Follow-up: Newspapers and Business Models

digitagewebI owe this (more nuanced reflection) of yesterday’s note on the role of ‘professional’ versus ‘amateur’ news, again, to my colleague Tim Smith. After reading my post yesterday, he replied:

nice piece Chris! I have a follow up question.

is investigative journalism on the net in the spaces Simon characterized as amateur. I am thinking of reports like a Bob Woodward breaking of Watergate. A Seymour Hersh breaking of Abu Ghraib. This type of investigative reporting.

Do you see the type of investigative journalism (on political matters) coming from blogs and internet media? If not, could it come from there? It certainly requires a system of professional training (gathering and putting together information not necessarily available on the internet), resources and social capital (contacts).

Re-reading what I’d posted, I can see that these are questions that needed to be asked and responded to. Below is my response to Tim.

I’m not trying to suggest that all ‘big media’ journalism is bad. At the same time, few editors (now) want to actually spend the money on deep investigative reporting (or, alternately, have the budgets to afford such investigative work) – most reporting is a quick noting of facts at a surface level. The problem (as I see it) is that when news sites close themselves off from the world they are asserting that they will rely on a business model that, at this point, has failed them.

You can pay for journalists to work, but doing so means that you need to develop new revenue streams – find a way to work your community. News aggregators aren’t going away and are really useful in driving people to a website. When you have a business mogul and journalist who both say ‘people just read the headline and a few words, and don’t go into the paper itself’ I say ‘people have ALWAYS just read the headline, a few words, and not bought your paper.’ Rather than focusing on the people that you don’t attract, you need to focus on servicing the individuals who do read your paper and develop an environment where they want to invite their friends to talk about the news on your site. (This is the kind of stuff that Techdirt is regularly talking about in their discussions of monetizing content, by the by.) You don’t beat a blog by refusing to adopt any elements of their business model, you do it by outdoing what blogs do by better resourcing your staff.

At the same time, depending on the topic ‘regular’ journalists aren’t actually terribly useful or informative. I point to niche areas, toys, games, tech, security, etc. Effectively, anything that is particularly demanding to understand and requires a very strong grasp of intricacies tends to elude most journalists because they’re not supposed to write many ‘depth’ pieces – short and sweet is usually the name of the game. A great technique that a few war journalists use now is this: they write ‘fluff’ pieces for major papers (i.e. 500-750 words) and then put up a separate blog post with the full story (often upwards to 5x as long). They charge people to get the ‘full story’ and it works – you don’t capture the whole readership, but you capture enough on a per-story basis that you develop income for content plus superior advertising revenue in those ‘full story’ environments because of better keyword analysis by search engines.

What are your thoughts? Am I totally off base, or is the proposed model I’m sketching make sense?

(Thanks to Tim for letting me post his questions!)