BitDepth 682 - June 02

Between here and there, media struggles to find effective leverage in an age of instant Internet communications.
The dock and the boat

You can't get to there without leaving here. Photo by Mikael Damkier/

Years ago, for various romantic reasons, I found myself regularly down the islands visiting a friend who would eventually become my wife.
Far from the idyllic getaway you might be inclined to imagine, these visits would be filled with chores and tasks for which I needed to carry bags full of gear back and forth.
The memory has a glancing relevance to the experience that newspapers are having today because four times in every two or three days over the weekend, I would have to do a simple thing that I absolutely hated. 
I needed to jump from the boat to the dock and back.
A small thing, but every time the boat approached the dock, I had the real and gripping vision of all my gear sinking to the bottom of the sea when I fumbled the task of letting go of one platform and landing on another.

Media in general, and newspapers in particular, have been wrestling with that dilemma of standing in two worlds ever since the Internet exploded in popularity in the mid-nineties.
According to media columnist Clay Shirky, the Knight Ridder newspaper chain discovered that some of the Internet-based piracy of their syndicated Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry's work was being done by a mid-western teenager who was copying it and posting it to Usenet in an act of pure love and adoration.
Shirky recalls Gordy Thompson, who was in Internet services at the New York Times saying "When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem."

Love + sharing = piracy
That was in 1993, when the movement of illegally acquired media files was still in its infancy and largely limited to small JPEG and GIF images of the kind of pictures that have always been shared by young men with time and passion on their hands.
Between 1993 and 1999, the slow connections generally available to web surfers acted as a natural delimiter, but growing access and faster speeds led inexorably to Napster and the two-year binge on intellectual property that forever changed the public perception of media consumption on the Internet.
The critical problem facing newspapers today is that their business model has always been based on filtering a vast pool of information into a limited, cost metered package that could be sold.

The meritocracy of news gathering placed editors and subeditors at the top of that filtering system and enshrined them the keepers of public affairs knowledge.
Internet publishing and search engines have broken that hierarchy forever. 
Every reporter is now a potential source of news, producing content that can be filtered by each user to their taste using ever more powerful search tools. That's why bloggers have largely skipped opportunities to create virtual newsrooms. Why bother to artificially aggregate when your content can be found and followed by anyone who wants to read you?

Death to... filters?
This realisation has not been met with enthusiasm by established media. 
The Wall Street Journal's editor Robert Thompson has described Google and other search tools as "tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet." Media magnate Rupert Murdoch wants to reopen the long buried debate on paid content on the web.
The crisis facing newspapers today isn't a result of their Internet presences gutting their print editions, it's the result of keeping one foot on the dock and the other on the boat for too long. Building a successful Internet publishing business demands that you construct the new business that will kill your old one. If you don't your competition will do it for you.
Newspapers aren't dying of a severed artery, they're seeping blood from a thousand cuts inflicted with Internet entrepreneurs who aren't carrying around the baggage of decades of traditional publishing.
Changing that trend will require small, immediate moves and big, medium term shifts. Next week, some notions and some liabilities.

Related links...
BitDepth 681 -
Newsprint, endangered
BitDepth 683 -
Lost opportunities, future potential

Presentation slides and audio of the presentation given by Georgia Popplewell, Mark Lyndersay and Kellie Magnus to Caribbean media practitioners in Grenada can be
downloaded here...

Other links...
Clay Shirky on newspapers
The problems with advertising online
Paper cuts, job losses in the newspaper industry in America
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