Sell your pulp shares
When VC Rick Segal did his deal for blog aggregator b5media, it got me thinking. Where’s the revenue going to come from? How will he make money for his LPs with this? After a few weeks, and some serious blog surfing, I’m starting to get a sense of the opportunity.
And then, on Tuesday of last week, my favourite working print journalist told me about an article in the Atlantic Monthly that predicted the end of his industry. The piece is worth a read, indeed.
Back when my Father’s generation was running the newspaper business, they worried about story quality and journalistic ethics. If you couldn’t get a second (or third) source with direct knowledge, you didn’t use the bit. The English Courts had done a wonderful job protecting the integrity and independence of the profession, and my Dad’s crowd took that to heart. Journalists and news anchors enjoyed a special trust and bond with their followers.
In the past few years, though, the profession has taken a fatal turn. And given the proliferation of tabloids, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not to mention that to become a journalist today you need no accreditation, background checks or formal training whatsoever; even teenage babysitters need to pass a course. This is why every one of the 55 million bloggers out there can claim journalistic status; there is no exclusivity to the domain:
– to be a doctor you need to attend medical school;
– lawyers go to law school and pass the bar;
– taxi drivers need a valid drivers’ licence and a cabbie licence;
– accountants need their CA, CGA or CMA;
– venture capitalists need institutions to commit monies to their funds;
– software execs need customers to buy their products;
– welders need to go to community college;
– architects need to attend university and work as an understudy with a recognized architect for a certain number of hours before getting their own stamp;
– Starbucks Baristas pass a suitability test and then attend a training program.
Journalists need a newspaper editor to grant them some regular real estate. That’s it. I know firsthand; I was a paid professional photographer at 14 when my photos first appeared in the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen.
Mainstream media’s credibility slide began some time ago; you have to speculate if meaningful readership drops started soon thereafter. First it was bias, as 78% of Americans surveyed in 1998 for the American Society of Newspaper Editors believed the media was “biased”.
After a torrent of plagiarism, lies and ethical lapses of the most serious kind, it can’t come as a surprise that no longer does the public accept what is printed in their morning paper as fact. Too many so-called professional journalists working for mainstream newspapers have been caught doing the very things they rightly villified others for in their columns and news stories: Nazish Ahmad (ex-Florida Sun-Sentinel), Janet Bagnall (Montreal Gazette), Jayson Blair (ex-New York Times), Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent Rick Bragg (ex-New York Times), Stevie Cameron, Pulitzer Prize-winning Janet Cooke (ex-Washington Post), Steve Erlanger (New York Times), Brad Evenson (ex-National Post), Pulitzer Prize finalist Jack Kelley (ex-USA Today), Elizabeth Nickson (ex-National Post), Barbara Stewart (ex-Boston Globe), Scott Taylor (ex-Winnipeg Free Press), Theresa Tedesco (National Post), etc. etc.
I read a public court document in 2004 where a noted Canadian Magazine Editor said under oath during a libel action discovery that he could subscribe to no specific domestic or international journalism ethical standards, none applied to his newsroom, nor did he have any internal written policies regarding journalistic ethics or a code of conduct for his staff.
Wow. What separates you, then, from 55 million bloggers if you have no code, no ethical handbook, no standards?
If the public can’t rely on the mainstream media to do the job uniquely, then it can come as no surprise that newspaper circulation has been dropping between 2% and 3% a year for several years in a row. The NADBank figures that show flat readership over the past five years have the benefit of including freebies.
This 2006 survey says it all: newspaper readership slippage has slowed due to online readers. In essence, if people don’t have to pay they’ll have a look — sounds like the economics of a a blog to me.
Just think what would happen to the value of a GTAA limo licence if anyone could pick up passengers at Terminal One? So long as Magazine Editors proudly say they subscribe to no specific codes of ethical conduct or journalistic standards, the value of their “licence” to comment and publish on the affairs of the day will continue to drop as certain bloggers continue to earn credibility and readership.
So, Rick, you and Brightspark beat the Atlantic Monthly to it, and I think you and the b5media team are on to something. Sell those pulp shares. The clock is ticking for the dead tree media.