There’s been a lot of talk lately about the demise of newspapers. The discussion is especially acute here in Boston, where the New York Times Company has threatened to shutter the Boston Globe if they can’t figure out how to cut $20 million from the balance sheet.
No one throws a pity party like the newspaper industry, so over the past few weeks our brains have been scorched with dumb idea after dumb idea of how to “save” the Boston Globe and newspapers in general.
But here’s the thing — the people writing these articles all seem to be from the editorial side of newspapers. And in an industry famous for building walls — actual physical walls — between the business and editorial sides, it strikes me as a little absurd that the majority of what passes for “ideas” for rescuing the bottom line are being bandied about by those who have spent their entire careers on the side of the wall with the least information.
Do you want to know why I think this is the case? Because people on the business side have spent the better part of a decade and a half trying to figure this stuff out. And then they found easier jobs, like designing space shuttles and poking bears in the eye for money.
The latest “idea” comes from Emily Sweeney, a Globe reporter and the New England chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Her plan is to thwart Google by establishing an online partnership between major news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post. Users would need a password to access to the portal and receive aggregated news from a central location:
The media outlets would then be able to reclaim that search advertising revenues. Each media outlet would continue to operate independently, and compete with each other, trying to attract readers to their sites. Any revenues collected from the overall search product would be distributed to the members of the organization.What would be left for Google and the rest of the search engines? Not much, really. Blogs and tweets would no longer be allowed to link to news stories. RSS feeds would only be allowed to work behind the pass-word protected wall, so outside websites would no longer be able to aggregate content and sell advertising around it. Eventually, people seeking credible information would turn to the news consortium for their information.
Of course Sweeney has a vested interest in this, since she registered the domain name Newsfindr in 2008 and hopes to build that into the aggregator in question. (In the old days we called that “conflict of interest,” but I guess while we’re throwing out the rules, it’s all fair game.)
If you really don’t know, here’s why Sweeney’s idea won’t ever, ever work:
You will not ever, ever beat Google at search. They own search. Making people use a different search engine to find mainstream news copy than they use to find the address of their dog groomer, a map to their co-worker’s party, LOLcats, gardening tips, the spelling of “zucchini,” the date and location of the next zombie march, images of Mount Washington, famous Mets player mustaches, and the other 99 million things people use it for is not a recipe for success.
Since the entire plan of Newsfindr seems to be to “reclaim search advertising revenues,” I’m afraid this idea strikes out on the first pitch. In other words, the only reason Google makes so much from search advertising is that EVERYBODY USES IT.
Also, “Blogs and tweets would no longer be allowed to link to news stories”?
BECAUSE NOTHING SAYS WE APPRECIATE OUR READERSHIP QUITE LIKE SHUTTING THEM OUT OF THE PROCESS.
Then there’s this part:
The more I think about it, and the more I crunch numbers, I think this is definitely the way to go, if mainstream media companies want to stay in business. If news websites are more disciplined in what they posted online (i.e. post videos on their websites, and headlines of stories, with a brief preview of the article to draw readers in, etc.) they would be able to gain more subscribers (both print and online).
In other words, the way to save newspapers is to give people less for more money, and to ensure that no one can direct their friends and coworkers to interesting things online.
Sounds like a plan.
Jesus my head hurts.
Making Newspapers Profitable – My Newspaper Rescue Plan [Media Mayhem]