Journalism Matters

Over on Google+ today, Alex Hernandez reminisces on 2015’s closing by looking at content from years past. Among them: Dan Lyon’s February 2012 missive “Hit men, click whores, and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Cesspool“. Hey, I vaguely remember that indictment of Silicon Valley journalism. Alex, who runs tech-news site Techaeris writes in response to the nearly four-year old story:  “I’m working really hard to not be a ‘Valley Press’ site—as Scott Wilson rants about often—and after reading this and a few other articles today, I may be reforming the way we approach things.

Jack Weisz mentions me in a comment, to which I responded and to another from Alex. While both responses reiterate principles posted to this site many times before, end-of-year reflection is good time to present them again. 

Jeff Writes
“Joe Wilcox has tried to get people to pay for good journalism, and I don’t think he met his goals with it. Even knowing people involved, personally it’s hard for me to justify paying for a blog, even if I know the quality is better—as I can read between the lines on terrible shilly blogs. I could pay just to support it, but then it feels more like a donation than a paid service, I’m pushing a cause, not buying a product or service”.

My Response
Your reaction spotlights two problems.

The first is what I call the “Google free economy”—giving away valuable content for free and rewarding through pageviews and ad revenues blogs that aggregate for free content that someone else paid to produce. Why would readers pay when they can read the same thing for free?

Then, related, is the problem of abundance. There is too much content across too many mediums. You can only consume so much.

The second is more challenging: Producing original content that people will pay for and at a price that makes sense. I was an early Wall Street Journal digital subscriber —1996, no kidding. But I canceled 5 years ago because the price rose too high. WSJ shouldn’t have let me go.

Publishers must understand that subscribers may pay for several content services. Their over-pricing can’t stand alone. For the second year in a row my family has Washington Post digital all-device for a promotional $29 annual fee. That’s very reasonable, and my wife and I read the newspaper online or in-app regularly after years of little if at all.

Another strategy is to offer in-app subscriptions for less. Nature magazine sub is $199 per year, or $35 for iPad. I would so resubscribe if available for Android.

Bottom line: Journalism as a business model is busted. News organizations must adapt to the new world order, which is contextual delivery of content anytime, anywhere, and on anything. Editors and writers go to audience, on whatever content services, not make it come to their site. Adverting’s value must shift from pageview and click metrics to audience wherever the publisher’s broadcasters, podcasters, or writers reach it.

Alex Writes
“Yeah, Jake Weisz, Joe Wilcox and I have crossed paths a few times here but we’ve not really chatted, he seems like good people”.

I Respond
Let’s cross paths now, then. 🙂

I have watched what you guys are doing over there and appreciate your efforts to report responsibly.

It’s interesting to me your sharing a circa 201 TechCrunch-writer story. For all the criticisms leveled during the Michael Arrington era, TC nevertheless produced original content you couldn’t, and often still can’t, find much anywhere else. That approach builds audience (and keeps it).

Much of the ethical bitching about conflicts of interest came from traditional media types that, in my view, refused to accept or reluctantly adapted to the new world order of contextual content consumption and the Google free economy. Michael Arrington’s operation successfully competed with them where it hurt(s): Original reporting.

I don’t see Michael Arrington’s TC in the black and white that the old media vanguards do (or did). The site pioneered the practical application of process journalism, for example. (my analysis from July 2009); and, as mentioned previously, producing original content (my analysis from September 2009).

I also put the ethics flap in context, during July 2012. Bias is unavoidable. Journalists claiming to write unbiased stories bullshit themselves, and others.

Traditional news media must let go of newsprint-era concepts that a story must be finished before neing published. Online, the unfinished work can advance the reporting as people respond to it. Writers can generate leads. That’s what process journalism is about.

Related: The story doesn’t end with the writer, podcaster, or broadcaster but continues with commenters. They are part of the storytelling process. They make the original piece more interesting, more engaging, and keep eyeballs on the site for longer time. Time on the site should be the measure of advertising’s worth, not clicks. Audience engagement makes that happen.

Michael Arrington is a lawyer by training, not a journalist. Lawyers often put out so-called trial balloons to generate response from the other side. Applied to journalism, the reporter floats an originally, first-hand sourced rumor to advance the reporting—to generate new sources. That approach is heresy to old media, but shouldn’t be as long as the original source is reliable and the writer communicated directly (which is different from the real blasphemy of reporting rumors based on information posted online elsewhere and thus used second-hand).

What matters most: Write what you know to be true in the moment, based on your first-hand reporting and sourcing, but expect what you know to be true to change as the storytelling advances.

Photo Credit: Elena Covalciuc Vieriu