Another One Bites the Dust: Money and Media

Related Post Roulette

53 Responses

  1. Richard Hershberger says:

    “A lot of local newspapers went to thrice weekly…”

    Good. Better yet, make it once a week. This used to be normal for smaller markets. I live in a semi-rural semi-exurban market with a legacy local paper. I subscribe to it because it is by far the best hope for keeping track of local genuine news, but frankly there isn’t that much of that. I can tell at a glance of the front page if there is anything to read there. Most of the time it is stories with big photographs showing the doings down at the senior center. Once or twice a week there is actual news. Reverting to weekly status would make for a better journalistic endeavor.

    As for The Dissolve, was there really a market for serious film criticism, back in the day? My recollection was there were the industry trade publications and the supermarket checkout stand fluff publications. Serious film criticism might or might not be a small aspect of general interest publications. The idea of a publication devoted to this exclusively puts me in mind of literary magazines with circulations in the dozens.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:


      Also in big markets like Seattle and Denver with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News.Report

      • Both of which were two-paper towns, though. The one that really surprised me was the Times-Picayune, but then the Advocate started a New Orleans addition and the TP resumed daily publication (sorta) (and jobs lost didn’t come back and more losses occurred).Report

    • Damon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I have a weekly local paper. It’s free. It’s filled with crap I don’t care about like high school sports doings (i’m sure it’s there because a lot of parents DO care), a bit of politics, where liberals argue between themselves, and the crime report. I always read the crime data.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Damon says:

        Free papers are a different genre. I have never seen a free paper that was useful for routine day-to-day hard news, though some have other charms. It is the day-to-day stuff that I want from my local paper, but there isn’t enough of it to fill a daily. (High school sports, by the way, probably goes a long ways toward the paper’s continuing economic viability.)Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    If you can find a bunch of crazy people who have this weird compulsion to write paragraph after paragraph in their own heads and are self-absorbed enough to think that other people will want to read these paragraphs, you might be able to set up a small scale website if you can get your hands on a couple dozen of these people… if you don’t pay them anything…

    But that would require some seriously crazy people.Report

  3. Doctor Jay says:

    It is quite true that media companies are failing all over the place. But there are also new media companies which are being quite successful. It’s just that the success looks different.

    The basic structure of a newspaper is that typesetting is expensive, but printing one more copy of the paper is cheap. This drives newspapers toward general appeal. They want to have something for everyone in each issue.

    The internet changes this in two ways. First, there are no typesetting costs. None. There is still editorial costs. These are the same as they always were, though they probably have become a bit lighter with the internet. The cost of fixing a mistake is very low. Just go in and change it, and the page changes. A mistake in a printed page is enshrined for eternity. So editing costs are probably a bit lower per word published, as well.

    Second, anyone in the world can read what you’ve written. Which means that you can focus on a much narrower set of interests and still find an audience that will sustain you financially. Thus this is the age of narrower-interest, and identity-based publications. I’m sure you can think of a few successful outlets of this form. Many of them do primary reporting on their niche.

    Some newspapers are slowly adapting to this, but it’s hard for them to shed all the baggage that was necessary to do print publishing, and so their cost structure is burdensome.

    Long investigative pieces will find a niche here, but I don’t know exactly where. Some stories develop over time and are reported over time, and then someone writes a summary, with perhaps a few days of further investigation.

    But perhaps the whole speculative investigation thing, like what Seymour Hersh does, will become even more entrepreneurial, with freelancers selling stories to major outlets like the NYTimes.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I am regularly astonished at how much good content there is out there in an age when media is so financially non-lucrative.Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        Same with music.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

          I never worried too much about music, though I’m glad I didn’t turn out to be overly optimistic.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Chris says:

          The two are related phenomena. The content and the music are produced by individuals or small groups, and the costs for producing this content and music are largely sunk costs, whether as a hobby or for professional purposes. The marginal cost of creating the bit of content or the song is minimal.

          This is why you can find commentary on a wide range of topics by genuine experts. They don’t expect to use internet posts to get reimbursement for the cost of acquiring their expertise. Similarly, you find music created by talented amateurs or semi-amateurs. Any costs they incurred for training or equipment (to say nothing of opportunity costs) are essentially written off.

          The flip side is that this only works when the marginal costs are low. Someone will write on a topic she already knows about, but won’t launch an lengthy and expensive investigation. A singer-songwriter, and perhaps a group of her friends, will record a song, but hiring a symphony orchestra is an entirely different matter.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        @will-truman @doctor-jay

        Well there is always hope of pay 🙂 or many writers might be bohemian at heart and willing to take lower pay for the prospect of doing what they love.

        That being said, Lee has a point. You don’t see a lot of beat reporting in local markets sometimes and Lee is right to note that a lot of the Internet commetariat and writers are dependent on bigger media organizations doing the initial reporting that they later comment on. Gawker can do something like reveal the identity of a notorious troll or have a lot of interesting articles on Rachel Dolezal. They don’t (and will probably never) have the resources to do something similar to a big NY Times story.

        So the internet is still dependent on expensive reporting.Report

        • Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I think that the smaller, exurban markets that @richard-hershberger mentions are going to be the toughest to serve, since breaking into them will require finding some people with the right internet skills, and the interest in living in those communities and serving them.

          In addition, they have to manage the disruption that will happen. That is to say, a reasonable internet offering for Whatcom County, WA (where I grew up), would probably kill off the Bellingham Herald. This would put people out of work, and in a smaller community like that, some people are going to take it personally. So some might wait for the print media to die on their own.

          Another problem that web media serving a smaller community is coming up with enough material. Most web operations depend on having a very steady stream of posts, which they circulate through RSS and social media. For a small community, which, as Richard says, often posts about “what happened at the senior center”, where will that come from? I think it will take some imagination, and aggregation of content that isn’t necessarily local, but will be of particular interest to locals.

          It seems like there’s something there that might work, but I don’t know what it is.Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Doctor Jay says:

            This is what tries to do, but the results are unimpressive. They clearly aren’t doing local journalism in the sense of sending someone to the board of education meeting to take notes.

            On the other hand, my understanding (perhaps misguided) is that small town newspapers are actually doing pretty well. If you want to know what the board of education is doing, the local paper is where you go, and if you want to advertise your local restaurant, the local paper is also where you do that. Heck, I sometimes even look at the ads, on the grounds that they might be relevant to my life. This is more than can be said for the vast majority of ads that pass within my theoretical field of vision.Report

            • Doctor Jay in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

              Right. Showing ads to people who might actually be interested in them is a big win for everyone involved. You’d think advertisers would learn, but it doesn’t seem that they do.

              And the printing costs are down because certain printing processes are also computerized and consequently cheaper. But you have to have one of the big machines around, and amortize that capital cost over enough things.Report

              • Richard Hershberger in reply to Doctor Jay says:

                We were promised that the internet would bring ads were are interested in. So far this hasn’t panned out. Part of the problem is that the range of ads I might theoretically be interested in is pretty narrow, either geographically or by topic. But even so, internet ad placement companies so far really suck at figuring out what might capture my attention.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I agree about local reporting, but I don’t think that’s at all true for investigative reporting generally. (And I think Death of the Local is a thing independent of this, though they overlap.)Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

            There are lots of local blogs like SF’s hoodline but it seems to be mainly about store opening and closing and condo developments. Some accident and crime reporting. Very little about the Board of Supervisors debating bills except some fair housing stuff.Report

    • The cost of fixing a mistake is very low. Just go in and change it, and the page changes. A mistake in a printed page is enshrined for eternity.

      Dewey Truman beats Truman Dewey!Report

  4. zic says:

    I do not understand why we haven’t already begun instituting a system like ASCAP to pay content creators on the internet. I simply don’t understand why Google, in particular, hasn’t begun going there.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to zic says:

      Because Google is on the other side of that transaction. They’re a distributor that wants to pay as little for content as possible, preferably nothing (and even more preferably have content creators pay them, which is how they got rich in the first place)Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    I think the real issue is if the Internet could replicate some of the most important features of the newspaper, investigative reporting and detailed foreign reporting. The Internet is great for editorials and commentary and regurgitating information from newspapers but it’s been not that good with the actual reporting.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Reporting is time-consuming and expensive, and there’s no guarantee any particular investigation will pan out. On the other hand, it just took me 10 seconds to write the previous sentence.Report

    • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      That’s the silliest thing I’ve heard in years, you know…
      The internet is GREAT with investigative reporting.
      Take a picture, and figure out who you have in it, where it was taken, a full rundown of their entire meatspace and internet history…

      The internet is GOOD at this, baby.

      You have read about Chris-chan, haven’t you?Report

    • Doctor Jay in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think the internet is quite good at primary reporting. Better than anything else, in fact. Where did people get the most interesting and up-to-date information about the Arab Spring? From Twitter.

      The thing is, that isn’t a business model. And that’s the problem.

      I think we are still over-saturated with reporters. The White House press pool is what, a couple of hundred reporters? Do we really need that many different regurgitations of a press release?Report

      • aarondavid in reply to Doctor Jay says:

        I think this nails it. The hills behind my house burned on the 4th, and the local news was hours behind twitter. And probably less accurate in the parts that matter.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:


        The person who can figure out how to monetize twitter will be the genius of the business worldReport

        • Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Well, I’m sorry for ruining your joke, but for the calendar year 2014, Twitter had 1.4 billion dollars in revenue. It lost money – it’s expenses were even bigger than that. (Which boggles my mind, actually). They are in “acquire users like mad” mode, and everyone expects profitability when they are more “mature”. But they can bring in money – advertising money – just fine.

          The thing is, nobody who reports the events as I and @aarondavid describe gets any of that money. That’s the problem.Report

  6. Glyph says:

    I suspect that at least part of the issue is also the digital distribution and instant availability of the media being reported on, as well.

    A lot of people used to read media reviews or criticism or analysis, as a way to determine where best to spend their limited entertainment dollar. (Alternately, they sometimes read them to take the place of media they could not easily obtain where they were – like people reading descriptions of flowers, rather than smelling the actual flower).

    You don’t want to spend $10 and two hours on a sucky movie, do you? So you pre-educate yourself, via the gatekeepers who get early access to the media, and are paid to tell you whether it’s any good or not.

    But today, why not just pull up the album on Spotify and judge for yourself, or stream the first twenty minutes of the movie from some dodgy site and decide whether you will be roped in by it?

    I love good criticism, but I can’t help feeling that in a world of media non-scarcity, it’s almost seen as superfluous.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Glyph says:

      I think this is a farish point but my view is that critics were given the shoulder long before spotify or streaming. I actually do read book reviews and other criticisms. A lot of people in my generation seem to think of criticism as invalid. “Why should I listen to someone else tell me if something is good or not?” seems to be a common refrain.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Glyph says:

      I’m going to go along with Saul. A lot of people did not listen to the critics long before the Internet existed or became big. “A million Connie Francis fans can’t be wrong.” There was always a certain populist anti-critic stance that at least some people had.Report

  7. trizzlor says:

    What I can’t understand is how an off-shoot of Pitchfork (and spawn of the AVClub) was only able to sustain itself for such a short time. Is indie music really a more ripe market for online criticism than all of film? Weirder still, in the same timeframe Pitchfork has been branching out into more traditional outlets that conventional wisdom says are dying – live festivals, TV, radio, and even a print quarterly. Taken together with the extremely abrupt exit, I’m tempted to believe that this is more about something going on at The Dissolve and less about new media trends (my guess is that they simply committed to way more writing and features than the audience justified).Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to trizzlor says:

      There aren’t very many ads on the page, which probably means they weren’t getting hardly any revenue from that. And I didn’t see any shops (meaning, no merchandise) or “sign up here to be a supporter” links. It’s hard to see how the site made any money at all, in fact.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to trizzlor says:

      I am also puzzled about this. The Dissolve was a very classy read. They had long-content over a lot of content. They were more like a journal than an on-line magazine. They were not afraid to visit movies of the past like The Age of Innocence.

      This is great film writing but it is not the kind of writing that is easy to monetize. The tone is in-depth. More scholarly than personal essay (I do not get the love for memoir that will seemingly not die). On-line long form tends to do well when it is personal.Report

      • aarondavid in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        You may have hit on just what the reasons were for it not making it. As you said above, much of the patronage for this type of writing doesn’t approve of the sales pitch/click bait on the side of the screen. Also, there just might not have been enough of readership for in depth articles on movies that aren’t snark worthy, or that are Oscar bait from years ago. I never went to the dissolves as I don’t find the intertubes to be a good medium for discussion of art. For me to truly talk about art takes a level of trust that I rarely see around the internets, and that goes doubly for any thing relating to P4k or AVC.

        All of that said @saul-degraw , nothing is stopping you from doing that here. Good posts on film, old or new, would be much approved around here. And the level of trust is fairly high here already, with good ground rules.Report

  8. DensityDuck says:

    Listicles have gotten even worse lately, because the site makers have realized that they can put each list entry on its own page, with ads before the content, ads interspersed with the content, and ads placed completely surrounding the tiiiiiiiny “click here to see the next page” graphic.Report