About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« The Circulation Avalanche | Main | Reshuffling the Newsroom »

November 13, 2006


T Heller

Why dismiss any effort --fumbling efforts, even-- at trying to leverage newspapers' core competency (news-gathering, quality journalism and broad, local market distribution)?

Isn't the internet a disruptive technology to the traditional newsmedia world?

If so, why enable it so much it threatens to destroy the news industry? (Sure, Microsoft gave away its browser, but that was to strengthen their enterprise.) For the newspaper industry, giving away your news strikes me as suicidal.

I'd be interested to hear your reaction.

Mark Potts

Thanks for your comment. The problem (actually there are many) with Scheer's suggestion is that it's completely impossible. It's like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. There's no way to stop every news organization in the world from putting news on the Web; it could never happen. And in fact, most smart news organizations already put news on the Web hours before it appears in their print and broadcast editions. The internet is where breaking news has migrated, and readers know that. Trying to cut it off makes no sense.

There's a broader question about whether news companies should give news away for free on the Web, but that's a mistaken decision that was made years ago by most news companies. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Consumer Reports and others have successfully proven that you can charge for news and information online. Others should be looking hard at following that lead.

But the internet is not going away, no matter how much some people in the news business wish that were so. They need to figure out how to work with the medium, rather than fighting it.

T Heller

Yes, trying to cut the internet off doesn't appear to make any sense. And yes, I agree, the internet's not going away and the folks in the news business need to figure out how to work with the medium.

But I don't think either of your points is really at odds with the essence of Scheer's suggestion which, at its core, is that the news business "figure out a way" to gain greater control over its content to prevent it from being given away for free and thus undermining the economic viability of the news business.

The internet has no morals -- it eats whatever it sees.

The trick may be to make fresh news content somewhat invisible to the internet, yet fully accessible to readers/subscribers. *That* is possible and may represent "the way" to be figured out.

Scheer, I believe, likens the internet's 'free' distribution model as ruinous competition, where news consumers have, in essence, a feed from every wire service in the world coming right into their computer/cellphone/PDA/whatever. All for the modest cost of an ISP or monthly service plan.

In such circumstances, only advertising revenues --if you can wrestle enough of them from the service provider-- can keep news enterprises afloat. And that puts print journalism right up against radio and television (outlets that have relied too heavily on print journalism to know which way the wind is blowing.)

Radio and TV, however, will maintain the economic advantages that accrue from controlling their delivery mechanisms. Newspapers won't fare as well.

This competition, it seems, must inevitably lead print journalism to simply mimic broadcast journalism (I use that word tenuously.) God forbid! Is this what best serves the public? And is this what the public wants?

I'm with Scheer -- a way needs to be figured out. (You might also read my brief, cryptic comment in the Media Matters blog re: Ceppo's dismissal of Scheer's call to action.)


It seems that Scheer is missing some core question:

Why aren’t some newspapers able to better convert their online non-subscribers to online or print subscribers?

Why aren’t some newspapers challenging themselves to bring a unique value proposition – which often is lacking with breaking news -- to the printed product or to a premium online product?

Why don’t more newspapers assume that readers are checking out other news sources and, as a result, running the second-day story on the first day?

It’s surprising to hear that print staff points their fingers at internal “competitors,” rather than the other information sources that are proliferating. It’s time for publications – whether online or in print – to decide on their competitive advantage in the news market, then harness it. (Hint: Staking a claim as the trusted, authoritative local news provider may not be enough.)

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