Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rosenberg: Why newsroom conversion to Web is tough

Scott Rosenberg has some interesting thoughts from last week on why newspapers could have a rough time converting to primarily or all digital as the Christian Science Monitor did last week.

Based on his time at Salon, Rosenberg concludes that the biggest barrier is financial -- and not necessarily the huge profit margins people like to harp about, but journalists' desire for a living wage:

Internet companies pay top dollar to their engineers, not their “content producers.” There is no shortage of reasonably high quality content on the Web, much of it produced for free or little pay. Of course blogs and “user generated content” can’t replace the collective output of the nation’s journalism professionals today. But they offer plenty of alternatives, and enough occasions on which they surpass the pros (or expose the pros’ failings) to keep readers occupied, and sometimes satisfied.

As Bruce Reed wrote in Slate last year during the Hollywood writer’s strike, “There is no such thing as a writer’s market. With or without subsidy, words are always in surplus, and it’s always a reader’s market.”

No amount of handwringing will change that. If newspapers are really going to take the leap Andreessen proposes, they will have to do it while simultaneously restructuring their deals with their employees and mandating painful cuts that nobody wants to accept. Which is why I don’t think they will do it at all.

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