By paulgillin | June 8, 2012 - 11:57 am - Posted in Fake News

Business Insider Homepage ClipTom Foremski could be excused for trashing the business model Henry Blodget has used to get Business Insider over the profitability hump, but he chooses to trash journalism traditionalists who criticize Blodget instead.

The trigger was this profile of Business Insider deputy editor Joe Wiesenthal in The New York Times. Wiesenthal has an obsessive personality. He rises at 4 a.m. and routinely works till 9 p.m. He files 15 news items in an average day and sends 150 tweets. His first tweet each morning is “What did I miss?” He is the ultimate new media journalist.

Have a look at Business Insider. It’s nothing like a traditional financial newspaper. It’s got headlines like “14 Common Ways People Cheat At Golf” and “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Russian Mail Order Brides.” The home page is about 20 screens long and adorned with cheesecake photos of models in bikinis next to headlines about the Greek financial crisis. It’s Huffington Post meets Weekly World News. It’s offensive to everything traditional journalists believe a news outlet should stand for. And it’s turning a profit.

Broken Rules

A lot of journalists hate operations like Business Insider because it violates so many rules. It reports information that hasn’t been verified, mixes reportage with editorializing and blatantly caters to its readers’ prurient interests. Dan Reimold, a journalism professor at the University of Tampa, posted a critique of Wiesenthal on the Associated Collegiate Press blog, arguing that Wiesenthal’s approach to journalism – and his lifestyle – are something no aspiring reporting should emulate. “It doesn’t seem like Weisenthal has conquered the news cycle.  He is a pathetic slave to it,” Reimold wrote.

Reimold’s post drew a pointed response from Henry Blodget, the disgraced former equities analyst who was banned from the securities industry after the dot come bubble burst and who has reinvented himself as a publisher. Blodget argues that Reimold is addicted to an old model of long-form journalism that isn’t relevant in the manic, always-on Web 2.0 world. “The skills required to do what a great real-time digital journalist does are different than those required to do what a great magazine writer does,” Bodget writes. “Doing what Joe Weisenthal does is extraordinarily difficult. That’s why there are so few Joe Weisenthals.”

Tom ForemskiTom Foremski is a traditional reporter who understands and respects the new  journalism, and he’s got the street cred to command respect. A veteran of the newspaper industry, Foremski most recently worked at the Financial Times, but in 2004 he quit to become a full-time blogger. His story at Silicon Valley Watcher is good reading.

Foremski backs Henry Blodget on this debate. “Criticism of Business Insider’s largely lightweight journalism by journalism professors is valid only when it’s debated within the context of the economic reality of the news business,” he writes. For good measure, he adds “My chief complaint about journalism professors is how distant they are from a real newsroom.”

As we’ve noted before the pay structure of today’s online news industry is dramatically lower than that of the dying print industry. Demand Media pays freelancers as little as a nickel a word, and Huffington Post gets most of its content for free. Staffers at The Politico typically start their work day before dawn and may file thousands of words per day.

This sucks, but it’s part of the evolution of a more sustainable model. Foremski doesn’t endorse the way Business Insider treats its employees, but he clearly thinks that cursing the onrushing tide is a waste of breath. “Journalism professors should be railing against the failure of the industry to establish a business model that works, and rallying students to learn new techniques in producing quality journalism in quantity,” he writes.

We agree. Remember that the newspaper world of the 1930s and 1940s was no model of integrity. Publishers routinely invented news to support political agendas and the concept of seeking both sides of the story was a novelty. Reporters also didn’t make much money.

That business evolved through trial, error and consolidation, and we expect much the same process to occur in the new online world. Whether that results in a 40-hour work week and six-figure salaries is still to be determined (although we doubt it), but the challenge for people who are committed to journalism today is to find a way to preserve it within a new business climate. Tom Foremski is an important voice in that crusade.

Incidentally, Business Insider claims that Reimold has accepted an offer to come to New York for a day and do Joe Weisenthal’s job. It apparently hasn’t talked to him directly or confirmed anything but is basing its report on an offer that Reimold posted on his blog. How very new media of it.



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