the other day that an unnamed Republican senator who'd voted against it told him how pleased he was that it had passed. This article says a lot of G.O.P. legislators are delighted with portions of the bill they voted against.
Obviously, it's possible to be happy about one piece and unhappy with the whole. But it's also possible that the Republicans didn't dare obstruct this bill and that they were always going to deliver enough moderate votes to pass the thing. You think maybe?
• Posted Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 11:48 AM
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
There are three websites I go to every day. The Drudge Report, for the conservative slant on news; the Huffington Post, for the liberal slant; and Fark, for the wild, weird, unexpurgated truth.
This guy, Bob Cesca, a writer and blogger on HuffPo, does something that is beyond me. He writes smart and funny at the same time. When I try that, I just get a headache, and fat little Rush Limbaughs swim cartoon-like around my head, urging me to eat a Twinkie.
This is his latest post, and it's great. It's politicians and commentators at their craziest.
I love it.
If you listen closely, you can feel the final, futile vibrations of a dinosaur's tail as it thrashes helplessly upon the unforgiving earth.
I refuted Isaacson's essay in this post on Feb. 6. The Print CEO blog has an excerpt from the Daily Show, where Isaacson spoke with Jon Stewart; and the blog doesn't refute Time's piece, but suggests instead that
Jon Stewart’s idea to use chemically addictive ink might have some merit too. At least to save the printed newspaper.This explanatory essay, linked from the Print CEO blog, does a much better job at explaining why micropayments will never work.
The dinosaurs just don't understand. And they won't until the ugly truth is shoved down their throats.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
I disagree with that point. Reading is just as important and perhaps even more popular than ever -- look how crowded every Barnes & Noble is on Friday and Saturday nights. I think it may be that we just have so many choices to read nowadays, that today, unlike in the past, we can't establish clear winners . . . except in cases of huge bestsellers, such as the Harry Potter books.
Also of interest is the new (to me) concept of "three screens:" TV, the Internet and mobile phones.
The competition for reading is exactly what I said in an earlier post about newspapers: the competition isn't other books, other magazines. It's everything:
television shows, radio, books, soccer practice, church, shopping, going to movies, dining out, surfing the Web, having sex, driving in rush hour, washing the dog, texting, Twittering, Facebooking, going to the National, vacationing, the Skins game...every damn thing is competition.I'm reading a wonderful (so far) mystery right now: Obedience by Will Lavender. It is SO much more engaging than any comparable show on TV. Yes, reading has competition. But nothing can replace the true immersion, the true experience, of being swallowed into a book.
This blog is all about escape: escape from the cold and the mundane, to run to the tropics; to escape to worlds of wonder; to escape to times not our own; to escape from the confines of our little planet, if only via the spacecraft of our imagination.
However, astronomers are escaping every day, casting their gaze out toward the stars, using the tools of contemporary technology; and they've found a wealth of other planets, including one that is "rocky" like Earth, and not even twice our size, so it's not a gas giant or a super-Earth.
Here's the USAToday article.
I want to go.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
In a post about MAD Magazine and its near future, Mark references "a general and growing disinterest in this country in the basic concept of buying magazines of any kind."
Sadly, I believe this to be true; and even more importantly, I believe it to be true about ANY kind of concept of pay-per-hit Internet magazines . . . which includes newspapers.
But Mark's post is about MAD . . . which of course is much more important than a newspaper.
Seriously: there are a thousand or more newspapers.
Name more than four existing humor magazines.
Seriously, besides MAD, can you name another?
I'm mad about MAD.
Time has posted online an opinion piece, "How to Save Your Newspaper," which has its heart in the right place, but its brain is in suspended animation around frigid Schenectady. The writer, Walter Isaacson, is incredibly smart, has a wealth of knowledge and experience behind him, and is completely naive in the realities of Internet-savvy America and both what we need and, especially, what we want.
I post the article here in its entirety so that I may criticize it and make objective comments. Please click on the link above for the Time article as it appears online. My comments are yellow in the article, reprinted below.
Thursday, Feb. 05, 2009
How to Save Your NewspaperBy Walter Isaacson
This story has been modified from its original version
During the past few months, the crisis in journalism has reached meltdown proportions. Not true. Journalism itself is not having a crisis -- news reporting is just as good or better than ever. The financial side of publishing a newspaper is, however, collapsing in upon itself and creating a black hole on Wall Street. It is now possible to contemplate a time when some major cities will no longer have a newspaper Especially the metro papers and when magazines and network-news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters.
There is, however, a striking and somewhat odd fact about this crisis. Newspapers have more readers than ever. Not true, as this sentence explains: Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people. THAT is true. Content is king. People need the news. But they do not want their news in the newspaper format. The old-fashioned page format, the old-fashioned way of "subscribe or buy" distribution, are important factors in the downfall of the newspaper industry that are not being faced by management.
The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. Merrily? Not hardly. The companies just don't know what to do yet. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines. Who can blame them? Even an old print junkie like me has quit subscribing to the New York Times, because if it doesn't see fit to charge for its content, I'd feel like a fool paying for it. But it isn't free, and this is another factor that management is failing to consider. Television used to be free, paid for by advertisers. Then cable came along, and America discovered it was willing to pay for more channels, more interesting content, and better reception. Now the Internet has come along, and we are also paying for that. Both cable and Internet are monthly bills for most of us -- so we ARE paying for the news. The logical extension of this argument is that perhaps newspapers need to go back in time to when television was free. That's right. Free newspapers, completely paid for by advertising. Naaaah. Never happen.
This is not a business model that makes sense. No, it's not. But newspapers are stuck: if they pull out of the Internet, someone else will take their place. Perhaps it appeared to when Web advertising was booming and every half-sentient publisher could pretend to be among the clan who "got it" by chanting the mantra that the ad-supported Web was "the future." But when Web advertising declined in the fourth quarter of 2008, free felt like the future of journalism only in the sense that a steep cliff is the future for a herd of lemmings. (See who got the world into this financial mess.)
Newspapers and magazines traditionally have had three revenue sources: newsstand sales, subscriptions and advertising. The new business model relies only on the last of these. That makes for a wobbly stool even when the one leg is strong. When it weakens — as countless publishers have seen happen as a result of the recession — the stool can't possibly stand. And this is what's happening today. This part, he got right.
Henry Luce, a co-founder of TIME, disdained the notion of giveaway publications that relied solely on ad revenue. He called that formula "morally abhorrent" and also "economically self-defeating." That was because he believed that good journalism required that a publication's primary duty be to its readers, not to its advertisers. In an advertising-only revenue model, the incentive is perverse. It is also self-defeating, because eventually you will weaken your bond with your readers if you do not feel directly dependent on them for your revenue. But we CAN'T depend on readers any more . . . because we are losing them, in herds, droves, schools and flocks. This is circular thinking, and indicates if not a complete willingness to run away from the harsh realities of consumers and the newspaper -- almost every newspaper is doing this type of childish reasoning -- then it indicates an infinite loop of strategic and, ultimately,financial madness. When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, Dr. Johnson said, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. Journalism's fortnight is upon us, and I suspect that 2009 will be remembered as the year news organizations realized that further rounds of cost-cutting would not stave off the hangman.
One option for survival being tried by some publications, such as the Christian Science Monitor and the Detroit Free Press, is to eliminate or drastically cut their print editions and focus on their free websites. Others may try to ride out the long winter, hope that their competitors die and pray that they will grab a large enough share of advertising to make a profitable go of it as free sites. That's fine. We need a variety of competing strategies. You bet your ass we do.
These approaches, however, still make a publication completely beholden to its advertisers. Start thinking differently, dinosaurs. The old way just isn't working any more. So I am hoping that this year will see the dawn of a bold, old idea that will provide yet another option that some news organizations might choose: getting paid by users for the services they provide and the journalism they produce. Not a bad idea. So . . . how?
This notion of charging for content is an old idea not simply because newspapers and magazines have been doing it for more than four centuries. It's also something they used to do at the dawn of the online era, in the early 1990s. Back then there were a passel of online service companies, such as Prodigy, CompuServe, Delphi and AOL. They used to charge users for the minutes people spent online, and it was naturally in their interest to keep the users online for as long as possible. As a result, good content was valued. When I was in charge of TIME's nascent online-media department back then, every year or so we would play off AOL and CompuServe; one year the bidding for our magazine and bulletin boards reached $1 million.
Then along came tools that made it easier for publications and users to venture onto the open Internet rather than remain in the walled gardens created by the online services. I remember talking to Louis Rossetto, then the editor of Wired, about ways to put our magazines directly online, and we decided that the best strategy was to use the hypertext markup language and transfer protocols that defined the World Wide Web. Wired and TIME made the plunge the same week in 1994, and within a year most other publications had done so as well. We invented things like banner ads that brought in a rising tide of revenue, but the upshot was that we abandoned getting paid for content.
One of history's ironies is that hypertext — an embedded Web link that refers you to another page or site — had been invented by Ted Nelson in the early 1960s with the goal of enabling micropayments for content. He wanted to make sure that the people who created good stuff got rewarded for it. In his vision, all links on a page would facilitate the accrual of small, automatic payments for whatever content was accessed. Instead, the Web got caught up in the ethos that information wants to be free. The free television model that has prevailed since the 1950s has spoiled America. If it's on a tv (a monitor), then content is expected to be free. This may be a concept that may prove inviolate with the public. Maybe it's time content providers faced this and stopped fighting it, hm? Others smarter than we were had avoided that trap. For example, when Bill Gates noticed in 1976 that hobbyists were freely sharing Altair BASIC, a code he and his colleagues had written, he sent an open letter to members of the Homebrew Computer Club telling them to stop. "One thing you do is prevent good software from being written," he railed. "Who can afford to do professional work for nothing?"
The easy Internet ad dollars of the late 1990s enticed newspapers and magazines to put all of their content, plus a whole lot of blogs and whistles, onto their websites for free. Wrong. Ad dollars on the Internet have NEVER been easy to get. Papers and magazines jumped on the web because they realized if they didn't, they'd be left behind. But the bulk of the ad dollars has ended up flowing to groups that did not actually create much content but instead piggybacked on it: search engines, portals and some aggregators.
Another group that benefits from free journalism is Internet service providers. They get to charge customers $20 to $30 a month for access to the Web's trove of free content and services. As a result, it is not in their interest to facilitate easy ways for media creators to charge for their content. Thus we have a world in which phone companies have accustomed kids to paying up to 20 cents when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10 cents for a magazine, newspaper or newscast. Kids WANT to text message. It's cool. Most adults couldn't care less.
Currently a few newspapers, most notably the Wall Street Journal, charge for their online editions by requiring a monthly subscription. This is a newspaper whose regular readers can all afford an extra monthly charge. But what has happened across the country when local newspapers have tried to charge for their services? When Rupert Murdoch acquired the Journal, he ruminated publicly about dropping the fee. But Murdoch is, above all, a smart businessman. He took a look at the economics and decided it was lunacy to forgo the revenue — and that was even before the online ad market began contracting. Now his move looks really smart. Paid subscriptions for the Journal's website were up more than 7% in a very gloomy 2008. Plus, he spooked the New York Times into dropping its own halfhearted attempts to get subscription revenue, which were based on the (I think flawed) premise that it should charge for the paper's punditry rather than for its great reporting. (Author's note: After publication the New York Times vehemently denied that their thinking was influenced by outside considerations; I accept their explanation.)
But I don't think that subscriptions will solve everything — nor should they be the only way to charge for content. A person who wants one day's edition of a newspaper or is enticed by a link to an interesting article is rarely going to go through the cost and hassle of signing up for a subscription under today's clunky payment systems. The key to attracting online revenue, I think, is to come up with an iTunes-easy method of micropayment. We need something like digital coins or an E-ZPass digital wallet — a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video for a penny, nickel, dime or whatever the creator chooses to charge. Listen: you can hear the laughter ringing out through cyberspace . . .
Admittedly, the Internet is littered with failed micropayment companies. If you remember Flooz, Beenz, CyberCash, Bitpass, Peppercoin and DigiCash, it's probably because you lost money investing in them. Many tracts and blog entries have been written about how the concept can't work because of bad tech or mental transaction costs.
But things have changed. "With newspapers entering bankruptcy even as their audience grows, the threat is not just to the companies that own them, but also to the news itself," wrote the savvy New York Times columnist David Carr last month in a column endorsing the idea of paid content. This creates a necessity that ought to be the mother of invention. In addition, our two most creative digital innovators have shown that a pay-per-drink model can work when it's made easy enough: Steve Jobs got music consumers (of all people) comfortable with the concept of paying 99 cents for a tune instead of Napsterizing an entire industry, and Jeff Bezos with his Kindle showed that consumers would buy electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers if purchases could be done simply. The author clearly does not understand who the American audience is today. Music sells, because we've always had to pay for it (except in the measly bites free radio gave us in its heyday) AND, more importantly, because people want it. TV shows on iPods, not selling as much. There are other and better ways for people to watch their shows. And Jeff Bezos and Amazon's Kindle are NOT yet a success. I'm a reader and a writer, and other than one writer I know of, who is rich, filthy, stinking rich, God bless him, I know of no one who has even seen a Kindle, much less bought one.
What Internet payment options are there today? PayPal is the most famous, but it has transaction costs too high for impulse buys of less than a dollar. The denizens of Facebook are embracing systems like Spare Change, which allows them to charge their PayPal accounts or credit cards to get digital currency they can spend in small amounts. Similar services include Bee-Tokens and Tipjoy. Twitter users have Twitpay, which is a micropayment service for the micromessaging set. Gamers have their own digital currencies that can be used for impulse buys during online role-playing games. And real-world commuters are used to gizmos like E-ZPass, which deducts automatically from their prepaid account as they glide through a highway tollbooth.
Under a micropayment system, a newspaper might decide to charge a nickel for an article or a dime for that day's full edition or $2 for a month's worth of Web access. Some surfers would balk, but I suspect most would merrily click through if it were cheap and easy enough. Again, he uses merrily. And again, he's completely wrong. Most would not click through if they were being charged. Most people I know don't even click through Internet ads. Face it, Charlie: nobody wants to pay for the newspaper any more. Get over it and move on. Merrily.
The system could be used for all forms of media: magazines and blogs, games and apps, TV newscasts and amateur videos, porn pictures and policy monographs, the reports of citizen journalists, recipes of great cooks and songs of garage bands. This would not only offer a lifeline to traditional media outlets but also nourish citizen journalists and bloggers. They have vastly enriched our realms of information and ideas, but most can't make much money at it. As a result, they tend to do it for the ego kick or as a civic contribution. A micropayment system would allow regular folks, the types who have to worry about feeding their families, to supplement their income by doing citizen journalism that is of value to their community. It's called asking for donations through PayPal. A lot of bloggers do it.
When I used to go fishing in the bayous of Louisiana as a boy, my friend Thomas would sometimes steal ice from those machines outside gas stations. He had the theory that ice should be free. We didn't reflect much on who would make the ice if it were free, but fortunately we grew out of that phase. That was called stealing, and the author is being disingenuous with us. If you don't want your content "stolen," then don't post it. Or go ahead and put a lock on it: let's get the Times-Dispatch to charging for access to the articles, the obituaries. Then maybe you'll see how many subscribers they DON'T have. Likewise, those who believe that all content should be free should reflect on who will open bureaus in Baghdad or be able to fly off as freelancers to report in Rwanda under such a system.
I say this not because I am "evil," which is the description my daughter slings at those who want to charge for their Web content, music or apps. Instead, I say this because my daughter is very creative, and when she gets older, I want her to get paid for producing really neat stuff rather than come to me for money or decide that it makes more sense to be an investment banker.
I say this, too, because I love journalism. I think it is valuable and should be valued by its consumers. Agreed. Charging for content forces discipline on journalists: they must produce things that people actually value. Then you're calling for a radical rethinking of what a newspaper is all about, because the public doesn't care about journalism: it cares about good stories. I suspect we will find that this necessity is actually liberating. The need to be valued by readers — serving them first and foremost rather than relying solely on advertising revenue — will allow the media once again to set their compass true to what journalism should always be about. Good luck with that. Hey, here's an idea: maybe, create a product that people like and want, and you won't have a problem selling it. Instead, you're just beating a dead horse.
Isaacson, a former managing editor of TIME, is president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and author, most recently, of Einstein: His Life and Universe.Wornom, a freelance writer, was in the newspaper industry for fifteen years. He would like to see newspapers continue, but he finds the paper increasingly irrelevant to the public at large.