Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Its not about saving journalism. It's about inventing journalism.

Good discussion over at the Nieman Journalism Lab - A Project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.

It got started yesterday with a post headlined Newspaper Staff Cuts. Good News? by Mathew Ingram, . There were 30 replies as of this morning.

In Comment 23 I said,
I think the issue is not how many editors or how many journalists, but what they do. I’m a Print evangelist so to me the idea that the web will replace Print as a revenue stream makes little sense.

The real estate on the web is unlimited. CPMS are going to keep going down and down. The real estate in Print is limited. But it has to be invested wisely, not try to do general news or compete with “breaking news”. That’s for the web.

I think it’s about great beat reporting. Choose your best reporter. Support her with a great inside person to cruise the internets. Get a great writer on the team to take the dots revealed and connect them in a great story. 3 people per beat. The writer on the team has to be responsible for copy editing. Everyone on the team is responsible for fact checking.

Then publish those stories in niche Print publications with advertisers who are interested in being in front of the fans who follow that beat.

I’m from NYC so ..for example medical care in the Bronx, in Brooklyn, in Manhattan. Then filled with ads for health care organizations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Or education or small business.

Zoned editions with focused stories with advertisers who are local.

For me it passes the “why wouldn’t that work test.” But as I said, I’m a printer, not a journalist so I must be missing something.


In post 27, Matthew said
. . . .I think what you’re proposing is an excellent model, and one that is definitely worth thinking about.
In post 30, I said (slightly edited for publishing here)

I have to disagree with the conventional wisdom about ” the cost savings to be made about shifting totally away from print.”

It’s exactly the low cost of entry on to the web that makes it much less valuable. The cost of entry into Print and distribution is much higher.

From the point of view of aggregating eyeballs the web wins. If newspapers see themselves in the eyeball business it is rational to invest time and energy there. The problem is that the cost of eyeballs is rapidly going down to very close to zero.

Until there was serious competition in the eyeball business, advertising earned easy profits. The problem is advertising, not journalism.

The new opportunity is not saving journalism, but inventing journalism for a plethora of tribes of real people. It will grow by, among many other things, serving the niche, but rapidly growing tribe of people who read, instead of people who scan, search or view.

Use the web to identify and nurture tribes of fans. Use Print to sell them stuff they want and supply them with a physical search platform when they have some time during the day.

Besides why spend money rewriting Press Releases and calling it reporting. If you call it translating a document in corporate speak into plain language, it's much cheaper and easier. Sooner or later, some PR people will learn to speak in plain language for different tribes of real people.

Then it will get really easy. That means reporters can report. Writers can write. And if by some luck someone can find new patterns in the dots on the table, they can do "news analysis." But probably not every day. Unfortunately, "analysis on demand" is usually blablablablabla unless you have a really good budget.

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