So let’s talk a bit about the future. There’s a few things going on today in the publishing world. One is yet another convention of talking heads discussing the how’s and why’s of what we should do next. This might have been a practical exercise five years ago, but at what point do you shut the hell up and actually do something? And what’s this twirling landscape of redundant talking heads called, you ask? Well, it’s the ASNE NewsNow Big Ideas Summit. What’s the old joke about the term “military intelligence” being a contradiction in terms? A newspapers editor’s group meeting with “big ideas” in the name probably meets that same level of skepticism for most. After all, if the newspaper industry had any genuine big ideas, you’d think they’d have rolled them out before losing half their business in the past four years. Besides, the only big ideas I’d heard from newspaper people lately have been about cutting expenses and holding on until the economy gets better. That’s not a big idea, that’s business model suicide.
One highlight of the conference so far was Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s speech. Google, as we all know now, is the great Satan to the news industry because, according to them, linking steals our business. Of course, it’s a business the newspaper industry wasn’t really trying to get in the first place before Google and others started making big money on it, but don’t let that get in the way of a good scapegoat. Schmidt had lots of fine and complimentary things to say about newspapers, of course. After all, if he had said what he really thought, this group might have stoned him to death. Even still, you can practically hear the snickering underlying his comments. Here’s a couple good ones:
“I love newspapers. I love of reading them — that when you’re finished, you’re done, and you know what’s going on.”
Translated: You’re done, and then you can get online, do a Google search and find out what’s been going on in the 24 hours since you printed your limited and outdated info.
“We’re not in the news business, and I’m not here to tell you how to run a newspaper. We are computer scientists. And trust me, if we were in charge of the news, it would be incredibly accurate, incredibly organized, and incredibly boring. There is an art to what you do. And if you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world. That’s all you need to see.”
Translated: That’s all you need to see, because with a Google search, people can be their own editors and find all the info they want in far more detail than you’re shrinking news-hole allows. Sure, you’re an artist. A soon to be starving one. And I’m not going to tell you how to run a newspaper because we make billions of dollars, and newspapers are a sinking ship. Why in the name of all things holy would I want to do that?
“A Ralph Waldo Emerson quote is, “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions; life is an experiment.” On the Internet, there is never a single solution…. The fact of the matter is there are no simple solutions to these complex problems. And in order to really find them, we’re going to have to run lots of experiments.”
Translated: So quit bitching about me, get off your lazy asses and do something already.
Not to be outdone, and never missing a chance to chime in with some anti-Google rhetoric of his own, everybody’s favorite media mogul Rupert Murdoch made an appearance at the National Press Club where he threw out this little gem:
“When asked how he would overcome public attitudes against paying for most online news, Murdoch replied: “I think when they’ve got nowhere else to go they’ll start paying and if it’s reasonable—no one’s going to ask for a lot of money.”
Uh-huh. Okay. And given the fact that the amount of information being generated independently from traditional news organizations on the web is growing exponentially by the day, when exactly will that rosy online world where you’re the only game in town come about? This should tell you all you need to know about how Rupert views the internet. If he had his way, he would limit available information to only a few sources, thereby forcing all of us to pay for it. By the way, if that did, in some mythical fantasy land where it was even possible, come to be, does anyone actually buy that a news publisher like Murdoch with an online monopoly wouldn’t be charging as much as he possibly could, being that, as he puts, you don’t really have a choice?
I’ll close here with some more excellent analysis from Alan Mutter. In this piece, Mutter shows have newspaper’s online sales have grown at a much smaller rate than online spending overall. Worse still, being the self-professed bastion of news to the world, their percentage of the online ad market is a measly 11% and, much like its print counterparts, falling.
The entire piece is well worth a read, as it discusses the ways in which the industry largely missed the boat on virtually every possibility to get into a market that they seemingly should have dominated from the get-go. He closes with this, which, to me, sums things up nicely:
“Given that there is no shortage of intelligence and talent at America’s newspapers, the only explanation for the industry’s failure to embrace the new paradigm is that it really did not want to change.”
Of course, given the massive cutbacks and layoffs, some might question whether that intelligence and talent he refers to is still in abundance, but his conclusion is dead on. And it wasn’t the people with those traits that led them down the garden path to irrelevance, anyway; it was the management structure protecting past glory over what is increasingly looking like any possibility of a future at all.