Not By Links Alone

Dan Farber recently shared this observation about the future of journalism:

While the Internet is growing as the place where people go for news, the revenue simply isn’t catching up fast enough. The less obvious part of the Internet overtaking newspapers as the main source for national and international news is that much of the seed content–the original reporting that breaks national and international news and is subsequently refactored by legions of bloggers–comes from the reporters and editors working at the financially strapped newspapers and national and local television outlets.

Matt Asay, wondering whether we’re headed towards a model that looks like “More front page, op-ed, and nothing in between?“, sums it up eloquently:

blogging helps to destroy the business models powering its original source material

I abhor waste, and I’m always amazed that, a decade into the mainstream use of the web, we still have so much inefficiency in the duplication of content.

In retail, there is still a surprisingly high variance in the pricing of the same product among competing sellers, even though price comparison services have been available for years.

In news, much of the content is syndicated from a handful of wire services. Perhaps that commodification of content is part of the malaise in the news industry, but I doubt it; after all, much of the commodification predates the growth in online news. Rather, the problem seems to be that the gains from online advertising revenue aren’t compensating for the offline losses.

I would love to see a world in which original contributions of all sorts are highly valued and rewarded. We see the profit from innovation in physical goods, most notably from Apple’s success in consumer goods. But digital content is different, and I worry about the tension between the high cost of producing it and the low cost of reproducing it.

I spend more time reading blogs than reading news, but I realize that bloggers, myself included, assume an ecosystem in which old-school news organizations do much of the heavy lifting. I play by the rules of fair use and the link economy, giving credit to my sources and linking to them.

But is that enough? Are we slowly nibbling on the hand that feeds us? Is is reasonable to expect journalists, as Jeff Jarvis seems to suggest, to live by links alone? As the title of this post indicates, I don’t think so, but I wish I could offer more constructive suggestions.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

2 replies on “Not By Links Alone”

I wonder how much the newspaper owners themselves are to blame, owing the commoditization of their product through use of the bureau services? When combined with the consolidation of ownership in the industry, the consumer is left with a rather bland product that offers little value over any other, save for the local news, sports and classified sections.

Maybe the newspapers could use an injection of leadership from the consumer electronics industry?


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