This Isn’t A Competition

Sigh. Far be it from me to argue with Dana, but it’s hard to avoidthe defensiveness and bitchery in this piece:

“The future of quality journalism is not dependent on the future of
newspapers,” announced Huffington, whose Web site relies on free
newspaper reporting. She scolded newspapers for having the nerve to
want to charge money for their products.

Mayer, who oversees Google News, explained how “Google is doing its
part” to preserve journalism — by keeping the lion’s share of ad
revenue before directing readers to newspaper sites. “Google News and
Google search provide a valuable service to online newspapers
specifically by sending interested readers to their sites,” she said.

Oh? Let’s plug in “Senate Commerce Committee ‘Future of Journalism’
hearing” into Google News and see what comes up. After a link to a wire
story, the second headline is “Google’s Mayer to Dispense Advice to
Newspapers At Senate Hearing.”

In the real world, Google and the Huffington Post are triumphing over traditional news-gathering organizations.

Um, not really. It’s not like it’s a fair fight, first of all. I don’t unequivocally love Ariana’s operation or Google, but you can’t pretend that the newspaper industry has been putting as much effort and attention into its online operations — particularly into the money-making side of its online operations — as HuffPo and Google have. Other people coming up with an idea first is not them being out to get you. Them buying your building and shutting off your electricity and having your taxes audited and mounting a hostile takeover of your board of directors is them being out to get you.

Google and the Huffington Post are not triumphing over anything but their own expectations for their businesses. Or is there a long list of former Washington Post advertisers (department stores, for example, or furniture sellers) who have told Washington Post advertising salespeople that they’re shacking up with Ariana this weekend instead of placing a full page in the paper? If so, that kind of information would inform readers better than assertions not supported by any subsequent evidence. Gimme the list and their phone numbers and while you’re at it, that doesn’t mean Google and the Huffington Post are triumphing, it just means your sales guys suck.

“High-end journalism is dying in America,” testified David Simon,
creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” who wore an open-collar black sport shirt
for the somber occasion.

It’s being murdered. And you of all people should know that. You wrote a fucking show about it.

But it was Simon, once a Baltimore Sun reporter, who struck the
strongest blow for newspapers. Though scolding publishers for their
“martyrology” and mismanagement, he spoke of how “aggregating Web sites
and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and
froth” and added: “The parasite is slowly killing the host.”

It fucking staggers me how people who used to be reporters can just go out there and say stuff like this without backing it up in any way at all. Talk to me about the NUMBERS, goddammit. As a news consumer, as a news junkie, I’m desperate to know why this is happening, but to do that I have to go on my own and find numbers about profitability — I’ll keep yelling it until somebody recognizes it signifies something, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE MADE A 16.7 PERCENT PROFIT THIS YEAR — and debt loads and the actual amount of effort put into selling online instead of just kicking back and waiting for online money to roll in. Newspapers are closing that have 200,000 subscribers. Do you know what this site would do with 200,000 subscribers? We’d buy Barbados and have a big party every year for the entire world to attend.

“The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning
board hearing,” added the casually clad Simon, “is the day that I will
be confident that we have actually reached some sort of balance.”

Can I just mention how much I hate that HuffPo has become shorthand for all the Internet in the world, apparently? You want to run into an online reporter at a zoning board meeting? Try looking around for theBeachwood/Chicago Talks guys next time you blow through Chicago, David. Chances are they’ll be there. That story they did, by the way, hasn’t been picked up by any of your beloved big-city papers nor anyone else, because apparently the zoning board’s gone out of fashion with the traditional media, but why let the facts get in the way of a good line?

I didn’t watch this hearing yesterday because despite my love for John Kerry and despite my love for David Simon (even if he is descending into tooliness here) and despite my love for newspapers I had a feeling it would be about as related to journalism as baking banana bread so I did that instead. At least now I have a loaf of banana bread, and banana bread never made anybody dumber.

I was following various people Twittering it, and agree with Markos and with Oliver that if newspapers want to be nonprofits they should just go do it. They don’t need Cardin or Kerry or anyone else to set themselves up as 501c3’s and operate sensibly and within budget constraints that won’t bankrupt them. All they need is the will to make the decision not to be greedy assholes anymore.

Call me when that happens. I’ll likely be out tripping over people at the zoning board.


10 thoughts on “This Isn’t A Competition

  1. Ahem. You won’t see a HuffPo reporter at a zoning board hearing because that’s not what they do. I wouldn’t expect to see John Madden reporting on the new season of the NY Met Opera, either, despite his fatlady street cred.
    Jeeeeeezus. Fact is, it’s all the online reporters who are doing the real local reporting now, David. Likethis article says. Only their headline is all wrong–the future of local news isn’t online. It’s already online.
    C’mon, people. Keep up.

  2. Back in the days before Google existed, I used to read The London Times and the New York Times and the LA times — all for free– on the Interwebs.
    Try that now. I mean, seriously. Try just reading a newspaper online.
    They’ve “redesigned” and “expanded” and “modified” and “modernized” their sites to the point you can’t FIND the news. It’s almost as bad as dead-tree editions.
    It’s not the reporters (and heaven knows it’s not the content wizards who put the stories on line. Like the reporters, they’re following orders.) It’s management, which almost universally either doesn’t understand, doesn’t like, or doesn’t know how to use the Web (or some combination).

  3. The rant is strong in you, Athenae. The banana bread paragraph is one for the time capsule.
    BuggyQ, great point about Madden etc.

  4. Actually, what I liked about the hearing was I felt most arguments that I have heard made were represented. David Simon actually has total contempt for the newspaper industry. He said “a plague on all your houses” referring to the newspaper industry and new media. It was actually a great hearing. You might want to check it out.

  5. One thing that’s worth noting about HuffPo – part of the reason they’re doing things that news orgs aren’t is that they’re doing things that are arguably unethical.
    Not to take anything away from their modicum of good national reporting (Stein and Grim are quality) or the good writers that they get to write for them at whatever price, but I think the “Quick Read” thing is total bullshit; I think it’s unconscionable to lift other newspapers’ ledes because they can’t put together a sufficient amount of relevant content on their own to support their business model.
    And it’s different from what “blogs” do. When Digby uses a big chunk of an NYT article, she’s doing it to make a point about something, not as part of a business model that encourages people to use the HuffPo as their homepage in lieu of the newspapers that actually generate those stories, which is what they’re doing in Chicago (the ChuffPo blog is abysmal).
    This is part of what’s frustrating. Google != Huffpo. Google’s not trying to usurp newspapers. I’m not convinced Huffpo isn’t.

  6. Oy. David Simon putting bloggers into the “parasite eating the host” category? He musta meant you, A, O A-Xena, Warrior Killer of Journalism.

  7. Newspapers are, have been and always will be a waste of trees.
    Quit reading newspapers in 1970 when I personally outprocessed 39 KIA enlisted men in one unit in Viet Nam in one hell day and the newspapers reported “minor attack, one killed, two wounded and one officer wounded.” cured me permanently of any belief in “news.”
    My future roommate in NY City was a gravedigger. The only time that he showed any emotion about prepping bodies to go home was when he literally started crying about the lack of respect for those dead, whom he remembered and the dead from Cambodia when, he told me “they emptied all of the frozen food lockers and just tossed the body bags in.” Then they leaked out the dead when casualties were low. Why not check out those great wire service stories about that scandal. Oh, well, how many of the heads of bureaus in Vietnam took EARLY retirement? How many wrote best sellers? Check the Church commission hearings when it was revealed that the CIA had paid to have at least 1500 books written and published. But you aren’t high enough to be told which books they were. Wasn’t there some black “newsman” that got something between $200 and 500000 for positive reporting on the Iraq war of aggression? Consulting? Probably just a delusion. Hell, probably over 50 per cent believe “the news.”
    These parasites are getting publicizing now to get ready to get a “bail out.” I hope they Bush it up.

  8. ” . . . banana bread never made anybody dumber.”
    You got any proof of that, Athenae?

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