Think of this as Volume 17, Number 2 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
It's because, as a reporter, I'm a polymath. My knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Journalism is my home because it lets me skip around from beat-to-beat depending on what interests me. Even for a journalist I'm not rich, for just that reason. Most journalists stick with one area, developing deep expertise, becoming pundits in those areas of expertise. I don't. I research an area and, once I decide I'm finished with it, I take my journalistic skill set and go somewhere else.
The first was, don't worry as much about the money as the work. You'll only spend the money, the work will abide.
The second was, if you want to have a good living as a journalist, find a spouse with a good job. I got lucky there, too. Best of all, she has found success by applying rule number one, worry first about the work. So we're both happy.
One area of continuing interest to me has been the future of journalism in an online world. From my first days in journalism I mocked-up online journals, and I cashed my first check for online journalism in 1985. By 1995 I'd learned enough so that, when the CEO of Cox Enterprises (below, right) told the Atlanta Press Club he'd prosper online by simply “repurposing” existing content, I had a laughing fit.
Since then I have been telling publishers that they need to know who is reading their stuff, that they need to become experts in what is happening in their communities, and that they need to leverage this knowledge to gain buyers for the sellers they represent. To my knowledge none has really taken up this challenge. Instead they have given their excess ad inventory over to third parties and put up “paywalls” that close casual readers off to their content, and keep others from linking to it.
Newspapers are cicling the drain. They won't come back. It's because they, like this reporter, remain a mile wide and an inch deep. They actually bought the nonsense that they were “monopolies” within their markets, so that when only one newspaper remained in a town they would stop competing, and expect money to flow them to them like water, as it always had.
I have no pity on them. They have destroyed the business I grew up in, the one business I ever wanted to be in. Yet I, a pitiful scribe, continue to make money doing what I consider journalism, while they flounder, and wither, and die.
Can this industry be saved?
Why yes, it can, by a new generation of entrepreneurs who can grow deep roots in the ruins. It's depth, not breadth, that makes money online.
The New York Times, of all people, actually caught a clue when they hired blogger Nate Silver a few years ago. His contract wisely stipulated that he maintain control of what had been his site, so that when an ombudsman slapped him down like a common employee last year he was able to slap back.
What “Fivethirtyeight" offered, however, was not a blog and was not just “math.” It was depth, and discipline. Silver is a numbers geek, devoted to a methodical process, and he has worked that process consistently. He got all the numbers, he crunched all the numbers, and he stayed on the beat even when the news dialog wasn't coming his way. He became “the only choice” for those seeking political odds.
The only choice. That's who and what wins on the Internet. The only choice. You have to provide enough depth to be the only choice, on something, and then you can make money here.
Atlanta is only a choice if you have the resources to gain enormous depth on that broad subject. No newspaper has ever done that. In fact, they weren't doing it when the web was spun. They never had the news monopoly they claimed to have. Already, in the mid-1990s, this city had hyper-local media, a business model, a legal paper, and an entertainment paper. The idiots at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution never noticed any of this, because they had editors running the business, and the only person qualified to run any business is a businessperson.
When I want to know what's happening in Atlanta retail today, I go to Tomorrow's News Today. When I want to know what's happening in my neighborhood, I go to Decatur Metro. There are still huge opportunities here for sites covering Atlanta entertainment better than Creative Loafing, that cover Atlanta sports in real depth, that cover other areas of business, that cover all sorts of things.
But if I were going into the business of creating an Atlanta newspaper today, here is what I would do. I would research the area thoroughly. I would find every web site, every blog, every index doing anything interesting. Then I would create an ad network around those products, and offer those site managers more money than they were currently making to join it. I'd build an ad network, not a newspaper. Then, over time, I'd bring each of these sites into an umbrella organization, and when I “announced” my newspaper I'd have the “greatest journalists in town” all working for me, as they had been for some time.
You can do this, too. Me? I'm going to write another story.