Having failed for 15 years to build a compelling business model (because it looked at the whole thing backwards) newspapers are now threatening to commit seppuku unless we are all forced to grovel at their feet and pay them for their drivel.
News of this final insult comes in an LA Times column from Tim Rutten, quoting New York Times editor Bill Keller.
Here's the idea and see if you can spot the flaw.
The existing players in the news industry get an antitrust exemption, like baseball. Then they all get together in a Trust that can charge people for accessing their crap and get away with it. They'll make you pay because otherwise you will know nothing. Even the Google will have to pay.
Think of it. Bloggers won't know about anything, and won't be able to link to it, unless they pay. Readers won't know about traffic accidents, or city council meetings, or the workings of their legislatures, unless they pay whatever the Trust tells them they must to keep fatties like Rutten in skittles and beer.
What do I have to say in response? Oh please do it. Please, please, please.
I have said here, repeatedly, until I am blue in the face, that what the newspaper industry thinks is its business model is completely ass-backwards. (To the right, a classic cover from the National Lampoon, which turns out to be a great example of what I'm about to talk about.)
Journalism is not the process of sitting on your ass and getting paid for it. Journalism is the process of organizing and advocating a place, industry or lifestyle. All of what Rutten calls "journalism" is merely the advocacy part. There is absolutely no difference between Rutten and your garden-variety blogger other than a paycheck — and I can even match him on that.
There are also a number of "blog" sites that are quietly paying real journalists to cover real news. Talking Points Memo comes to mind — they just hired Matt Cooper, late of Time Magazine and the Valerie Plame scandal — as a Washington correspondent. There are other sites I know are paying people — DailyKos, HuffingtonPost — and I guarantee that if this plan goes through there will be a ton more.
A real newspaper business model would not start at the output end, where the "content" comes out, but at the input end. It would be a directory, an intimate knowledge of the place being covered. Every restaurant, every shop, every school or government office, and every homeowner in a town might have a listing in a local "news" site. Just as every supplier and channel partner is listed in a b2b site, or every league and lane is known to a site dedicated to, say, bowling.
Each one of these pages would have ads targeted to those likely to see them. Each citizen, bureaucrat, store owner or bowling alley targeted by the site would have the opportunity to add content to it. But every story or listing ever given said person, place or thing would also be there — with hyperlinks to those locations not being hosted. (Like the Web site of a restaurant.)
Had newspapers started this process when I suggested it — back in 1995 — they would be well along now. It's still possible, through existing directories and their own morgues, not to mention alliances with Google or Mapquest, to do it. But as with any business you have to invest in it before money comes out.
What Rutten and Keller and all their ilk don't realize is that they were, and are, nothing but a bunch of bloggers. The only difference between a blogger and a paid writer is the business model feeding the hack.
But go ahead. Please. I would gladly go into business against you, giving people access to local government meetings, school boards, crime reports, and business transactions. There are literally thousands of entrepreneurs in every industry, in every lifestyle area, and in every Middlesex village and town anxious to do the same.
Please. Do what you're threatening. Pretty please.
Make my day.