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article imageOp-Ed: If you want decent journalism, fund it properly, you fools!

By Paul Wallis     Jun 23, 2012 in Internet
Sydney - The near decade or so of angst and wailings which has followed the progressive obliteration of old news media with the new media continues to whimper.
There are several sides to news media’s self-martyrdom:
1. Lousy business models, which aren’t news to anyone but apparently the corporate guys. What, too many meetings to attend remedial reading?
2. The “decline of journalism” paradigm, in which standards (There were standards? When?) have degenerated. This was happening even before the internet was the excuse for mass media failure festivals.
3. The insistence on hanging on to anachronistic, slow-moving layouts and layers of bureaucratic processes has become totally counterproductive. We have editors, subs, and them thar journalist-thing-critters. A process which can literally operate at the speed of light still moves at paper speeds.
The business side of oblivion
You can only research this subject so far before you realize you’re looking at dino-think at its worst. “There was this asteroid, see…” The only response to the absolute bloodbath of lost revenue has been paywalls, and if they look good in theory, they’re no yet guarantees. Nobody’s been climbing the rooftops saying, "Hey, our paywall has made us all billionaires!” yet, and don’t hold your breath.
The overheads of print media of all kinds have become ridiculous. They’re not just unsustainable, they’re the definitive case of unsustainability. If these news guys had been looking, they could have seen that coming. Even without the internet as competition, distributing used trees, however informative and opinionated, costs money.
Meanwhile the internet business models have been paddling along, unconvincingly. The news outlets apparently don’t get the point that they have a salable revenue product right under their noses. TV sells spots at a cash rate. Not a per milliard or per whatever the cat drags in rate. This is hard money upfront.
Consider this- What’s a multimedia ad on The New York Times front page worth, over say a week? Plenty, because the NYT is for people who can actually read. It’s money well spent, too. Any outlay on a commercial rate for good quality ads like these will fit neatly into a budget and billed to clients anyway.
Now consider- Where the hell is the logic in a useless equation which involves a bean counting exercise which itself costs money? Rates, schmates. Clients want a presence in top line publications, and that’s what they pay their agencies to get. If a mag sells ads and if birds fly, the best option is a cash-for-spot approach.
The logic of the current approach is quaint, to say the least. You pay if someone clicks on your ad. Therefore, you have the liquidity of a dripping tap. …And these guys are wondering why their ad revenue has gone through the floor?
Claude Hopkins, aka the Father of Modern Advertising, was big on the value of ads to consumers. He said that the ads must have value to consumers to be any use at all. Let’s look at the value of advertising to media, as well.
At Duhhhh…. Level:
Advertisers need somewhere to advertise.
Consumers need somewhere to find what they’re looking for.
SEO and targeted advertising is the name of the game online.
Sites getting millions of hits can’t capitalize on that very basic fact?
We now have major corporations who can’t even target basic classified type ads on their own sites and don’t know what to charge for them?
The per milliard model works for Google. That doesn’t mean it works for everyone else. Nor are the Google ads necessarily targeted effectively. Ads on search results may or may not work. Ads on specific outlet sites do work.
Is an ad on The New York Times or WSJ or any other major worthless to advertisers?
Of course not. It’s valuable exposure. For some markets, it’s critical exposure.
If you want to target your new app, would a spot on the tech page of a major be worth the money of a spot rate?
Damn straight, it would.
Is there a legitimate case for charging advertisers value of space rates online, as there was on the old print media?
Is the bean counting approach giving away valuable space for almost nothing?
So why are these guys coming up with formulas for cents? These ads are worth millions to everybody involved, and they’re penny-pinching?
Don’t ask me, ask them. These are the same guys who have yet to use Facebook effectively. 700 million users, and they don’t know how to get them.
(As a second generation ad person, this is just embarrassing for me even to think about, let alone write about. Ad people are supposed to be sharp. That’s apparently no longer the case. If your campaign turns into a nice cheap total failure, it’s still a total failure. “Per hit”, for God’s sake. Why not “Per lottery win?” If the rules don't work, rewrite the rules. It'll even stimulate business.)
Journalism- Hitting the skids at the slightest opportunity?
The second part of this quite unnecessary tale of woe is the theory of good journalism, that oft-endangered species which nobody has quite defined. Some well meaning people have tried to help by supporting the newspapers in their dotage.
Sydney Morning Herald reports a few screams from the road to the wastelands:
Julie Posetti, a Canberra University assistant professor of journalism who is doing her PhD in ''The Twitterisation of Journalism'', is a missionary for professionals embracing social media and listening to those using it. But professionals' traditional skills, including forensically assessing details, speedily synthesising vast amounts of information into a coherent and compelling narrative, and without fear or favour saying when power brokers and spinners are bullshitting, still usually distinguishes them from amateurs, she says.
Rusbridger believes that to cut any more than 10 per cent of newsroom staff while shifting from print to digital means having to ''give up things or do things less well''.
Er, yeah. Get on Facebook and read the news, now with adjectives and 10% fewer hate groups. Sure. “Citizen journalism” now means experts, and lots of them. The increasing specialization of information means that a figure for expertise will mean a damn thing. The fact is that Twitter simply points people at news. It doesn’t point them to newspapers because the news media’s obsession with irrelevances like celebrity anatomy updates and rantings from geriatric politicians means traditional news isn’t where people are looking for information any more.
Mainstream news media for some reason is trying to compete with internet porn and inevitably losing. Try avoiding lingerie football, wardrobe malfunctions and the rest of the dribbling from 1980s tabloids on most news sites in some form or other. It can’t be done. This isn’t news, so people looking for news go elsewhere.
It must be one of the greatest ironies since Gutenberg that people will read real journalism and real news, but won’t read this PR/publicity- provided swill. Why the hell would they?
The future of journalism is demand based, but it’s real demand, not the demand myth created by publicists. That’s where real journalism will thrive. Lose the clowns, re-hire the journalists and get the funding model right. It’ll look after itself.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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