Journalism's White Knight

Advertising alone cannot save great journalism; in fact, it may just be killing it. As Walter Isaacson points out in his piece "How to Save Your Newspaper" in Time magazine, an over-reliance on advertising can have seriously adverse affects on journalism.

I would go a step further and say that the limitless choice and democratization of content provided by the Internet (and even the ever-expanding cable channel list) is having a serious impact on the quality of our news, as news stations must compete for ratings as I outlined in "All The News That's Fit To Monetize."  Personally, I would love to see a graph of the number of pop culture stories covered by CNN over the last 5 years. My guess it is up and to the right.

A huge part of me truly believes that Isaacson is right, and that micro-payments for content is the way to go. The problem is, as he points out, we have been conditioned to expect Internet content for free.



This mind-set really began with cable TV. I pay my monthly fee for cable and, other than a limited a la carte  and premium channels, I consume as much of as many channels as I want. Breaking this type of mind-set of the Web-savvy public might be nearly impossible, but then in rides a white (literally) knight. Thank you, Kindle.

Last week I read my first issue of The New York Times cover-to-cover.  I had, for years, only darted in and out of, reading the articles by my favorite journalist, and those on the "most emailed" list. But with a single push of a button on my Kindle, I was charged 75 cents and got my own copy of the Times. I didn't even think twice about the 75-cent charge, and I would consider myself one of those Web-savvy people who have gotten very used to getting content for free.

But the Kindle is a different medium, with a micropayment system attached to the device/account. It's more like iTunes than paypal. The Kindle, or whichever digital reader becomes the killer device, can do for professional, quality journalism what the iPod did for music. What will make the difference is the way in which people access the content. We are very used to paying to download content.

What do you think? Comment here and/or @me on twitter -- -- to continue the conversation. 

7 comments about "Journalism's White Knight".
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  1. Rex Eagon from Easy, February 17, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.

    what have I missed; I read the headlines from articles in the NYT, WPO, Cnn, USA Today online daily and then decide on which articles I want to read in their entirety all from my rss feeds. Why would I want to pay to subscribe to download to Kindle? Please educate me on the value of this?

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, February 17, 2009 at 3:56 p.m.

    Hi Joe,

    I felt compelled to respond but in a different way. Newspaper have forgotten that they are still a business and quality of service matters. Over the past 4 plus years, I have advertised in about 40 major newspapers. The best has been the Nashville Tennessean. They give fantastic service and are easy to work with. The worst, and as much as hate to say, was the Tulsa World, my home town newspaper. They are the newspaper from hell to work with and will not get any future business from me.

    My point is contents, pricing type, market size doesn’t matter as much as good old fashion quality service to the customer. The newspapers with poor quality service will either learn from their mistakes or worse, go out of business .

  3. C. Phillipps from Yoohooville, Inc., February 17, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

    @Rex Eagon

    See that is the whole problem. Not everyone likes to read everything on the web all the time. I can't get the web on the subway or on the Metra. I don't have a Kindle.

    @Mr. Marchese

    I think that your identification of the Kindle being like an iPod with iTunes is a very apt one. People can spend on either one with little thought.

    I don't have a Kindle or an iPhone. I tend to read the NYT for a few headlines online, but I read the Chicago Tribune (my hometown paper) usually from cover to cover including the crossword in the Classified section.

    I applaud them for taking advantage of the Kindle market but I hope that's not the way the whole newspaper business is going to go. There's still something nostalgic about picking up a newspaper and reading the news instead of having it screamed in my ear by the TV or in a visual jumble online.

    Mr. McDaniel is right that service matters more. I have seriously struggled as a consumer just to get consistent delivery of my newspaper, much less advertise in it. "Back in the day" when many people read the paper, you wouldn't have dreamed of having to call, email and fill out web forms to say that your newspaper didn't arrive AGAIN.

    The last time I started having trouble I ended up having to write to the then President of the Tribune Company before I saw any results - just to get my paper! Its a shame things have to go that far, but like many businesses, I think the newspapers are at least partly to blame for the situation that they are in.

  4. Rex Eagon from Easy, February 17, 2009 at 5:35 p.m.

    Jerry and all of you other newspaper lovers (like me):

    Someone has to be willing to pay for great jornalism because we all agree it is worth a great deal. I would gladly pay for all 4 newspapers plus CNN that I mentioned above but the 3 problems with the model would still exist: 1. the news would be a day older by the time I received it. 2. the paper is much bulkier than my laptop with its wifi and 3. I really am interested in only a few of the topics covered by the hundreds of pages that I would receive daily.

    I really think the newspapers or the AP could create an online RSS feed model and pattern it after the cable model. Select your categories, select your newspapers, select your geography and Shazam; I have my own personal newspaper (without the paper) for 49.95 per month.

    the real reason this will not happen is the ego's of the newspaper owners. The chances of them putting their egos aside and making any model where they work together are about as slim as Madoff paying everyone back

  5. Bob Stovall from Gain-Stovall, Inc., February 17, 2009 at 5:45 p.m.

    The concept of micro-payments for news keeps rearing up in blogs and media analysis. There are always comparisons to the music industry and iTunes. Most references are to paying small amounts for individual stories. If this model is going to work for news outlets, they will have to remember the two critical points in the example. First the purchaser has to perceive a value, and second that the item purchased cannot be conveniently obtained elsewhere for free. A consumer buys a song because that song is one he or she likes and is likely to listen to multiple times, giving it value. That song is also not available, legally, through another source. Many news stories, especially those of wide interest, are available from multiple sources therefore do not offer unique value.
    Your comparison to cable is more like comparing to a newspaper subscription. You pay a bundled price to have access to the bundle of programs on cable , or stories in the newspaper. You do not get them for free. Your NYT Kindle example is more like buying an individual newspaper at a newsstand. The only thing that changed is the medium - electronic instead of physical. Viewed as a transaction, it is no different than buying the NYT at a newsstand, and I have no idea why you never did that.
    Bottom line, and that’s exactly what we are talking about, if micro-payments for news are going to work, someone is going to have to figure out the value proposition.

  6. Heather Bettner from Tropic Survival, February 18, 2009 at 9:54 a.m.

    I wanted to add to Joe's comments. Everyone is pointing the finger at the decline of newspapers to the quality of the editoria. However,l I also think it is the quality of the service of the advertising sales department.

    Large media companies have tremedous churn in their sales departments today. This is due to the lack of consistent compensation plans, not rewarding veterans and hiring based on a myriad of qualities that do not translate to closed sales.

    In addition many do not invest in sales training. Sales training which would have helped them throught the transition to being a multi platformed media company - (Newspaper and Internet).

    Believe it or not some larger media companies today that own newspaper, broadcast and Internet work totally independent of each other. Therefore clients have three reps, three budgets no one is working on integrated marketing.

    There is a saying that a company is not the sales department, but the sales department is the company.

  7. Alexandra Watts from Manhattan marketing ensemble, February 24, 2009 at 4:01 p.m.

    Unfortunately I think this is incorrect and far off. We were always conditioned to buy music. Whether it be records, cassettes or CD's. It was only for a short period that SOME accessed/downloaded or dare I say stole free music. No one is accusing us of stealing content to read and absorb. We rarely have to download it and I rarely think of it even as access which implies priviledge. I love your articles, but think we are far from the Kindle becoming the ipod. The influencers are young and have no money. Particularly at a time like this the Kindle has been around has not taken off, can't we accept this is for a reason. If it's been given a full on endorsement by Oprah and it hasn't kept the steam I think it says something about the product needing to come a long way.

    All this being said I greatly commend NYT for trying something new, interesting and intelligent.

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