Saturday, June 04, 2005

On Greensboro dropping NYT

Tim Porter has an excellent Q & A with John Robinson, editor at Greensboro, on the News-Record's decision to drop its New York Times contract at $34,000 a year.

Robinson says he will take the money to do more local news, partly through the newspaper's Public Square initiative.

The biggest response Robinson said he's gotten has been to the loss of Tom Friedman's column. But as he says, at $34K a year, it just isn't worth it. He notes that attempts have been made to just buy the NYT columnists, but "it was a non-starter with the Times syndicate."

Robinson's probably made a pretty good decision, but it highlights the challenges the wire services face: The pressures to go ala carte.

It will happen. It has to. And similar decisions of whether to blow up the news "package" and sell everything individually eventually will be faced by every news organization. (See, for example, the Chicago Sun-Times, which this week stopped running individual stock tables.) But ala carte does undermine the business model that spreads the cost so that it is possible to cover very expensive stories that otherwise might be prohibitive, domestically as well as internationally. Every news organization will eventually have to ask, "How can we value our products (be they stories or whatever) and what are people willing to pay?" Certainly around the globe, but even within this country, I think you will find areas, both social and geographic, that start to see their coverage slip because there is little or no direct economic value in it.

The economic theorists would say that is good, for it marks efficient reallocation of production. Social theorists would say it's bad for community, democracy, etc.

Some of this can be made up with blogs, electronic newsletters and similar initiatives, but not all. And, yes, I know the MSM already does a poor job of covering wide swaths of our globe, geographically and socially. That's no reason to rejoice in reductions of even the current thin coverage. Those alternatives, for many reasons, simply won't be read or won't make up the gap. It's human nature.

Look at what is happening in the telephone sector; there is a reason the telcomms are trying to push "packages" and make it diffcult to simply "build your own" service. BellSouth, for instance as I found out last week, doesn't allow you to drop a service from your phone using its online site if that's the only service you have (such as call waiting). But telcomms have one big advantage over media companies; they still largely control the means of distribution.

See this month's Common Sense Journalism column: "Lessons from the comics, a merger and a newspaper called 'Wort.'"

Steve Yelvington also has some interesting thoughts on the value of content and what we do as we press forward.


Post a Comment

<< Home