Archives for August 2010
There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of newspapers, and how the iPad and other tablet computers might prove to be the savior of the legacy press.
Um… I’m not so sure.
No doubt the iPad will prove profitable for some publications, enabling new subscription models neither culturally nor technically well suited to the web, while Apple’s fledgling iAd service and the competitive innovation it will foster offers at least the hope of creating new forms of advertising better suited toward the particular strengths and weaknesses of the medium. As tablet, smartphone and other always-connected handheld mobile computing devices become the dominant tool for news consumption, new business opportunities are being created for advertisers and content providers alike.
But those old media empires looking to newer media for the sustainable business model they failed to find in the not-so-new, continue to ignore perhaps the must transformational aspect of the Internet revolution: the obsolescence of the “newspaper” itself, and with it, the vertically integrated institutional structure of the organizations that publish them.
1. A weekly or daily publication consisting of folded sheets and containing articles on the news, features, reviews, and advertisements
A newspaper is, at its essence, nothing more than the aggregated product of various reporters, columnists, photographers, editors, etc., collated together in a relatively easy to distribute and consume bundle of printed pages, a format which may seem obvious or inevitable, but which is largely dictated by two peculiar demands of the medium: the need to print and the need to distribute paper. The capital and operational expense this entails is substantial, but the large, vertically integrated monopolies and duopolies that have come to dominate the newspaper industry are more than just the consequence of the need to achieve economies of scale. Rather, it is the print medium’s physical inability to accommodate a many-to-many distribution model that plays the fundamental role in defining both the daily newspaper, and the institutional structure of the organizations that publish them.
Try to imagine a model in which dozens of local print journalists attempt to publish their daily product independent of each other, and it is easy to see why the newspaper became so necessary. Even if the costs were not prohibitive, print media consumers simply could not or would not endure the chore of browsing and acquiring their daily news from such a multitude of sources, one or two pages at a time. Now imagine disseminating national and international news along such a model, and it is easy to understand why, when print was the dominant or only medium, working journalists had no choice but to publish collectively. Whatever the broader economic factors, the medium itself demands a few-to-many or even one-to-many distribution model.
While there are many additional layers of institutional overhead necessary to publish a daily newspaper — news gathering, editorial, advertising sales, subscription sales, administration, etc. — it was this need to print and distribute paper that created the economic pressures from which this organizational structure evolved, and for which it is uniquely specialized. Born of the industrial age, and organized along its principles, the daily newspaper as an institution was built for print. And that is why the ongoing shift from print to digital presents such an existential crisis, for while the new media paradigm does not necessarily preclude the survival of large, vertically integrated news organizations, neither does it demand it… and there is absolutely no reason to expect that such organizations that do survive will look anything like those that publish the newspapers of today.
The problem for the industry is that, when newspaper executives talk about finding a sustainable new media business model, they are not as focused on the survival of the “newspaper” per se, electronic or otherwise, as they are on the survival of the institutions that publish them. And that is exactly the wrong starting point for re-imagining the future of newspapers in the Internet age.
To understand the profoundly subversive impact the Internet has on the newspaper industry, imagine again a model in which dozens of local journalists attempt to publish their daily product independent of each other, only this time in a market dominated by digital media rather than print. In fact, there’s no need to imagine it, it already exists.
While few working journalists would willingly surrender the comfort and security of a paycheck to pursue the entrepreneurial chaos of your typical full-time blogger, that sort of independence is now at least possible. Gone are the artificial constraints of the print medium: the few-to-many distribution model, and the enormous capital and operational expense. Indeed, these artifacts of the physical world no longer apply in a media universe where, with a click of a button, an independent journalist can post an article to a web site or an iPad app as easily as he might submit it to his editor for final approval. But the new opportunities the Internet makes possible for journalists are nothing compared to the newfound power of digital consumers to instantly search and browse humanity’s collective intellectual product from nearly anywhere in the world. And as for their impact on the future of newspapers, neither development compares to the revolutionary new ability of electronic media to target and distribute advertising in a way that was never imaginable in print.
Lacking a more precise vocabulary, we have come to refer to the web and app versions of our familiar dailies as “online-” or “electronic newspapers,” but this is clearly an oxymoron not just from a material perspective (“electronic” negates the need for “paper”), but arguably from an organizational one as well. For without the need to print and distribute physical paper, the newspaper as we know it is no longer necessary. And when the newspaper is no longer necessary, neither is much of the institutional structure of the organizations that publish them.
Coming up in Part II, we will examine the role of other segments of the traditional newspaper’s institutional overhead — editors, advertising, subscription sales, etc. — and explain why these too will wither away in the face of new technologies and changing patterns of media consumption. We will also briefly consider what kind of new institutions might replace the old.
PubliCola picks Republican Patrick Reed for the 31st LD House of Representatives Position 2. Here’s what they had to say:
We wanted to hold our noses and endorse incumbent [Christopher] Hurst, but the more we dug in to his record, the less we could justify telling the 31st District (Auburn, Bonney Lake, Buckley, Edgewood, Enumclaw, Sumner) to support this anti-environmental, anti-public-disclosure, anti-jobs, anti-transit, pro-Tim Eyman “Democrat.”
Hurst was the prime sponsor of legislation restoring a Tim Eyman-backed measure limiting property tax growth to one percent a year; supported changing state law that allows criminals to plead not guilty by reason of insanity; voted against transit, clean energy, and green jobs, earning him the ranking of “Green Dud” from the Washington Conservation Voters; supported legislation blocking inmate access to certain public records; and supported a slate of anti-terrorism provisions that were strongly opposed by the ACLU.
Hurst is simply the worst Democrat in the state. And on top of the laundry list above, he’s also used his chairmanship of the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee to kill off even the mildest attempts to reform our state’s draconian drug laws.
When I see bad, or for that matter good, polls I can’t be too worked up. Of course I prefer the Democrat up, and up by a lot. And of course I’d prefer the generic ballot look better. But I’m not staring into the abyss, because the Democrats aren’t in the same place as the Mariners.
Believe me, as a Mariners fan, I’ve slogged through some terrible seasons without being able to change anything. A few years ago at the end of a bear of a season when Seattle and Texas were long eliminated, I was sitting in the first row of an outfield seat. Right in front of me, a Mariner’s popup came near the warning track, and the Ranger’s right fielder went into a dive for the ball. “I got it, I got it!” I yelled, and the Ranger dropped the ball. While I like to think I made him drop it, the truth is he probably just bobbled it because he was an AAA call up without much Major League experience. That’s the closest I’ve come to changing anything on the field.
But it’s often said that politics isn’t a spectator sport. And this year as every year, I’m not going to just sit and watch. I’ve worked the phones, donated, and knocked on doors for candidates I believe in, and will continue through November.
And that’s where the next few months for the D’s can be a lot better than the next few months for the M’s. There are enough fine candidates that we can all make a difference. I don’t know what the polls show for DelBene, but I’ll be making calls and knocking on doors for her. Same with Patty Murray (the poll Goldy cited earlier aside). Those of you who live south of here can do the same for Heck.
If you aren’t inspired by those people, there are plenty of state and local races and initiative campaigns. If you don’t like to talk to strangers about politics, they can all use money. They can all use letters to the editor. They can all use you mentioning them on Facebook and Twitter. They can all use you talking to friends and putting up yard signs. All of those things will change the facts, and matter more than what you see in polls.
Goldy is on the East Coast and I am at a family reunion in the Midwest, but please join a friendly group of Seattle-area liberals, progressives, radicals, and commie pinkos tonight for a Tuesday evening of politics under the influence at the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally. (Talk about a run-on sentence!) We meet at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E. beginning at about 8:00 pm. Some folks will be there even earlier to enjoy dinner before the political fireworks begin.
Not in Seattle? There is a good chance you live near one of the 286 other chapters of Drinking Liberally.
Murray 47, Rossi 33? Now that’s the kinda stuff I like to read on the beach.
Yes, those are my toes, wiggling in the warm, white sands of Longport NJ, even as I tap this out on my iPhone. Enjoy the rain currently forecast for Seafair weekend.
Speaking of going negative, Rep. Rick Larsen has a very effective web video up bashing is opponent, John Koster, for his lavish praise of the Tea Party. “The Tea Party Movement, the Patriot Movement to me is one of the most exciting things to happen to this country for a long time,” the video opens with Koster pronouncing, before proceeding to illustrate the teabaggers’ legacy of racism, stupidity, hate.
Just as disturbing is Koster’s praise of “the Patriot Movement,” long known for its white supremacist and anti-semitic rhetoric, and its close ties to the right-wing militia movement. Either Koster doesn’t really know what the Patriot Movement is, or more frightening… he does.
Eli Sanders at The Stranger notes that “Patty Murray Goes Negative“…
Not surprising, given that the Dino Rossi campaign (and its allies) have been hitting her for some time.
Yeah, but also not surprising considering that going negative is exactly the right strategy in this particular electoral cycle, and that Murray, smart politician that she is, has never shied away from going negative in the past.
I’m writing this post from the new SoDo office of the Cannabis Defense Coalition. The CDC recently moved from its old office in South Park up to this new location right next to Showbox SoDo. The inside of this place needs a ton of work, but folks in the organization are thrilled to be moving into a more visible location within the city.
Tomorrow night, the CDC is planning to take part in the Seattle Police Department’s Night Out with their own gathering behind the office along Occidental, just south of Safeco Field (the M’s play Texas at 7:10pm).
I’m in Philly this morning, preparing to drive down to the Jersey shore, so don’t expect much from me in the way of posting today. I’ve been working on a monster post on the future of newspapers — a very simple thesis that’s extremely complicated to explain — but I just can’t seem to get it right, so… maybe tomorrow.
Anyway, just thought I’d give folks a heads up.
Time to vote on July’s “Golden Goat”
Last week’s contest was a tough one, but it was eventually won by mlc1us. It was Tiffany’s Cocktails in San Antonio, TX, where “Big Mexican Women” are allegedly (according to Fox News) helping Afghan soldiers who are here to learn English go AWOL from nearby Lackland Air Force Base.
Here’s this week’s, good luck!
And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.