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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« Imagine the World's Best Doctor's Waiting Room... | Main | Beware the Printies »

August 19, 2008




People seem to forget that the key word in newspaper is news, not paper. So, the medium may change, but people will still want their news on whatever medium they prefer.





The medium IS the message (M McLuhan, 1964)
So, the medium needs to change/be changed



We're watching the same issues play our in Australia.


I agree we're not going to miss these local papers. There are already a host of new players coming into the market to fill these gaps and ensure local people get what they want i.e. access to local news and local business advertising. I think these changes will also breed a new class off journalist.

Russell Nelson

There's two kinds of people in the world: those who welcome the future, and those who try to fend it off. Interestingly, you'll find both liberals and conservatives in the both camps, making a hash of the old consortia. I'm in the first camp: the future doesn't scare me. The first fifty years of my life have been great; I expect the second fifty to be just as good. Now, if they could only get flying cars and jetpacks working, we'd be all set.

Working Reporter

I find this an incredibly optimistic scenario. Rather than run the thought experiment the way you did -- where the Whoville Bugle is one component in a media ecosystem -- I'd push the ecosystem analogy even further to include a critical concept: the food chain.

Forget about newspaper vs blog vs web site vs citizen media. These labels are irrelevant. The important players in the media ecosystem are: content gatherer; content aggregator; content analyzer; content user.

Of all the media entities you describe, only one -- the Whoville Bugle -- is a significant content creator. It is the plankton in the media food chain. The other entities all play their valuable roles of discussion, analysis, and consumption, but the Bugle is the food source.

This isn't because it's printed on paper or because newspapers are "real" journalists and nobody else can aspire to the title. It's because only the Bugle has a revenue stream adequate to pay people full time to gather content. That's the sole distinction. But it's critical.

Your thought experiment assumes that with the Bugle out of the equation, the rest of the media food chain will pick up the slack. That's where I believe you're being optimistic. Because in the real world, none of those models are making enough money to pay for significant content gathering. The absolute pinnacles of the online model are places like TPM -- tiny staff, many unpaid interns, minimal (though often quite good) content creation; and the HuffPost, paid staff one, content creation minimal.

If those entities, which are widely seen as the best the online world has produced as a business model, can't pay for significant -- particularly local -- content creation, why do you assume the Whoville Daily Trumpet will do any better?

Newspapers on average make abut 7 percent of their revenue from their online product; if the Trumpet captured all of that revenue (unlikely), it could pay for 7 percent of the Bugle's staff. Do you think any major city would be well served by 7 percent of its current newspaper?

I'd love it if you were right; I've been dying to see an online news model appear that thrives financially without taking most of its content from a newspaper. But if there's one out there, I haven't seen it.

It's tempting to say, "People are clever, and things will work out fine." But that's the kind of logic we once applied to the dying of plankton in the seas. Eventually, we woke up to the fact that the problem wasn't going to fix itself, and we needed to take steps to fix it ourselves.

Same thing here. The folks giddy about the death of dead tree news should take some time to really dig into where their news originates. Go down the food chain and take a look at the plankton. By and large, it's printed on paper.


For working reporter: The trouble is that the red tide is killing the plankton. Morningstar has a study online projecting steady declines in revenue for the four newspapers it looked at for the next five years, and I believe other privately-held papers will see similar results. The layoffs and buyouts have hit newsrooms hard, partly because they are being carried out by managers who want to keep their jobs and think they can still put out newspapers with a dwindled staff. That only results in rewritten press releases, space-filling and mindless whos'-in-who's-out features and skimpy stories with a lot of color pictures (see the Orlando Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel for e.g.) So the plankton isn't being generated in the volume that it once was. I also invite you to take a second look at some of these local blogs, and you will find original plankton manufacturing work there. Look at Gannett Watch in the last week, and you will see news being made that Gannett itself didn't want to be made.
I believe what we are seeing is a shattering of the traditional local media's grip on local news, and I am not sure yet we know all that means. There is a great potential here for political manipulation by local economic forces who are very happy to see their newspaper collapse, and I am not sure how to put the trust in an Internet site that I put in a newspaper.
Where I disagree with Potts is that I think the dead tree part isn't going to just lay down and die. There will be a fight-back at some point, and so I am not quite ready to say print is dead. They still create a huge revenue stream in good times, and this recession will end some day. The supermarket industry still relies on dead tree products to get their information out, and even in these bad times, there are full-page ads because some businesses see newspaper ads as the most efficient way of spending the least to reach the most. I also think Potts is falling into the old and fatal flaw looking at the increase in on-line spending and believing the up-line will continue to be an up-line into the future. We are already seeing reports of declining online revenues, and some of these Internet concerns are as badly financed as the dead tree industry they hope to replace.

Mickey Skinner

An article in the August 18 edition of the Wall Street Journals Media and Marketing stated that the Los Angeles Times has tapped an outsider to be the fourth publisher in the last eight years. His job is to try and jump start the Times back to profitability. I say the task can't be accomplished. The LA Times and the New York Times are the two most liberal papers in the United States. They have run rough shod over the news for so long with left leaning liberalism.

People now have other sources and venues for their news. They don't have to read the tainted liberal stories and opinions with so many other available options.

Selling newspapers is not like selling toilet paper. Toilet paper is something that people will always need. People might start buying papers if they started reporting the news the way it happened and not the way the editors and reporters wanted it to happen. In other words, people need toilet paper but they don't need the LA Times.

In 1863 Robert E. Lee said and I quote: "It appears that we have appointed our worse generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers. In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that those editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late.

Accordingly, I am readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I will, in turn, do my best for the cause by writing editorials- after the fact."


I seem to recall that Robert E. Lee lost, so maybe his fortunes on the battlefield would have improved if he had listened to those dissenting voices, instead of dismissing them.

Rick Waghorn


Finding a viable reward structure for those of us lucky enough to be charged with sparking informed conversations among our passionate niche communities is, indeed, the key... step forward Sir Tim...



I have been toying with a new concept: "Sustainable News" We've all heard this word lately, but mostly in relation to environmental sustainability. Basically, something that is self-sustaining needs less outside input.

As daily newspapers are dropping like flies, I've been thinking about news in this context. To me, why should a community rely solely on a third party news provider to spoon feed them the news. Why doesn't the community itself take on that responsibility with some professional freelance journalists. Spot.US is on the right track and I think this can be included in a context of our beta site at www.iSedona.com where the community posts the news it as rich a media format as it wants. Let the community post most of the news and pay a freelance writer for the rest. Who needs a newspaper company anymore???


for carl:
Good start. I hope you can sustain it over time. A cautionary note from watching other sites like http://pajamasmedia.com/ is to resist getting into politics, or you will be taken over by freerepublic types. Pajamasmedia started out well with local stories that looked like they were written by local people, but since has taken a completely different path as political discussions have taken it over. I am sure you are also aware of the Washington Post's effort to start its own local site for one of the Virginia suburban counties http://loudounextra.washingtonpost.com/ It has not been a great success largely because I don't think the Washington Post understands the jurisdiction.

The Wordyeti

I agree with this scenario, in principle. I've long felt that the media landscape should be viewed as an ecosystem, and that "Nature abhors a vacuum." Society needs a way to have a conversation with itself, to disseminate information. It's an intrinsic function, a fat space in the ecosystem. Thus, there will be some person/entity/cooperative that will fill it.

This is already happening in a few places around the U.S. I've written about a couple of them.

I'm not happy about the way this is playing out, however. In the short term, I think that we've already seen the damage caused by crippled and distracted news disseminators - the national discourse is polluted with trivialities, and we can't as a people, seem to agree on what our priorites are, or should be (although missing white girls are apparently somewhere near the top).

A prime example of that was the comment by Skinner, above, who attempts to forge a link between macroeconomic forces such as the rise of the New Media and Craigslist, and changing societal information intake patterns to some political agenda. Focusing on content-side "spin" as the source of financial difficulties may satisfy the bwah-ha-ha'ing of hate radio hosts, but in the really real world, is not connected to the impending death of newspapers. (If that were true, right-wing newspapers would be flourishing. They are not.)

The problem is not that there will be nothing to replace newspapers and the "plankton" creation function when they implode. The problem is going to be aggregating the plankton to a level on the food chain where we can start to once again agree on what should be paid attention to at what level (i.e. is a local company poisoning the water table a local story, or should it be Love Canal II?).

We're stumbling into the future; the ecosystem is trying to invent itself, but we're doing it at a vastly quicker pace than has ever been done before. The top-down efforts to impose some kind of solution on this dilemma are doomed to failure...


As media evolves the need for new outlets in information is imminent. The change wil always occur even past the extinction of traditional newspaper printing. However, perhaps the most recognizable thing within news organization is not the news but rather the playes giving you the news. Credibility is everything within this industry,\. Readers and viewers must trust their news source which gives rise to corporation and news empires such as the Bugle as opposed to citizen journalist or sect which are for the most part self ordained. The cycle of large scale news versus the nich markets will always reoccur with the need for people to see a forefront or all knowing voice in their local media which then allows for a sub-sect. Without a major news presence the niche publications would not exist and so forth. And so it continues with the niche becoming the foremost voice to be thenthwarted by the niche of the niche.

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