New-Media Washington Independent Adopts Old-Media Model

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One of the internecine discussions/wars in the journo biz is the New Media vs. Old Media thang.  Bloggers vs. Printers and Broadcasters, in a loser-leave-town cage match.

It’s not very interesting (as you’re about to find out).  Besides being very inside baseball, I think pretty much everybody looking at it from outside the industry already knows the outcome: old media is going to lose.  It won’t lose entirely; somebody’s still got to employ actual reporters to go out and actually cover events.  Otherwise, there’s not much to blog about.  But that Reporter-Employing Entity is probably not going to look much like what we know as a newspaper.

Newpapers will die — are dying — because they’ve got no revenue stream.  They got the vast majority of the revenue from ads, but the internets are taking that money.  That leaves newspapers reporting yesterday’s news at a loss, while the new media report what happened 30 seconds ago.

The one hitch — and this brings us to the point of this post — is that nobody’s quite figured out how to make online news profitable, either.

The way they try to do it is through web ads.  For a long time, ESPN’s site was so ad-heavy it was unreadable, which is why I completely stopped using their site for several years.  They’ve recently done a re-design that improved things slightly, but only slightly.  I still avoid their site when I can.

The problem with web ad-driven revenue is that a lot of folks — like yours truly — read news content via RSS readers.  We get all the content from the various sites we’re interested in, without having to browse to all those different sites.  We open up our RSS reader, and there it is, all in one place.  Great for us, bad for ad revenue, since ads aren’t [usually] included in a site’s RSS feed.

So what do the site owners do?  Well, some of them, generally the old-media sites, provide an RSS feed that gives you only the first couple of lines of each story.  To get the full story, you have to click a link which takes you to their site.  Presto, they’ve got a page hit they can sell ads on.  Great for them, sucks for us.  Besides defeating the whole purpose of RSS technology, it leaves us worse off than we were without the RSS: now, instead of navigating to each site I’m interested in, I have to navigate to each story.

This kind of thing tends to piss RSS users off.  Which is why I’m very annoyed and disappointed that one of my favorite new-media sites, The Washington Independent, has gone old-media: switched from providing a full-content RSS feed to one that gives you just the first couple of lines.

TWI just rendered itself much less useful as a news source, which would seem to defeat the whole purpose.  Please, TWI, make it stop.

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8 Responses to “New-Media Washington Independent Adopts Old-Media Model”

  1. Terry A. Says:

    Monetizing content is the big buzzword right now for print folks. But most of them use the phrase when talking about their websites (which they seem to hate with a dark passion) and the content therein.

    The whole open-source thing — everything is free to nearly everybody — is a new model, apparently, and I suspect dead-tree media are slow to adjust because their advertisers are equally ridiculously slow to accept online advertising options. If it were me, I would probably do what TWI has done unless/until there was some sort of RSS users’ revolt. You’ve got to have the eyeballs (page views) and the click rates, unless you’re willing to take a huge loss on the web offerings. (And with print in freefall, nobody can afford to shrug off web losses anymore.)

    The internet has spoiled us. There will be consequences.

  2. urbino Says:

    Huffington Post is a new-media site that, from what I hear, makes money. I dunno what their RSS feed is like, though. Their headlines are so overhyped, I avoid their site altogether.

  3. DeJon05 Says:

    Back in journalism school this convo got real old real fast given the “chicken-little” tone of the old gum shoes from the dead tree side.

    They hate that new media couldn’t give a rat’s posterior about AP Style. The old timers hang their hat on the importance of credibility and I’d imagine some are still waiting for “iReporters” to fall by the way side b/c they don’t verify with three sources before tweeting.

    Even without a peak at reality, this bleating from the legacy media types rings hollow. The truth is this. Last century owning a newspaper was like printing money. A profit margin below 30% was unacceptable, and those days are over.

    So sorry Gannett, Knight-Ridder, and the like. Your run has been over for a few years now.

  4. urbino Says:

    The old timers hang their hat on the importance of credibility and I’d imagine some are still waiting for “iReporters” to fall by the way side b/c they don’t verify with three sources before tweeting.

    For people who hang their hat on their credibility, they sure don’t have much. Aside from all the structural shifts brought about by the intertubes, the high-profile press has just done a lousy job on the major issues over the past 10 or so years. Worse, they’re in denial about it.

    Having 3 sources is great, unless you’re giving all 3 of them anonymity to engage in special pleading. Then, getting 3 sources is just a waste of time.

    Maybe that’s a way the old-media establishment could boost the bottom line: lower costs by spending less time getting one axe-grinding anonymous source to verify what another anonymous source — grinding the same axe — said.

    • DeJon05 Says:

      Your point articulates well what I meant by “a peak at reality.”

      The way I see it, old media doesn’t care what it takes. It just wants the glory days back. So ISTM they are pushing two opposing agendas.

      The first is to tout their credibility.
      The other… if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

      A unique case study on this point can be seen when analyzing British media coverage of the terrorist attacks on 07.07.07. The first hand reports were cellphone images and citizen journalists. The British media landscape leading up to the attacks pitted the BBC, that venerable bastion of journalism, against Murdoch’s upstart Sky News.

      Sky was known to be more loose and fast with facts because their priority was to be first. The BBC placed emphasis on accuracy over speed.

      Then the buses and tube were bombed, and in the race to fill the public’s hunger for information the public chose Sky as their news source in every medium (print, radio, TV, web) over BBC… no contest. So what did the BBC do? If you can’t beat ’em join ’em. The BBC had already taken a hit from the “sexed-up dossier” incident in 2003 and the follow-on government investigation. So now, they play the game similiar to the way Sky does.

      I guess they felt they had to change. This is even more intersting when one considers the BBC receives the vast majority of its funding from a public surcharge. Take that luxury away, and the situation is even more dire. That is the case for American media: locally and nationally.

    • urbino Says:

      I didn’t know the beeb had shifted its emphasis that way. That’s really unfortunate.

      Sky was known to be more loose and fast with facts because their priority was to be first. The BBC placed emphasis on accuracy over speed.

      I think that’s a difference between the BBC and American media. The problem with American media isn’t that they sacrificed speed for accuracy; it’s that they’re neither fast nor accurate. If they could say, “Hey, those other guys may get the story first, but we get it right, with the full context and everything,” I think they’d have a fighting chance.

      But, unlike the BBC, they can’t say that. Because they don’t get it right, and only very rarely provide meaningful context. From listening to them defend themselves, I honestly don’t think they even know how, anymore.

      I think you’re right that they’re trying to accomplish those 2 agendas. Unfortunately, they’re failing at both, which leaves them neither fish nor fowl.

      They need to realize they’re never going to be as fast as a hundred million cellphone cameras uploading images instantly to a blog, and focus on what they can do. Seems to me that’s mainly the local knowledge their foreign correspondents can bring to stories from overseas. That context thing.

      In terms of domestic coverage — especially domestic politics — they’re doomed. They have so completely lost their way, I don’t think they can recover. So they should focus their resources on their foreign bureaus.

      So sez I, anyway.

  5. I will use my power for good, not evil. « Hungry Hungry Hippos Says:

    […] will use my power for good, not evil. By urbino TWI has returned their RSS feed to […]

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