As the Boston Globe continues its frenzied negotiation to continue operating with the New York Times Company (Stock Symbol: NYT), the entire industry is in a state of flux. What’s the problem? As with many things in the digital age, it is too expensive to create physical objects to disseminate information, but people are very hesitant to pay for information that they can get elsewhere for free.
The most recent example of this is the folding of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Recently, there have been efforts underway by the staff of the newspaper to move the journalists to a digital format called InDenverTimes.com. After initially announcing that they wanted to obtain 50,000 premium subscribers for their venture, (note that this was at a newspaper that had a circulation at just over 200,000, so they needed a conversion rate of about 25%) they announced they were only able to obtain 3,000.
At this point the venture decided to downsize their operations, from what Poynter cited as 31 newsroom staffers and 18 contributors to a staff of 2 and no contributors. It is interesting that they have one staffer on “News/Business” and another on “Sports,” a noteworthy division of labor by itself. As the folks at Poynter point out, the previous line up was most certainly overly ambitious for what amounts to a start-up media venture. One might also notice on visiting the site is the lack of advertising. While there is an e-mail link to the advertising department at the bottom, nothing has come to fruition on the site yet.
As mentioned earlier, the industry as a whole is suffering tremendously and there are several factors, some obvious and some less so. The Internet is obviously a key component, but John C. Dvorak, a technology expert, and Marketwatch.com columnist, has an interesting argument that newspapers have become too flowery and aren’t doing enough local news. Given the pared down nature of the InDenverTimes, he might be a fan of simply having a news/business reporter and a sports reporter as the staff.
I believe that another important factor is simply a case of supply and demand. It is expensive and time-consuming to do actual reporting, while it is relatively cheap to do something like what I do. Basically, I just re-write and re-organize content that is already out there. In fact, it is so easy that there are many people (like me) who are willing to do this for free. This is where I think the enterprise of journalism is in the most trouble. There are enough people to do things that appear close enough to journalism to the average reader for free that the value derived from the customer for that information is cheapened to the point where it becomes not economically viable to create content.
I recognize that this is a controversial opinion, and I acknowledge that I may, in fact, be wrong. However, I’ll leave you with one final question, how much are you willing to pay for news content today? Whatever the answer, the newspaper industry thinks it is not enough.