Scott Karp has a nice post today about the intersection of journalism and blogging. I’m glad he notes the weakness of the argument that bloggers cannot be journalists. Suggesting mainstream journalism is on firm and high ground is especially absurd in this world where yellow journalism generally trumps quality, superficial treatments cripple even the few fine writers at major newspapers, and Fox and CNN TV news parade AnchorModels chosen primarily for looks (women) or bombastic nonsense (men) or both (Anne Coulter).
I’d suggest that a key challenge to conventional journalism is not so much one of quality writing as it is *scalability*. Bloggers work for nothing or peanuts, and there are many more coming in the wings. Most blogs will continue to suck, but some will be great and this number will increase as more writers get comfortable with the medium.
It will be increasingly difficult for publishers – even cutting edge, well funded ones like Nick at Gawker who is hiring a “journalist” – to justify paying much for content. I don’t think Gawker’s decision to hire a legacy media journalist reflects a new trend, rather it reflects a fairly atypical reversion to old trends during this transition period.
Contrast Gawker’s success with the demise of Blognation, which was not even paying people. Would they have succeeded with a bunch of “real” journalists? No, of course not. Good writing is cheap and getting cheaper. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s certainly an inevitable thing.
Two articles today suggest how tough it’s becoming to turn a buck in the print media world. Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine and founder of eWeek, notes in “Whither Mags”, that major print efforts require a huge capital outlay before they can even hope to be profitable, and that the current high risk associated with print publications means we probably won’t see nearly as many new big magazine efforts.
Even more ominous is the New York Times report today showing circulation declines almost across the board for US Newspapers. The NYT Article “More Readers Trading Newspapers for Websites” has a great graphic showing how circulation has fallen at most newspapers since last year with an average drop of 2.4%. Given the relatively thin profit margins at many papers and the fact many costs are fixed this does not bode well at all for the future of newspapers. The future of news? That is a far more complex question and I think the answer is not knowable at this time. Blogs are picking up some of the journalistic slack, but I’m not convinced they can pick up all of it.
Nick Carr summarizes a study in the UK that suggests more perils for news organizations as they move online. The online editions appear to be “cannibalizing” the offline edition readership. A university study looked at how online news readers are less likely to buy a newspaper from the same company they read online.
If this proves true across the newspaper landscape it presents newspapers with the twin challenges of needing to beef up the online portal to keep up market share even as their total advertising revenues are tending to go down. Offline readership generally gives a better ad return per reader, so even as online advertising increases that extra revenue is not likely to keep pace with the offline losses.