That the web has changed the economics of the news business is undoubtedly true. Among other things, it has produced an army of gurus who know everything about how the web has changed the economics of news (although very few of those, curiously, have yet found a way of profiting from those changes). The gurus are fond of pointing out all the obvious things the dumb managers of news businesses – people whose job it is actually to make money out of the news business – have missed. Paul Bradshaw, “apparently the UK’s 4th most visible person online”, according to his profile on OJB, for which he writes (oops, sorry, blogs) is the latest to offer his unsolicited advice.
Bradshaw makes some valid, if unoriginal, points. But he is wide off the mark when he asserts that “the web – and now mobile – technology has reduced the cost of newsgathering, production and distribution to almost nil”. It may have reduced the cost of distributing content. But newsgathering remains the major cost of any news organisation (unless you regard a blogger who sits behind a computer all day a news organisation, and the content he/she produces as news). Where does Bradshaw think 90% of the news he “consumes” every day comes from?
SIR – There is a fundamental difference between new and old media that your briefing about the internet’s impact on the future of the news business only touched on (“Tossed by a gale”, May 16th). Newspapers differ from other news sources in one very significant respect: they actually employ journalists to report. They provide budgets for these people to travel to the areas where news events are happening, conduct interviews there, ferret out documents relevant to the story, and so forth. Yahoo! does not have bureaus in Washington, London or Tokyo, and whatever appears on Yahoo! News is a digest of what someone in its office has read in a real newspaper or downloaded from some other, similar, online source.
This is also true of all other internet news “sources” and blogs. They are in fact secondary sources, either repeating what real journalists have dug up or putting their own spin and comment on it.
A desk with a computer terminal is a poor observation post from which to see the world. In the absence of newspapers, who will fund reporters’ travels? Who will interview the people making the news? Who will dig out the information? I don’t see any online news outfit spending the money to do anything like that. The news will always be with us, but its quality will be immeasurably poorer without newspapers.
The mistake that many news business gurus make is to equate news gathering with news distribution, and consequently “news” with “print”. But as I have argued before, a newspaper is more than just a pile of newsprint with ink on it. It is an organisation that gathers and distributes news via various channels, including the printed word. Much of the news we read on the internet is generated by newspapers, and the majority of people who say they get their news from the internet in fact still get it from newspapers (and other traditional news organisations), via the internet.
And, contrary to the fond imaginings of many gurus, news is not free on the internet, even though internet users don’t pay for it. Somebody pays for it: newspaper readers, cable television subscribers, and advertisers, who, in effect, subsidise internet news users. Obviously, that is a business model that cannot endure. If it were to be perpetuated, the only financially viable news organisations of the future will be news agencies, which have always charged for news no matter how it is distributed, and will continue to do so.
That is the conundrum that those dumb news executives have to solve, and, frankly, I don’t think Bradshaw brings them one inch closer to the solution