CNN’s Jack Cafferty asked his readers if we should save our newspapers. Citing an article his former boss, Walter Isaacson, wrote for a cover story for Time Magazine, Cafferty notes Isaacson’s proposition “that in order for newspapers to survive they will have to charge for content by way of subscriptions. He also suggests introducing an easy payment system – like how people buy songs on i-Tunes or use an EZ pass.”
We already have subscription news services and they are not exactly taking the Internet by storm. Adding to the subscription news service market now is not going to save the traditional news services industry. It will just sink more money into unmonetizable services.
Here is the problem facing modern journalists: people expect to get their information for free. Many of us are now so busy we routinely only read headlines without actually clicking on the stories. Headline tickers have been populating the Web for over 10 years, and the exploding mobile Web market is poised to make headline tickers all that much more important.
Who wants to pay for news headlines? Any volunteers?
The truth is that the demand for information has spurred growth in the dissemination of free information from a very unlikely source: the search engine optimization community. We SEOs have done what the journalism industry was unable to do: monetize information on the Internet. And we’ve done it in not one, not two, but many different ways.
It should be pointed out that journalists — when they are not fabricating stories for political reasons — are supposed to be our purveyors of truth. Americans have been taught to trust the newspapers and to react with shock and dismay when a journalist cooks up a load of horse-puckey in an attempt to smear a President. Journalists are expected to comply with high ethical standards and check their facts before going to press with stories that will be derided, mocked, and criticized for being wholly and completely wrong.
I speak in such vague terms because it’s impossible to know just exactly how many times a year professional journalists mess up. I can easily think of two very embarrassing moments for the New York Times, at least one embarrassing story for The Times of London, and a host of articles and op-ed pieces from many less prestigious but still notable bastions of journalistic prowess where basic fact-checking would have saved some editors and reporters from being jeered at, fired, and otherwise humiliated in public.
It’s tough to transfer that kind of track record to the Internet where social media mavens routinely slam, smear, and devastate the online reputations of complete and total strangers without breaking a sweat. A few SEO-savvy organizations have managed to dominate search topics with a lot of news stories in them, and those brands may come to dominate online news.
Or maybe not.
There are social media news sites (like DIGG, Newsvine, and even WordPress.com) where fresh news stories are posted every minute. I can read those stories for free. So can you. So can the journalists. A year ago Dosh Dosh hand-selected 48 social media news sites to promote.
The fact that these sites are in most if not all cases no more reliable than Wikipedia (that is, completely UNreliable) doesn’t change anything. We’re reading them, we’re posting stories to them, and we’re promoting the stories we like.
But wait! It gets worse for the journalism industry.
You can now publish your own custom news sites if you want. Just set up a good CMS on a handful of domains, populate the pages with keywords for cities, counties, states, and whathaveyou, and then start publishing press releases and public service announcements from local community resources. You can add news feeds from Associated Press, UPI, and other wire services.
But wait! It gets worse for the journalism industry.
Do you have a television station? Do you have a cable network? Then you must have your own Web site. Most television stations — especially the stations with their own news departments — now publish news stories online. They even publish video stories. You don’t have to cruise YouTube, Vimeo, and Blinkx to find the latest footage for that burglary right up the street — chances are pretty good your local television station is carrying the news online — for free.
Amateur news reporters from around the world are uploading stories to their blogs, videos to the video archives, and DIGGing, Stumbling, Bookmarking, and otherwise linking and promoting their content. Some dedicated hard-core fans follow every move by film and television studios, sports stars, TV and film stars, government figures, and even some corporate executives.
You don’t have to pay for access to the information about events, people, and crises. It’s being loaded up with advertising, packed into subsidized streams, and broadcast toward you from every brandable direction. Anyone can provide information. A lot of people are optimizing their information for search in order to build more brand value.
Guys like me make it possible to outreport the reporters.
And to add insult to injury, some companies now hire professional journalists to write custom news stories that are packaged and shipped out to the Web, all written and edited, ready for embedding on strange little Web sites that would not normally carry news. But the SEO industry is pressuring its clients to “add more content, add more content, add more content”.
And we insist that the content be unique, informative, entertaining, link worthy, useful, helpful, and otherwise link worthy, link worthy, link worthy. News is almost always link worthy to someone. The more unique news you can share, the more links you’ll get. The more traffic you’ll get. The more money you can make from advertising.
The truth is that journalism moved onto the Web in a monetizable format years ago. It’s just that someone forgot to tell the journalists what was happening. While they were busy reporting the news they missed out on the big story: guys like me have put them out of work.
Welcome to the Internet. No subscriptions required.
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