News as commodity
Mark Glaser has a good piece in Online Journalism Review about the changing landscape on wire feeds to portals, as AP embraces the idea and Reuters pulls back.
Throughout the story are observations such as this from Sue Mernit, a former AOL executive and now new-media consultant:
"The wire stories are becoming more of a commodity," Mernit said in a phone interview. "News is becoming less branded or the brands are becoming less distinguishable. I think as long as it's a credible source, (readers) won't care if it's CNN or AP or Reuters or The New York Times."
Journalists should be very aware -- and very afraid -- of this view, which is being heard from more and more news executives, including Karen Jurgensen, former exec editor of USAToday (before the Kelley scandal exploded on her watch). As quoted by Glaser from a 2002 Freedom Forum presentation:
"News is a commodity, it's cheap. Because news is a commodity, because it is everywhere, we have to give the readers the things they can't get anyplace else."
Remember from that introductory econ class so long ago: In the commodity business, profits are made on the slimmest of margins. To succeed, you get big and get cheap. Stop me if this sounds like a condensation of many of the woes we hear about the modern news business (except for the slimmest of margins part).
Jurgensen defines it well when she says we have to give readers (and scanners and viewers) the things they can't get anyplace else. That's the difference between journalism and news.
Which is why I say it's vital that we start asking and debating the question: Can journalism afford to remain free?