Upon reading Peter Scheer’s What if online portals had nothing but ‘digital fish wrap’? from this Sunday’s SF Chronicle, I had to check my calendar: I’ve been a little busy lately, but I was almost certain that it wasn’t April Fools day again already.
Sadly, the piece was published on November 12th and I can only assume that Mr. Scheer actually believes that his proposal for saving print newspapers is viable:
What to do? Here’s my proposal: Newspapers and wire services need to figure out a way, without running afoul of antitrust laws, to agree to embargo their news content from the free Internet for a brief period — say, 24 hours — after it is made available to paying customers. The point is not to remove content from the Internet, but to delay its free release in that venue.
A temporary embargo, by depriving the Internet of free, trustworthy news in real-time, would, I believe, quickly establish the true value of that information. Imagine the major Web portals — Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN — with nothing to offer in the category of news except out of date articles from “mainstream” media and blogosphere musings on yesterday’s news. Digital fish wrap. And the portals know from unhappy experience (most recently in the case of Yahoo) just how difficult it is to create original and timely news content themselves.
Go read the piece if you don’t believe me: that is, word for word, Scheer’s proposal.
So…we’re assuming that the denizens of the blogosphere, being creatures of the internet, will be limited to commenting on the out of date articles that the “mainstream” press deigns to put online. Is that because these blogger types do not, say, read newspapers or watch television, or because the blogosphere’s feelings for this media cabal will be so overwhelmingly positive they will choose to honor the news embargo?
As long as we’re on the subject of the cabal, what exactly is the argument that you’ll present to broadcasters who have little to no interest in the viability of newsprint? GE, Time Warner, Disney, CBS, and Viacom, with their total lack of newspaper holdings, care why? And you’re planning on bringing in all the major non-US news organizations, too, right? As I understand it, the rest of the world uses the same Internet that we do.
But just for fun let’s say that we actually do get this cabal going and the Internet slips 24 hours into the past. As Scheer notes, the major Web portals have found it difficult to create original and timely news content. That sounds like an incomplete sentence to me, though, so I might continue it like this: the major Web portals have found it difficult to create original and timely news content when they have to compete with organizations such as the AP, the New York Times, and others that already have large and well established news gathering, reporting, and analysis groups.
To continue on with this gedankenexperiment: with our cabal in place — gleefully rubbing their hands together in Grinch-like fashion — that giant sucking sound that we hear at 12:00:01 on Embargo Day is all of the above mentioned major Web portals, an uncounted number of well-funded startups, and Mark Cuban, all rushing to fill the news vacuum that Scheer’s “mainstream” media has thoughtfully created online.
I strongly believe that newsprint will continue to have a meaningful role as a news distribution medium for quite some time to come, and that the big traditional newspaper companies will continue to play a large role in online news. Ideas like Scheer’s, however, make me question those beliefs. If newspapers are delusional enough to believe that they are the gatekeepers for news, capable of holding the Internet hostage until sufficient tribute is brought to their broadsheet-sized gates, then the future looks much less bright for these guys.