Image via WikipediaThis is a guest post contributed by online pal and fellow writer of books Robb Grindstaff.
Robb and I originally encountered each other on Harper Collins' authonomy peer-review writer's site thingy and we've been, along with a group of like-minded peeps, keeping in touch and bouncing stuff around ever since. By day, Robb's a newspaper editor in the US and, as he mentions in the post, we've been talking a lot about the future of writing, both in terms of fiction and daily news media. This is his take:
A conversation started recently among a group of writer friends with this article, which discusses the new distribution methods for music and books and the effects on the content producers (musicians and writers). The conversation then segued into this article about the Associated Press and News Corp telling Google and Yahoo! it’s time to pay up for the news content they aggregate and distribute.
From the news media perspective, particularly the newspapers where I’ve worked for my entire career, online distribution has become the death knell for newspapers when it should have been the saving grace that eliminated the high costs of 'traditional' printing and distribution.
In the olden days (say, the 1700s up to 1989), journalists held the power. Newspaper publishers were the kings of the hill in their cities, making or breaking politicians and business/industry tycoons with the power of the pen. They sold the newspaper for a nickel, or a quarter or a dollar, everyone read it, most cities had two or three major competing newspapers and many people read more than one newspaper. The newspaper owned/controlled the content and content producers (journalists), the publishing (printing presses), and distribution (paper boys and newsstands). To this great mass market of readers, advertisers flocked and paid lots of money to get their ads in these newspapers that were delivered and read each day by virtually everyone.
There are books that could be written (and have been written) on the in-between parts, how we got from then to now, but today it’s looking like this:
- Journalists are unemployed in the thousands.
- Aggregators of news, such as Google and Yahoo, are the new distributors.
- Aggregators don't employ or pay a single journalist. They take content from everyone else. They have virtually no overhead in comparison to media. Their overhead is primarily computers servers which reach hundreds of millions for cents. They don't have to print and deliver a newspaper to every doorstep every day, pay reporters or camera crews or videographers or producers.
- Readers are wired and the Internet provides instant news rather than waiting for tomorrow morning's newspaper. Readers can find newspaper depth to stories (as opposed to the typically thinner reporting prominent on TV), but delivered instantly 24 hrs a day (the advantage of TV). Even better as it's delivered on demand. You don't even have to make sure you turn on the TV at a certain time to catch a certain newscast or news story.
- As readers have moved online, so advertisers have migrated to Google/Yahoo/etc., because that’s where the eyeballs are also aggregated.
- In the meantime, newspapers are going broke, bankrupt, closing, and laying off thousands of journalists as they've lost advertisers to online. Even though newspapers also operate their own Websites, they are by definition mostly local (other than the New York Times and a small handful of others), and the Internet is global. Readers don't feel a need to make sure they get their news from their local newspaper or local TV news. World and national news has become a commodity, and readers expect it for free, at their fingertips.
This worldwide access to information should be a boon to freedom and democracy.
But what will the aggregators aggregate, what will the distributors distribute, and what will consumers consume when all the journalists are gone? And when the level of competent journalism has declined to a certain point, who will be the watchdog over the government and major institutions on behalf of citizens and taxpayers?
That’s the thought keeps me up at night as the new world of media figures out a business model.