Been a while since I came across a Megan McArdle piece I thought worth passing on, but this one is it.
This past week the axe fell in the newsroom, most notably at BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, but also…
newspaper chain Gannett swung the ax through several of its publications this week, including the Indianapolis Star, the Tennessean and the Arizona Republic.
…Fifteen years have been spent in a fruitless search for a viable business model that will support the kind of journalism the country expects — and, no, conservatives, I’m not talking about “the liberal media.” I’m talking about media organizations that pour resources into informing the public about the everyday, noncontroversial stuff that makes up the bulk of media content.
And why? Because people don’t, as a rule, want to pay for online content. They want to pay to have a thing. An e-book is a thing. A movie is a thing. A copy of a newspaper is a thing. The internet is a medium I access with a device. An online article lacks the same level of thingness.
If I’m browsing, and I click a link, and I hit a paywall, do I subscribe, before I know if the article is worth reading? No. I click away, and go read something that is free. Because anyone can access the internet, and anyone can put something there. That’s what newspapers are competing with. And losing.
A few salient points:
It’s telling that the conservative publications that were supposed to correct the flaws of mainstream media have instead often ended up in a symbiotic relationship with it. Instead of setting up comprehensive reporting operations of their own, they spend much of their time reacting to reporting done by mainstream outlets. Reporting is obscenely expensive, and no one — conservative, liberal or in between — has figured out how to fund it on shrinking advertising dollars.
One might go so far as to say that there isn’t any such thing as conservative media – there is only a conservative critique of media. This is a failure, but also an opportunity for someone on the right willing to build a media empire that pays for itself, that produces it’s own news, that shifts narratives and Overton Windows in the starboard direction. The print/digital version of Fox News doesn’t yet exist.
This of course raises questions about why it doesn’t exist, and what the sam-scratch all those “conservative” think-tanks are spending their money on. I think it’s fair to say that the National Review era of conservative media has passed – it has done it’s work, and it’s time for it to go. The Washington Free Beacon is probably more valuable.
Those links go to reporting subsidized somewhat by digital ads but mostly by print circulations and speculative investments from outside the industry. As the journalism business burns through the last of those subsidies, large swaths of the free Internet are going to be paywalled off, and readers and journalists alike will have to learn to think of news as their parents did: as something you pay for, or do without.
The last sentence underlines the deeper problem: to what extent to I actually need “news”? Am I visibly suffering for not reading the Washington Post’s day-by-day reportage? Am I any less happy for not having a soulless corporation rhetorically manipulating my worldview?
Until I find a news publication I can trust to keep my honestly informed, I have no need to spend money on it. To be ignorant is a misfortune, to be misinformed is a curse.