We’ve been thinking hard about how to defend of the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s decision to suppress most of its non-breaking news until after it has appeared in print. It is so easy just to dismiss the policy as bone-headed and retrograde, as Jeff Jarvis, Steve Outing and Steve Boriss quickly did. Perhaps there is some counter-intuitive brilliance here, we reasoned. After all, the Inquirer hasn’t much to lose. Its owners are nearly in default on their debt and newsroom staffing has been slashed as badly as any paper in the country. Perhaps there’s merit in challenging the conventional wisdom that all news has to be free. Perhaps, by bucking the conventional wisdom, the Inquirer can motivate Philadelphians to get excited about their hometown paper again. Perhaps people will actually want to subscribe to the Inquirer because they can’t afford to miss the great journalism that’s there. Perhaps the print-first philosophy is so retro that it’s actually on the leading edge.

Naaah. It’s just a dumb policy. Here’s the basic misconception in Inquirer ME Mike Leary’s thinking: people are hungry for information and they’ll go to where the good information is. The Inquirer staff produces great features and investigative reports that Philadelphians just have to read. If those reports are denied to them online, they’ll have to get the newspaper, because they just can’t afford to be without that information.

Here’s the reality: people are swimming in information. They have so much information at their fingertips that they can no longer tell where it comes from. RSS readers, iGoogle and MyYahoo pay little attention to brand or news source. Americans’ biggest problem is keeping their heads above the water as the deluge of information increases. There is little in the Inquirer or any other major newspaper that is so relevant to people’s daily lives that they must have the information the minute it’s available. If they don’t get it from the print edition, they’ll hear it on the radio or read it in an e-mail newsletter or catch it on their FriendFeed if other people think it’s important.

The Inquirer policy is rooted in the outmoded conceptions that information is scarce and media brands are important. The reality is that information is plentiful and media brands are becoming irrelevant. Maybe the Times or the Journal could pull off a policy like this, but they aren’t dumb enough to try. The Inquirer apparently is.

Media Arrogance on Parade

A couple of media watchers are taking the press to task for ignoring seemingly important stories. Mark Potts excoriates mainstream media for ignoring the John Edwards affair. Much of their indifference was apparently due to the fact that the National Enquirer broke the story. Media snootiness about the supermarket tabloids is legend, but in this case, the Enquirer‘s reporting was about 95% accurate. Plus they had photos, for goodness sake. This is classic media arrogance. If the story wasn’t reported by a ‘real journalist’ (there’s that term again), then it isn’t to be trusted. But there are fewer and fewer real journalists out there, so where are you going to get your news? Perhaps it’s time to redefine your definition of credible source.

Mark Hamilton comments on the indifference of the Canadian press to the outbreak of fighting between Georgia and Russia. Even though the conflict has taken more than 1,000 lives, the local media – and newspapers in particular – have been more focused on the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics. Here’s the herd at work: send your limited reportorial resources on a two-week junket to Beijing for an event that’s being covered by thousands of other reporters. What’s the point of that? What insight are your reporters going to mine from a press conference with some gold medal winner than the other 75 reporters in attendance have missed?

These two cases are emblematic of newspapers’ inability to reinvent themselves. Facing a near total collapse of their business model and unprecedented pressure to do more with less, major news organizations are responding by doing more of what they’ve always done. Maybe it’s human nature, but it’s not the kind of behavior that will pull them out of the death spiral.

Business News

Gatehouse Media, whose stock price has dwindled from $22 a share to 69 cents, reported a $430 million quarterly loss, reflecting a huge writedown in goodwill. The company owns a portfolio of small-town papers that are outperforming industry averages, but it is burdened by $1.2 billion in debt and could default soon.


Hearst Corp. bought the Connecticut Post and seven other non-daily newspapers from MediaNews Group. While this might appear to be the early rustlings of a consolidation trend brought about by plummeting values, Mark Potts thinks it’s actually a harbinger of a Hearst plan to sell the San Francisco Chronicle to MediaNews. The question is why anyone would want it.


Lee Enteprises is shutting down the South Idaho Press of Burley, its second-largest Idaho daily, along with two weekly papers in the area. The Press has a circulation of 4,000. It will become a section in the Times News, which is Lee’s Idaho flagship. Lee said 14 people will lose their jobs.


Sun-Times Media Group Inc. lost $37.8 million in the second quarter, and CEO Cyrus Freidheim said he’s planning new cost cuts to help cope with steeper-than-expected declines in revenue. Some of the cost-saving methods under consideration at the Sun-Times include outsourcing classified ad sales and some financial and administrative activities; cutting corporate costs through possible privatization or de-registering of stock, and changing the size and format of its papers. The company also said it plans to explore real estate sales to generate cash.

And Finally…

Editors Weblog reports on The Guardian‘s plans to deliver its product on e-ink. That’s a thin, flexible computer display that can be rolled up and stashed in a shirt pocket. When combined with an Internet connection, e-ink could make it possible for a constantly updated newspaper to be delivered electronically in a format that readers could conveniently carry around. E*Ink Corp. has been working on this stuff for a decade. The Guardian estimates it’ll be eight years before the technology is commercially practical.

Comments

comments

This entry was posted on Monday, August 11th, 2008 at 7:45 am and is filed under Business News, BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, Local news, NewMedia, Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments Off on Delusion at the Philly Inquirer

Comments

  1. August 11, 2008 @ 9:15 am



    If the National Enquirer broke the news, and it was 95% accurate as you said… that would leave little to be reported on?

    Posted by Joshua
  2. August 11, 2008 @ 9:23 am



    True that. But does that mean the story shouldn’t be reported by other media?

    Posted by paulgillin
  3. August 11, 2008 @ 11:23 am



    …and John Edwards said he was 99 percent honests when he flatly denied last October that he had any relationship with Rielle Hunter, as the NE reported at that time. Where do you get this 95 percent correct statement? Betcha it’s from ABC, which also doesn’t justify the figure.

    Posted by ed
  4. August 11, 2008 @ 2:07 pm



    Don’t forget the Seattle Times. McClatchy filed a Securities and Exchange Commission filing which shows that McClatchy now values its 49.5% stake in The Seattle Times Co. at $9.9 million today, down from $19.3 million previously, and about 10 percent of the original $90 million value. Simple arithmetic shows that values the Seattle Times at only $20 million on today’s market, and indicates how much the Blethen ownership has devalued their properties.

    Posted by ed
  5. August 11, 2008 @ 2:10 pm



    Nice catch on McClatch. Hard to believe an entire newspaper could be worth that little. The value of the property alone has to be more than that. Why isn’t anyone buying up these bargains?

    Posted by paulgillin