Think of this as Volume 14, Number 4 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
The man is an idiot. He's a stenographer for conventional wisdom. He never asks anyone — least of all himself — any hard questions. Yet New York loves him.
Take his latest, which the magazine was wise to keep behind the firewall except for paying customers. (More on that later.)
In it reporters like Chuck Todd (right), who actually built careers in this medium, complain that with all the stand-up and tweeting and blogging they have to do on their White House beats there is no time for reporting.
One of the quieter revolutions of the last half-decade has been the discovery, by journalism companies, that you can make money on this medium. I'm proud to say ZDNet (for whom I write two blogs) has been among the leaders in this new revolution.
It's all about the business model, which compensates writers based solely on how many page views their work receives. This means writer and publisher share in the upside and the downside.
It can use tweaking. Depth and interviews don't make as much money as comments and snark. Stories that make the readers mad also make me big money. All ZDNet has to protect itself is its writers' sense of ethics. I know my interviews usually don't draw flies but I do them anyway, for my own knowledge and because I think I should.
Sometimes I think the site should raise its teers — pay out less per page-view — and use that extra money to compensate what the editors think is quality. Weekly or monthly awards for good stuff which took time to put together.
But that's a tweak. The point is the business model works.
Now let me demonstrate how it can work to get the "mainstream media" out of its current muddle.
Back in the 1970s, when I was at Northwestern, the Medill School had a deal with the Chicago Tribune. Students would cover small suburbs, provide a stream of copy, and the Trib would use what it wanted for its suburban coverage.
This was a big win-win. The students had a goal to strive for, beyond grades. The Trib had free copy. Regional editions were just starting out then, and they were wildly profitable. Small businesses could get a good rate, the paper could go to a high ad-editorial ratio (80-90% ads), and what content was there was free. Plus you've got a farm team — if someone impresses you hire them.
Wikipedia has shown how you can run an all-volunteer operation on a shoestring, even covering stories as they unfold. Wikia and systems like Drupal can now deliver a full panoply of content types, it can look just as good as a hand-made site, it can even be in your trade dress. And you can put ads there.
So sign up the j-schools. For a single flat rate contribution, MSNBC could get the services of the Columbia School of Journalism. Students would get defined beats, and the obligation to fill the wiki on their beats, as well as blog posts based on their reporting, for grades.
Now Chuck Todd can see an RSS feed of student posts about the government. He can contact the students by e-mail for follow-ups, issuing orders, or suggesting sources. When the kids make calls they can identify themselves as "Columbia MSNBC" so no one is confused. And you know the kids are being supervised — the teachers act as first-rank editors.
But look what you have. Now all the calls are being made. Now the bureau is fully staffed. Now you're building a Wiki you can offer as an "add-on" product, filling it with ads. Now you've got a farm team. Now you're building the profession. Now you can find new stars, and so can the rest of the media.
Web publishing is super-cheap. The software for writing and publishing and distribution are all free. The problem is getting the labor needed to build the resource. You don't want to look amateurish — you don't want ordinary bloggers or Wikipedia writers — so use the talent that exists.
One more important point. Notice that Columbia is in New York. You don't have to do this stuff on site — most reporting is done by phone anyway. So you don't even have to use a New York school. You can use Northwestern in Chicago, or Stanford in California, even Missouri. I believe Medill still has a semester in Washington, so if you need people to pound pavement they can pound pavement for you.
This is a win-win-win. Professional journalism gets free content it can make money on, even at low page-view rates. The schools get professional work, and the possibility of advancement for the students who prove themselves.
And we get in-depth journalism, rather than the crap Chuck Todd is presently spewing because he doesn't have help.