Tag Archives: Newspaper

Why “process journalism” is neither journalism, nor process

Jeremy Toeman, talking about the truly absurd “Twittergate”, sums up why process journalism fails:

“But this is par for the course if your job is breaking news as fast as possible, as there is no reward for being late nor is there a penalty for being inaccurate.”

With process journalism, there is no penalty for being inaccurate. If something is wrong, just go back and rewrite it. There’s no pressure to ensure the facts are right when you hit the publish button.

How anyone with half a brain can think that this is a better method than dull, old-fashioned fact-checking and multiple sourcing I don’t know. Of course, doing proper, in-depth reporting takes time and money and effort – it’s hard, and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the story right.

But it does mean you have a better chance of getting the story right than any other method.

Journalism as beta isn’t journalism. Saying that there’s such a thing as “beta journalism” makes as little sense as saying there’s such a thing as “beta car making”. If your car broke down, would you be happy if the car maker turned around and said “oh, sorry, we’re trying out a new system called ‘process manufacture’. We’ll fix it for you, but sorry you got stranded out in the woods. We got a new set of parts and took a chance on them fitting right without bothering to check the measurements.”

Or to put it another way: next time Jeff Jarvis is flying across the Atlantic to tell newspaper people how to fix their industry, I bet he’d be pretty unhappy if Boeing had used “process plane making” to construct the 747 he’s on.

Of course, news writing isn’t in the same league of importance as the safe manufacture of products which we trust with thousands of lives. But businesses can be hurt and lives can be lost because of news stories. When you have the kind of influence that major news vendors have, you bear a massive responsibility to get it right first time.

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The new economic reality: business model first, build traffic second

Farhad Manjoo at Slate offers a timely reminder of one of the underlying realities of online business:

“Everyone knows that print newspapers are our generation’s horse-and-buggy; in the most wired cities, they’ve been pummeled by competition from the Web. But it might surprise you to learn that one of the largest and most-celebrated new-media ventures is burning through cash at a rate that makes newspapers look like wise investments. It’s called YouTube.”

I’ve said before in various conversations that one of the factors that big online publishers need to consider is the value of the traffic they are getting, and YouTube is a perfect, if extreme, example. Without a real method of turning traffic into money, every visitor represents a cost to your business. Bandwidth, server maintenance, development, and infrastructure might have a low cost on a per-user basis, but they’re not free, and the more users you have, the bigger than sum is going to be.

Saying, as some commentators do, that you should build traffic before having at least the outline of a plan to turn that traffic into money is simply unsustainable in the current economic climate. It was actually unsustainable in the old economic climate too, but the flood of cheap credit based ultimately on overvalued assets and Chinese savings disguised that fact. It made it seem like the era when VCs would endless fund business with no business model (and big companies would buy them) would go on forever – and that’s sadly not the case.

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Some quick thoughts about Google versus the newspapers

Image representing Rupert Murdoch as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

Rupert Murdoch has really put the cat amongst the pigeons with his comments about Google:

Rupert Murdoch threw down the gauntlet to Google Thursday, accusing the search giant of poaching content it doesn’t own and urging media outlets to fight back. “Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?” asked the News Corp. chief at a cable industry confab in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The answer, said Murdoch, should be, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ “

Some people will paint this as an old-media dinosaur not understanding new media, but I’m not so sure. If you’ve read Michael Wolff’s biography of Murdoch, you’d realise that he rarely says something like this without thinking it through, and without having an agenda.

There’s a few points of context which should be considered:

Google is a competitor to newspapers

The pool of advertising money online is finite. At the moment, Google takes a very large chunk of that money. If content isn’t paid for, then that makes Google a competitor to newspapers as well as something which delivers traffic.

Traffic is a double-edged sword

You need readers to make money from content, but even online every reader has an incremental cost. If companies aren’t making enough money from the additional readers they get from Google, then Google represents a cost to newspapers, rather than additional revenue. In other words, if the ad revenue isn’t there, every page view costs money. So why should newspapers care about the loss of page views from blocking Google?

Search feeds off content, just as content feeds off search

If a user can’t find the content that’s most relevant to them from a search engine, that search engine is useless. Relevance is everything – and that works both ways. Taking their content out of Google would hurt a newspaper (unless they’re making nothing from the page view), but it would hurt Google too.

What I think is clear is publishers are starting to think that the present position is unsustainable, as it offers the worst of all possible worlds for them. They don’t get paid by readers. A large chunk of the advertising revenue goes to Google, rather than them, in a world where ad revenue is hurting overall.

Interesting times, and lots of open questions. If someone says that the status quo can be maintained, I’d take that with a pinch of salt.

UPDATE: Just to add fuel to the fire, Alan Patrick has done some back-of-the-envelope calculations to work out how much Google makes from a typical site, in this case, TechCrunch.

“In other words, if all hits to TC are via Google, then Google is making 10x more money than TC is. Or, put it another way, if Google has only 10% of the traffic going to TC via its site, it makes the same amount of money.”

While Google obviously adds a lot of value to the customer, does it really add as much value as the content that the customer is actually interested in – let alone more value?

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