Tuesday, May 31, 2011

News and Newspapers

Brad Delong does a bit of thinking about what sort of news inputs the internet needs:
What Kind of News Does the Net Need?

I really am not sure.

Look at http://washingtonpost.com/ right now. The lead economic story is Robert Samuelson, "Europe’s recovery at the abyss." Where is the value added in the article?

The net-based news ecology would do absolutely fine without it: "Greece could tip Europe into crisis" is not news, is not analysis, is not insight.

The second story is by Alan Fram covering a speech by Cass Sunstein at the American Enterprise Institute. There is nothing in it that you couldn't have gotten from a one-pager from Sunstein's office.

...For my issues, I think Bloomberg is a very valuable input into the net-based news ecology. I think that Associated Press is valuable. There certainly is an important role for Ezra Kleins and Steven Pearlsteins and aggregators and curators to play.

But otherwise? The value added is not coming from the "regular" reporting-based news-gathering structure. it produces: "Obama proposes revamping regulations to aid businesses", "Greece could tip Europe into crisis", "‘Insourcing’ effort still under fire despite Pentagon’s gradual retreat from plan", and "As the host of November’s summit in Hawaii, the Obama administration is trying mightily to restore the relevance of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum."

Until newspapers figure out how they have gotten themselves into a box in which, as one senior journalist told me, "on the average day I learn more from Ezra Klein's weblog than from the entire national news staff of the New York Times," they will have no idea how to climb out of the crate into which they have crawled.
Brad has very helpfully crystallized a vague thought that I've had for some time. I was recently discussing the NY Times' paywall with a friend, and I mentioned that I haven't yet gotten around to subscribing, even though I'm a rather voracious consumer of "news" and have been a regular Times reader for about 20 years. So naturally I was asked if I miss it, and why I don't subscribe, and what I read instead. And I realized that I haven't really missed it yet, and that that is because my intake of traditional articles in newspapers has been declining for a couple of years now.

Take the wire services and basic market reports (e.g. from Reuters, the AP, Bloomberg, Marketwatch, etc.), add a large helping of commentary and analysis from a number of blogs (including several operated by professional news organizations and newspapers), and I get a far more interesting, insightful, and useful flow of daily information than the major online newspapers generally provide. So I suddenly realize that I completely agree with Brad (and I'm sure that this has been very obvious to lots of other people for a long time as well): newspapers have a much bigger problem than simply managing the transition from paper to web-based distribution -- traditional newspaper writing is simply becoming increasingly irrelevant.

1 comment:

  1. Ken Houghton11:59 AM

    The (theoretical) value of (especially high-profile) newspapers is their support for and ability to do in-depth reporting.  The above-the-folds headlines on the FT today are "Germany to close nuclear plants" and "Basketball aims for a slam dunk in India." One is a piece of information I saw before I saw the paper; the other discusses the NBA, and is therefore more of a waste of space to me than the picture of Obama at Arlington that separates the pieces.

    But I don't stop at the headline, and the headline on a website mirrors the old formatting.  I can find >50 cents worth of value in a daily FT, or I wouldn't subscribe. Trying to negotiate a newspaper's website to find that value is rather another question; the cost is higher because the time required to search is greater.

    (Think about the Sunday NYT; the first thing anyone does when they get it is discards the pieces--want ads, housing market, Sports, Mergers & Acquisitions [i.e., Weddings/Celebrations], A&E, Style, whatever--they don't need to read.)

    The website, otoh, makes all of those sections pari passu, as it were. It's more difficult to customize the website, which is why people use RSS feeds or keyword searches. (Including negative keyword searches; I know I don't have the time or the temperament to read Not-Paul Samuelson's prattling, so I wait for the Dean Baker edition.)

    This is why the NYT firewall is destined to be a failed thought-experiment. Reading Paul Krugman's (unpaid) two-sentence blog post that he's in Europe for the week is treated as the same as reading Emily Bazelon's magazine piece on the "pro-life reincarnation."*

    When you treat your pieces with so-called "news value" the same as your blog posts, the world will follow.  And the only person to get rich from writing a blog is Julie Powell.

    *I could compare the Krugman blogpost to Frank Bruni's piece on J.J. Abrams, but those are comparable in Information Value.