The Gordian Knot of Online News Media...
Frédéric Filloux, a former newspaper editor turned VC, has written a good criticism of the "citizen journalist" concept, that non-professional journalists can replace their professional counterparts.
In The Oxymoronic Citizen Journalism | Monday Note, he writes:
First, would you trust a citizen neurosurgeon to remove your kid’s neuroblastoma? No, you wouldn’t. You would not trust a citizen dentist either for your cavities. Or even a people’s car repairman. Then, for information, why in hell would we accept practices we wouldn’t even contemplate for our health (OK, big issue), or for our washing machine?
While he states the very obvious, in his post he does layout the criteria for quality journalism, something that few "citizen" journalists can hope to match.
He also does a good job in explaining that Google's investments in data centers are more profitable than investments in news rooms (which is why it won't buy the New York Times, as many have suggested).:
Google spends five times more each year for its datacenters than the New York Times spends for its entire newsroom). Part of the reason is the return on such an investment. Financially speaking, the news business is not very appealing. See for yourself in this revenue per employee table.
Google being the 100 index :
However, he doesn't discuss the economics of online news content (although he does in prior posts see:Digital Takeover, The Fairfax way | Monday Note )
The reason we see the ascent of the citizen journalist over the professional journalist, is the economics of the business. The Huffington Post has been very successful but that's because it keeps its costs down and tries to corral as much free content as it can -- the New York Times employs more people to moderate comments than the HuffPo employs professional editors and journalists.
The Washington Post is trying to learn from HuffPo, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports: WaPo wades into HuffPo’s unpaid content model. And other newspapers are taking a similar approach.
Yes, we do need more quality journalism and content of all types but the economics of this business won't support it. Citizen journalist is just code for "free content."
Demand Media and Associated Content, get a lot of criticism because they pay contributors very little money. They use their algorithms to estimate the lifetime ad revenues of a piece of content, such as a "how to..." video and then pay the contributors a piece of that estimate.
They have been criticized for taking advantage of contributors and general dumbing down of online content but Demand Media and Associated Content merely reflect the stark realities of the economics of online content.
This means that traditional media is facing a huge transition, to an online business model that cannot support its legacy structure. In Maine, there is a phrase: "You can't get there from here." It never made sense to me until I started applying it to the media industry's transition to a digital business model.
How do we improve the economics of the media industry so that it doesn't destroy itself trying to make the transition to an online business model?
This is one of the most important questions we face as a society. It's important because without a quality media industry we will be faced with garbage content. How will we make important decisions?
Software engineers have a phrase: garbage in, garbage out. That's what we face. We are faced with so many important decisions: on the economy, education, employment, environment, energy ... and those are just the subjects that begin with "e." What about all the others?
Ted Nelson, an early computer pioneer said, "Like fish live in water we live in media." We have more media now than ever before. How will we get the quality media we need to make the right decisions? (By the way, quality media includes citizen journalists -- the future is about a holy trinity of sorts: professional journalists, citizen journalists and smart machine media (search algorithms).
This is the Gordian Knot of our times, figuring out how to create the economics of quality media. Whoever manages to slice the knot open will get the glory, but more than that, we all win because we can all follow the model. If it's Rupert Murdoch with his paywalls, or some other combination of paywalls, ads, lead gen, or what I call the "Heinz 57" media business model, we all benefit from a media industry that rises above the garbage media that is currently flooding our lives.
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