Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fighting the Future of News: The Uselessness of 'Should'


Imagine for a moment that you've become either the boss, the parent or the Supreme Deity of every news consumer in America.

Take a moment. Drink it in. Feel the power.

Now you can begin to pronounce:

* You should buy newspapers because they provide an indispensable service to a free society.

* You should get your news on paper because: A, that's the way we've always done it; B, we have the existing infrastructure and employees to print and distribute news and need cash to support both; and C, that's still how we get most of our ad revenue.

* Even if you read news online, you should pay for every bit of it because otherwise: A, we'll all lose our jobs; B, if A happens, you won't know anything about what's going on in the world; and C, because online ad revenue just doesn't cut it.

Ah, didn't that feel good? Now take a deep breath, and let it go.

The truth is that no one in the newsgathering business has the slightest say over what any individual news consumer does with his or her time or money. Once, perhaps, the first pronouncement might have held some sway, but these days, the moral authority of the mainstream news media has been severely eroded in the minds of much of the public, so I wouldn't count on that one to save anybody's bacon.

Spending even a nanosecond thinking about what people "should" do is a waste. All that matters is what people will do or won't do, and that comes down to basic human nature.

Now, I'm no psychologist or sociologist, but I am a human, and I do know what I will and won't do (your results may vary).

* I generally won't pay for stuff if I can get it for free (unless the free stuff is junk, or I'm staring over the donation jar at a very sympathetic museum guide who has those big puppy eyes -- or one who just scares me into dropping in a couple of bucks).

* If forced to pay for stuff I used to get for free, I will, in the majority of cases (and especially in the current economy), learn to live without said stuff, unless: A, it's extremely good stuff (in which case, one wonders why it was ever free); B, it's stuff that has become integral to my daily life; or C, I suddenly get a big influx of ready money.

There are moments where I, like most other human beings, will fork over for otherwise free stuff out of the goodness of my heart, a desire to earn points in heaven or to impress someone else. But counting on that happening is not a very good business model.

So tossing all of this useless "should" stuff over the side, I'm left with two bedrock reasons why people will pay for news:

*They'll buy news on paper if it's cost-effective, easy, and that paper contains information they can't easily get anywhere else or that is superior to similar information they can get for free (a quality neighborhood newspaper vs. a pennysaver, for instance).

* They'll pay for news online if they can't get it for free, if it's relevant and integral to their daily lives, and if it's superior to blogs that they can get for free.

If all the news that flows into my Google Reader on a daily basis for free suddenly dried up, to be honest, I'd just do without most of it.

(Look at the cable TV model for a minute -- some folks are starting to drop cable, because they can get some of the shows online, and network shows are available in HD over the air for the price of an antenna. Cable has been vigorously fighting to keep its top shows off the Internet, but in the end, it's probably a losing battle. Pressed for cash, many people are deciding that whatever they get online is good enough, and whatever extra shows or information cable provides is not worth the expense. And since cable -- and newspapers -- live in a bundling world instead of an a la carte or on demand world, it's something to ponder.)

But I would probably pay for a couple of sites that I felt offered the best and most comprehensive coverage of the news I cared about the most. Then, as time went on, I'd probably feel I was missing out and might add a couple more. Or I might not. Depends on the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis.

I'm a journalist. My continued employment is connected to the future of news, whether on paper or online. I understand all the economic arguments (my paycheck depends on them). I love news. I consume news in one way or another during the majority of my waking hours. But I only have so much time, so much money and so much attention to spread around.

People want what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. That's a sea change in the attitude of consumers, birthed and encouraged by digital distribution. The horse has not only left the barn, he's out the gate, down the road and grazing in the neighbor's pasture (who leaves his gate open -- how nice for our horse!).

The newsgathering infrastructure does (or, at least, is supposed to) provide an indispensable service to a free society. It should survive and thrive.

But that doesn't mean it will, and hope is not a strategy.

Click here for a fascinating, recent study on the attitudes toward news.

Click here for weekly conversations on the future of news from the Newseum.

Click here for a recent PBS special on the future of news.

Click here for the spring 2010 edition of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, which is dedicated to the future of news (and look, is available for free online!)

Of course, journalists could also just become wards of the state. Or not. Or really, really not.

30 comments:

M12aeganT_Moe12 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ShilaL_Kappler said...

The shortest answer is doing. ............................................................

東芳 said...

善言能贏得聽眾,善聽才能贏得朋友。 ............................................................

許向霖 said...

財富並非永遠的朋友,但朋友卻是永遠的財富。 ............................................................

宗伊旺博 said...

說「吃虧就是便宜的人」,多半不是吃虧的人。 ............................................................

rl64@yahoo.com.hk said...

恨一個人,比原諒一個人,更傷力氣。............................................................

SadeRa盈君iford0412 said...

生活總是起起伏伏,心情要保持快樂才好哦!!........................................

欣來 said...

看看blog放鬆一下,工作累死了.................................................................

王瑞 said...

Pay somebody back in his own coin.....................................................................

江婷 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。.................................................................

麗珠麗珠麗珠 said...

卡爾.桑得柏:「除非先有夢,否則一切皆不成。」共勉!............................................................

向霖向霖 said...

Hello~安安唷~很高興見到你哦!!............................................................

溫緯李娟王季 said...

thx rfor you sharing~~learn it by heart..................................................................

芸茂芸茂 said...

好文章就值得回響,如果可以常常看到您的更新,應該是件很幸福的事情~~............................................................

許紀廷 said...

要經常發表文章 最愛你了呦...............................................................

吳婷婷 said...

如此動感的blog!!!..................................................................

偉倫偉倫 said...

如果你批評他人。你就沒有時間付出愛............................................................

香昱信張君林 said...

blog的用心,看得出來~~請加油............................................................

吳淑芬吳淑芬 said...

從來愛都不知它的深度,非得等到別離的時候.................................................................

黃智樺黃智樺 said...

來給你加油,幫你推一下喔~期待你的下一個更新,謝謝............................................................

亦奈美妮 said...

As a man sows, so he shall reap.............................................................

鄭雅雯 said...

Joy often comes after sorrow, like morning after night.. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

偉曹琬 said...

Every why has a wherefore.............................................................

怡靜怡靜怡靜怡雯 said...

到處逛逛~~來繞繞留個言囉~~~~............................................................

淑梁梁梁娟 said...

生活總是起起伏伏,心情要保持快樂才好哦!!............................................................

tongtong said...

It is no use crying over spilt milk.......................................................................

至馬馬馬馬玄馬馬馬馬 said...

文章是心情的反應~~祝妳天天寫的都是讓人開心的好文章哦!!...............................................................

俊王王王王霖王王 said...

人生中最好的禮物就是屬於自己的一部份............................................................

千TatianaCallan惠 said...

加油!!! 很棒的分享~............................................................

JDAY said...

Hi Kate, I actually wanted to comment on your other blog but for some reason that is not possible. I even went so far as to sign up to blogspot, for some reason I thought it might help.
I was just wanting to respond to your review of Game of Thrones. From what you wrote it sounds great,even through your apparent apathy towards the fantasy genre in general. Although, I think reading the book does make a huge difference. Your understanding would improve. For example, the repetitive 'winter is coming' is not a reminder of the weather, it's the Stark family words.
My question though, and hopefully this doesn't sound to ignorant (I am writing from New Zealand) is how is it that you have seen the first four episodes already? I thought it was not to be released until April 17? And on pay TV at that. Which means probably up to a three month wait before it is shown on skytv over here in NZ, if it is shown at all (I'm guessing it probably will due to the overall popular reception of it so far). So it is a bit of a kick in the pants when you read a review well before it is released.
Anyway, thank you for a insightful and honest review it is nice to read something about Game of Thrones written from a neutral, impartial perspective. A nice change from the usual dribble written by rabid fan-boys.

James

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