Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Business Model That Works-Let's Ignore It!!

David Carr, the very good mass media reporter for the "New York Times," had a piece in this morning's "News of the Week in Review" section on the re-design of "Newsweek" supervised by that periodical's editor Jon Meacham. As has become customary for Big Media reporters, Carr said the problem with the re-design is that it doesn't account for the Internet, which has made the newsweekly obsolete, along with the newspaper, and for all I know, the filling station.

Big Media look out for each other. Carr felt obliged to write his real message between the lines of his article. Any alert or even one-third alert reader got Carr's subtext, namely, "this product is Christ-awful and Meacham is the champion ass of journalism." Which is pretty much true, but beside my point here. What got me was how Carr is an honest enough reporter to acknowledge the fact that blows a gaping hole in his thesis, but not imaginative enough to wonder about what the fact might mean.

U.S. weekly news magazines have been irrelevant since the resignation of Richard Nixon. There was nothing worth your time in the old Newsweek, and there's nothing worth your time in the new one. At my day job, where we summarize periodical articles for database creation "Time" and "Newsweek" are left to the newbies. They are simplistic enough to serve as good training for writing and editing in a very artificial format that takes time to learn. Also, nobody else wants to read them.

However, as Carr admitted, there is a periodical which is a huge exception to the decline of print journalism as a business enterprise. It's the "Economist." Circulation-way up. Advertising-up more than that. Reader demographics-to die and kill for. The Internet isn't slowing it down one bit. Why might that be?

Carr said it was because the "Economist" "had the cache of being from elsewhere," i.e. Americans are suckers for an upper-class British accent. Snobbery seems an unlikely antidote to the awesome power of cyberspace. Doesn't information want to be free even if twitlike in nature?

I'd suggest a simpler explanation for the success of the "Economist." It's a good magazine. It's a product created by intelligent, curious adult for their peers. There's a lot in it to read, and most of it is stuff you could never learn from American mass media, which from the Times on down operates on the idea that its readers/listeners/viewers have a good deal of money, but are otherwise shallow, uninformed and none too bright.

In short, as a product, the Economist succeeds on the quaint grounds of being worth the money you pay for it. This is the exact opposite of the business plan being offered by U.S. print media, which is engaged in destroying its still-valuable brand names (Globe, Times, Newsweek) by offering consumers less and less and hoping they don't notice until someone figures out how to make the Internet pay.

It is the genius of capitalism that somebody will eventually figure out how large news-gathering organizations can be good businesses in the online world. I have to believe that "delivering the news" will be a large part of that scheme. Jon Meacham and Newsweek disagree.

Which is why people read "Economist" on long flights.


At 12:07 PM, Blogger Rich said...

Yeah -- it really is amazing just how much better than the US weeklies The Economist is.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous barry said...

As you've pointed out, newsgathering is expensive, so you can't get it just anywhere. People who want actual information need to pay somebody to get it. Opinions are cheap to produce, but nothing in Newsweek makes me think that they'll be sufficiently fascinating to get people to pay for theirs.


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