by Emily W. Sussman
Our local NPR station, KBIA, has an excellent show, “Views of the News,” in which three journalism professors here at the University of Missouri (Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis, and Mike McKean) discuss the significance (or insignificance, as the case may be) of the major media events of the week.
This week’s show (definitely worth a listen) was near and dear to the core of the Information Valet Project: it centered around the sorely needed monetization of news sites. Specifically, the panelists discussed the New York Times‘ new initiative to feature hyperlocal blogs on the NY metro areas, expressing deep cynicism that the effort would result in anything remotely involving dollar signs.
At first — being an ardent optimist about independent journalists picking up the local news slack from compromised or absent metro newspapers — I blanched. Then I did some more reading on the subject. Here’s my comment, which I posted on the site’s blog.
This was a great show, but I’ve got more info to add to the conversation about the NYT’s efforts to incorporate “hyperlocal” blogs into their online offerings. They do, in fact, have monetization on the brain.
The following is an article from Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab (self-described as a “collaborative attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age”). NJL interviewed Jim Schachter, editor for digital initiatives at the NYT, and here’s how he thinks of the blog concept.
“What’s going on here? It turns out the Times’ ambitions in this field are bigger — and, in another sense, smaller — than they might appear from the two sites that debuted on Monday with a full-time reporter at the helm of each. The long-term business model, Schachter said, could involve distributing a local-blogging platform to people in other communities who would start their own sites without any Times reporters or editors at all. They might pay the Times to license the platform or share revenue from a Times-run advertising network that’s under consideration.”
I applaud the Times for thinking of monetization, but it’s disturbing to think they would sell their logo to just anyone willing to pay. That said, it could lend serious credibility to blogs that ARE picking up the slack from dying newspapers — West Seattle Blog comes to mind.
As a grad student who’s about to face a career in online entrepreneurial journalism, I’m not worried about monetization. The tide will turn, but not without the NYT leading the way. Just like the WSJ, the Times has the kind of valuable content that is worth charging for. Um, NOW. No strange quasi-subscription gimmicks (e.g., TimesSelect), no licensing to hacks. Otherwise, the brand gets tarnished.
Not incidentally, the full quote [cited during the show as “information wants to be free“] is:
“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”
Oh, and here’s a great recent Slate article in which Jack Shafer discusses the context and meaning of Brand’s now-infamous words.