Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Future in Black and White

OpinionJournal - Featured Article : Newspapers discover creative destruction - REVIEW & OUTLOOK: "McClatchy Co.'s offer to buy Knight Ridder Inc., the second-largest newspaper chain in the U.S., has elicited another round of soul-searching about the newspaper business, not to mention a good deal of Schadenfreude on both the Internet-based right and left. The fact that there was only one bidder is said to be yet more evidence that newspapers are dying--oh, no!--or it means that Drudge shall inherit the earth, yippee!

The Internet, for example, has put a strain on local classified advertising, once a virtual monopoly in many towns and cities. The ability to reach many people easily and cheaply--or in the case of sites such as craigslist or the nascent Google Base, free of charge--has hit this once-reliable newspaper revenue stream. And while this is bad for newspaper profit margins, it is good for local businesses that suddenly have alternative outlets for their ad dollars.

The news aggregators, such as Google News, are just that--collectors of other companies' news products. Without news outlets to generate the material that Google searches and collates, there is no Google News.

Value proposition--journalistic standards and editorial judgment--has arguably become more important than ever in a digital age in which you could spend the rest of your life wading through every search result the Internet has to offer on WMD in Iraq or what "really" happened on 9/11/01. But that way lies madness, not to mention tedium, without reliable guideposts about which information is worth your time. We think readers and advertisers will continue to pay something for that credibility and editing function, though how much remains to be seen.

A report just out from Columbia University's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Charitable Trust finds that there are more media outlets than ever, but they are increasingly echoing each other. In this environment, the echoers will likely find it ever harder to pay their way when others are willing to offer the echo free.

Good and factual reporting and independent commentary of the kind you can't get elsewhere is where the successful journalistic outlets will create value in the future, as they have in the past. The trick will be adapting old journalism standards to the new opportunities that technology offers."

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