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February 11, 2009

Maybe "Saving" Journalism Isn't The Answer

Seth Godin is a marketer who takes a very pragmatic view of how the world works. If you don't know his blog, I recommend it.

In recent weeks as it is more and more obvious that journalism as we have known it is being dismantled, there's been an uptick in the number of people out proposing ways to "save" journalism. Getting a lot of buzz last week was former Time magazine chief Walter Isaacson's idea that micro-payments are what newspapers need to survive. The idea (an old one) is that news organizations would charge a penny or two each time you read an article. Then Steve Brill declared that the "free" model was killing news and that it is suicide to continue this way. His solution? Newspapers should just charge for their content.

Uh-huh. One problem. Pay-for-content has left the station and it's never coming back. The crux of Isaacson's and Brill's arguments seem to be: "Okay, we know pay-per-view hasn't worked before. But now that all these traditional news organizations are going out of business, we have to suspend human nature (the desire of people to get things for free) and have them pony up money."

I'm afraid that at this point, "saving" traditional journalism's business model isn't likely. The time to start doing that was 10 years ago, and it might have still been possible five years ago. But not now.

So back to Seth. The thing that follows today's journalism isn't likely to be an incremental change but a re-conception of it. Hopefully one that incorporates the best of traditional journalistic values, but is  better.

The telephone destroyed the telegraph.

Here's why people liked the telegraph: It was universal, inexpensive, asynchronous and it left a paper trail.

The telephone offered not one of these four attributes. It was far from universal, and if someone didn't have a phone, you couldn't call them. It was expensive, even before someone called you. It was synchronous--if you weren't home, no call got made. And of course, there was no paper trail.

If the telephone guys had set out to make something that did what the telegraph does, but better, they probably would have failed. Instead, they solved a different problem, in such an overwhelmingly useful way that they eliminated the feature set of the competition.

The list of examples is long (YouTube vs. television, web vs. newspapers, Nike vs. sneakers). Your turn.
February 11, 2009 7:08 PM | | Comments (0)

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