The Media Oxpecker: The Case for Reader-Supported Journalism

  • We begin yet again with Warren Buffett’s newspaper buy, which is still being hotly debated. Clay Shirky says Buffett’s rah-rah letter about the acquisition reveals a major miscalculation:

    Reading the letter, you’d never know that papers make most of their money from companies, not citizens, and have done for the better part of two centuries. It is disruptive competition for ad dollars, not changing reader engagement, that has sent the industry into a tailspin.

    Ah yes, advertising, which as you may recall, has been taking some R&R. In fact, over the past few years the business of news has transformed so much that we’re now reaching a “crossover point” where readers will soon replace advertisers as newspapers’ largest source of income, says Ken Doctor. For publishers, this means that managing reader revenue will become just as important as managing advertising revenue:

    What does doing it right mean? On the reader revenue side, it means a bunch of things, including smart pricing, a state-of-the-art customer database, mobile products (HTML5, app, or both) that provide real value for higher pricing, and substantial enough journalism to make it all work. Of course, containing ad revenue decreases — hold on to as much of print, try to grow digital advertising faster — as much as you can is a vital piece of the puzzle.

    But growing digital ad revenue could be harder than expected, according to figures by former Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker:

    Mobile traffic now accounts for 10 percent of overall traffic and overall mobile revenue is surging, but companies built around desktop-web economics are scared by the fact that mobile ads are seen as far less valuable: five times less valuable than desktop Internet ads, Meeker said.

    If we use the old maxim that every $10 in print ads equates to $1 in web ads, Meeker’s research indicates that the mobile version of that ad is worth a paltry 20 cents.

  • The Chicago Tribune is planning to join the paywall club.

  • But wait, there’s a third option beyond reader- and advertiser-supported journalism. In light of the Ford Foundation’s $1 million grant to the Los Angeles Times, Peter Osnos says philanthropy could be print journalism’s last hope:

    The notion of these formerly great generators of money resorting to philanthropy to support their work is poignant in some respects, perverse in others. Yet, given the realities of our times, it seems reasonable to accept a gift, as long as it is not encumbered with requirements for advocacy or any other restrictions that would pose a serious conflict of interest for a self-respecting news organization.

  • Why longform journalism still thrives in the era of tweets and slideshows:

    The highbrow connotation of longform journalism has contributed to its popularity on the social web. “People like sharing things that reflect well on them, and there’s a prestige attached to the longform hashtag,” said [BuzzFeed editor Ben] Smith. “It’s a little bit like boasting to your friends, ‘Hey look, I read this!'”

  • “What is this shit?” asks Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs about an AP story on bullying that took the view-from-nowhere to absurd heights:

    The AP feels compelled to phone up that dime-a-dozen bigot to get his side of a story with which he has fuck-all to do. This is like covering a flower show and asking a Boston Terrier for his opinion. Why does Peter Wolfgang get to toot his own stupid bugle for two paragraphs? The answer: “Balance.” “Objectivity.” Gayness is a “controversy,” you see, and all controversies have two sides … This is how we get a little bit dumber … Crazy gets normalized. Stupid gets a hearing.

  • We need to blow the article up — by separating it into its component parts — in order to save it, writes Mathew Ingram.

  • “I still see [people] coming at SEO thinking its all about techniques and tricks,” says SEO advisor Dan Shure. “You can arrive at most of the solutions you’re looking for by asking ‘what would be best for the user?'”

  • And there was much rejoicing among Facebook page admins. You can now schedule posts and assign different roles for multiple administrators.

  • Phone books re-shape for life after listings.

  • You can now keep track of tweets and Facebook updates that politicians posted, and then deleted, thanks to Politwoops, a very cool project by our friends at the Sunlight Foundation. Says Megan Garber:

    While it is hugely instructive to know that a politician or staffer has deleted a given tweet … it could be even more instructive to figure out why a given tweet was deleted … Why did Tom Graves delete his tweet about his date night with his wife? Why did Kathy Hochul delete hers about a day spent at a cancer institute? What revelations lurk behind all these thought-better-of messages?

  • Does traditional media have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the environmental impact of printing newspapers? BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti thinks so.

  • And finally, “We’re creating a culture of distraction,” says Google Ventures partner Joe Kraus:

    We’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractable brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous.