How we humbled the NYT

Taylor and I published this piece in the Tyee yesterday. In short, the newspapers are dying, and they have completely failed to understand the internet. Most importantly, they think they are above the rest of the online community… and so long as they act they way they won’t be above the community, they’ll be outside it.

It’s derived from a larger magazine styled piece on old and new media that we are looking for a home to publish. If anyone has any suggestions of a possible home I would be grateful for your ideas.

How We Educated the New York Times

A zillion clicks taught newspapers they aren’t in control.
Published: October 10, 2007

The New York Times made waves in the media world recently by dismantling its subscription paywall. As a result, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can now read the entire paper online for free.

The failed paywall experiment of the New York Times is emblematic of the newspaper industry’s two-decade-old struggle to survive online. So long as the Internet is perceived as nothing more than a new tool for distributing the news to a passive audience — readers, citizen and the community more generally, will continue to tune out. For newspapers to survive, a more nuanced understanding of the online world is needed.

The key is grasping that the relationship between communities and their news has fundamentally changed.

You and I are in charge now

Prior to the Internet, people determined what was important by reading what newspaper editors thought was important. Today, people have a host of ways to determine what is important and to connect quickly with stories on those issues. Newspapers can shift their content, and advertising, online, but as long as they believe they are the arbiters of a community’s agenda, they will continue to struggle.

Online, people engage with news in two new ways, both of which deviate significantly from the traditional newspaper model.

First, algorithm-based aggregators, such as Google News and Del.icio.us, and human-run websites, such as National Newswatch and the Huffington Post, provide powerful alternatives to the traditional newspaper editor.

 

Aggregators, both human and algorithm-based, don’t care about content’s origins, only its relevance to readers. They ferret out the best content from across the web and deposit it on your computer screen. This begs the question: if you could read the best articles drawn from a pool of 100 authors (the approximate number of journalists at a daily newspaper) vs. a pool of 1.5 million posts (the amount of new content created online each day), which would you choose?But it is the second reason that should most concern newspapers. Younger readers don’t just use aggregators. They increasingly read articles found through links from blogs. Rather than roaming within a newspaper’s walled gardens, younger readers build their own media communities where a trusted network of bloggers guide them to interesting content. Online, bloggers are the new editors.

Take, for example, the relationship many Canadians have with the prominent blogger Andrew Potter. While most people have never met him in person, his readers know his perspectives and biases, and this personal connection creates a loyal following.

Antithetically, people are also drawn back because they are interested in the places Potter links to, virtually all of which direct readers away from the site he blogs for, Macleans.ca.

Share the good stuff

To most newspapers, the idea of directing traffic away from their news site remains an anathema. Newspaper websites contain virtually no external links. Ironically, this follows the design parameters of a Las Vegas casino — the goal is to get you in, and not let you leave. Does anyone really believe that all the news and perspectives relevant and important to a community can reside on a single website?

In this manner, newspapers are fighting the very thing that makes the Internet community compelling: its interconnectedness. Like Potter’s blog, the Internet’s best sites are attractive, not simply because their content is good, but rather because they link to content around the web. And if that content is compelling, readers keep coming back for more guidance.

People enjoy a sense of community, and democracy is strengthened when citizens are informed. The problem is, the New York Times, and virtually every traditional newspaper, fails to understand that a model has emerged that is far better at both delivering information and fostering community than the traditional news industries.

Bad neighbourhood?

Traditional media supporters will assert that these online communities are fragmented, in disagreement, full of scallywags, immature ranters, educated snobs and partisan hacks. And they’d be right. It’s messy and it’s imperfect. But then, so is the democratic community in which we live. The difference is, in an online community, everyone is telling us and directing us to issues and news items they believe are important.

The New York Times learned this lesson the hard way. After spending two years trying to wall its exclusive content off from the web, it discovered that rather than becoming more exclusive, it was becoming less relevant. Unable to link to its content, aggregators, bloggers and the online community more generally, simply stopped talking about them. Newspapers should heed this lesson. If newspapers want to transition into the online age — they’ll have to join this community, rather than seek to control it.

22 thoughts on “How we humbled the NYT

  1. Solange Miller

    The New York Times hast lost influence…

    The demographic winter is here.

    Aging workforce in the US.
    geocities(dot)com/demographic_crash

    Website with good information on the subject.
    Welcome.

    Have a nice day.

    Sincerely,
    Solange Miller

    Reply
  2. Solange Miller

    The New York Times hast lost influence…The demographic winter is here.Aging workforce in the US.geocities(dot)com/demographic_crashWebsite with good information on the subject. Welcome.Have a nice day.Sincerely,Solange Miller

    Reply
  3. brenton walters

    “if you could read the best articles drawn from a pool of 100 authors (the approximate number of journalists at a daily newspaper) vs. a pool of 1.5 million posts (the amount of new content created online each day), which would you choose?”

    the problem that this question doesn’t address is: what is the quality of those 1.5 million posts? most journalists at major papers are at the very least good writers, and are decent journalists with a professional editor who vets their work. most bloggers are cranks.

    i agree with most of what you wrote. having to pay for articles that were free last week is ridiculous.

    Reply
  4. brenton walters

    “if you could read the best articles drawn from a pool of 100 authors (the approximate number of journalists at a daily newspaper) vs. a pool of 1.5 million posts (the amount of new content created online each day), which would you choose?”the problem that this question doesn’t address is: what is the quality of those 1.5 million posts? most journalists at major papers are at the very least good writers, and are decent journalists with a professional editor who vets their work. most bloggers are cranks. i agree with most of what you wrote. having to pay for articles that were free last week is ridiculous.

    Reply
  5. David Eaves Post author

    Benton, I agree that many bloggers don’t write with the same proficiency as journalists, but others do. I’m willing to wager that at least 1% or .1% of bloggers write just as well as nationally syndicated journalists.

    this means that if 1% of bloggers write at this level there are still 15000 articles to choose from.

    if .1% do, then it is 1500 articles, every day! That’s more articles than most people read in a year.

    Reply
  6. David Eaves

    Benton, I agree that many bloggers don’t write with the same proficiency as journalists, but others do. I’m willing to wager that at least 1% or .1% of bloggers write just as well as nationally syndicated journalists.this means that if 1% of bloggers write at this level there are still 15000 articles to choose from.if .1% do, then it is 1500 articles, every day! That’s more articles than most people read in a year.

    Reply
  7. brenton walters

    Brenton, with an r, actually.

    Your numbers speak for themselves. Most of my trepidation is rooted in inexperience. But part of the problem is finding good, reliable blogs. And I trust some newspapers. That trust has been built up over years of reading, getting to know the angle or bias of the paper, the columnists, writers, etc…

    It’s also about being part of a larger discussion. I like the idea that many thousands of Canadians are reading the same op-ed, the same column, the same special report on the EU’s new members. I’m very new to reading blogs, so I have yet to feel that sense of a larger imagined community.

    Reply
  8. brenton walters

    Brenton, with an r, actually.Your numbers speak for themselves. Most of my trepidation is rooted in inexperience. But part of the problem is finding good, reliable blogs. And I trust some newspapers. That trust has been built up over years of reading, getting to know the angle or bias of the paper, the columnists, writers, etc…It’s also about being part of a larger discussion. I like the idea that many thousands of Canadians are reading the same op-ed, the same column, the same special report on the EU’s new members. I’m very new to reading blogs, so I have yet to feel that sense of a larger imagined community.

    Reply
  9. David Eaves Post author

    Hi Brenton,

    Good point. I think where I’m excited about the numbers is that there are a growing number of filters and aggregators that allow you to find the high quality blogs more easily.

    For instance Google has a search engine dedicated to blogs. Technorati ranks blogs according to their popularity (imperfectly perhaps, but better than nothing).

    However, you are right in that there are fewer established blog “brands.”

    As for the comment that you like that Canadians are reading the same op-eds… I’m not sure they are, this feels like more myth than truth.

    It is a minority of Canadians that read the G&M. And why is it important that we all read the same thing… the wisdom of a citizenry depends on it having diverse perspectives, priorities and knowledge. In a sense the uniformity of the debate is simply a reflection of the fact that only a small number of people actually choose to participate, those for whom the mass marketed op-eds and columns already appeal to…

    Reply
  10. David Eaves Post author

    Brenton, also, apologies for misspelling your name.
    Also, don’t worry about sound ticked off – I didn’t interpret your comment that way at all. One of the benefits of blogging is that people can point out errors – both in the logic of one’s argument, or in spelling/grammar. I always appreciate it when it is noted.

    Reply
  11. David Eaves

    Hi Brenton,Good point. I think where I’m excited about the numbers is that there are a growing number of filters and aggregators that allow you to find the high quality blogs more easily.For instance Google has a search engine dedicated to blogs. Technorati ranks blogs according to their popularity (imperfectly perhaps, but better than nothing).However, you are right in that there are fewer established blog “brands.”As for the comment that you like that Canadians are reading the same op-eds… I’m not sure they are, this feels like more myth than truth. It is a minority of Canadians that read the G&M.; And why is it important that we all read the same thing… the wisdom of a citizenry depends on it having diverse perspectives, priorities and knowledge. In a sense the uniformity of the debate is simply a reflection of the fact that only a small number of people actually choose to participate, those for whom the mass marketed op-eds and columns already appeal to…

    Reply
  12. David Eaves

    Brenton, also, apologies for misspelling your name. Also, don’t worry about sound ticked off – I didn’t interpret your comment that way at all. One of the benefits of blogging is that people can point out errors – both in the logic of one’s argument, or in spelling/grammar. I always appreciate it when it is noted.

    Reply
  13. Rikia

    Subscription paywalls don’t make any sense in a business model where the majority of profit comes from advertising dollars, not cover price.

    TV, magazines, newspapers, etc. all make money by selling our eyeballs to adverisers desperate to get our attention. Why on earth would they build policies that reduce the number of people viewing their content?

    Reply
  14. David Eaves Post author

    Why on earth indeed?

    I think Andrew Sullivan hit the nail on when he said:

    “In some ways, it was less a business decision, it seems to me, than a sheer assertion, by slightly desperate men, that somehow Times opiners merited a fee in a way no one else did – least of all those – shudder – bloggers.”

    Reply
  15. Rikia

    Subscription paywalls don’t make any sense in a business model where the majority of profit comes from advertising dollars, not cover price. TV, magazines, newspapers, etc. all make money by selling our eyeballs to adverisers desperate to get our attention. Why on earth would they build policies that reduce the number of people viewing their content?

    Reply
  16. David Eaves

    Why on earth indeed?I think Andrew Sullivan hit the nail on when he said:”In some ways, it was less a business decision, it seems to me, than a sheer assertion, by slightly desperate men, that somehow Times opiners merited a fee in a way no one else did – least of all those – shudder – bloggers.”

    Reply
  17. brenton walters

    “And why is it important that we all read the same thing… the wisdom of a citizenry depends on it having diverse perspectives, priorities and knowledge. In a sense the uniformity of the debate is simply a reflection of the fact that only a small number of people actually choose to participate, those for whom the mass marketed op-eds and columns already appeal to…”

    It’s not important that we read the same stories, editorials or columns, just that we have some common knowledge or basis for judgment. For example, if “me”, who commented on your Afghanistan poll entry, had also watched the CBC preview of the poll that I did, or the story on CBC that you also watched, the discussion following your blog could have been more nuanced, in-depth, etc… In a better world, we would all have seen the CBC story, or read about it somewhere, and then read or watched commentary on the poll, and discussed all of this with friends and family over wine. (Sounds like France.)

    That the Globe and Mail and the CBC are mass-marketed shouldn’t count against their content, their columnists and their guest commentators. John Manley, who you seem to admire, has graced the pages of the Globe on occasion, because publishing in a national newspaper will reach more people, and probably the people that Mr. Manley would want to reach. (There’s somethine elitist about the last comment, but in general people who read a daily newspaper or other news source are more engaged with the issues of the country.)

    And bloggers aren’t (yet) collaborating to run polls on Afghani opinions.

    None of this is meant to imply that reading a wide variety of sources on a topic isn’t worthwhile, just that quality debate requires some common knowledge. This might just mean reading about the poll on your blog rather than watching the CBC, but any discussion about Afghanistan should now include information about the poll.

    Reply
  18. brenton walters

    “And why is it important that we all read the same thing… the wisdom of a citizenry depends on it having diverse perspectives, priorities and knowledge. In a sense the uniformity of the debate is simply a reflection of the fact that only a small number of people actually choose to participate, those for whom the mass marketed op-eds and columns already appeal to…”It’s not important that we read the same stories, editorials or columns, just that we have some common knowledge or basis for judgment. For example, if “me”, who commented on your Afghanistan poll entry, had also watched the CBC preview of the poll that I did, or the story on CBC that you also watched, the discussion following your blog could have been more nuanced, in-depth, etc… In a better world, we would all have seen the CBC story, or read about it somewhere, and then read or watched commentary on the poll, and discussed all of this with friends and family over wine. (Sounds like France.) That the Globe and Mail and the CBC are mass-marketed shouldn’t count against their content, their columnists and their guest commentators. John Manley, who you seem to admire, has graced the pages of the Globe on occasion, because publishing in a national newspaper will reach more people, and probably the people that Mr. Manley would want to reach. (There’s somethine elitist about the last comment, but in general people who read a daily newspaper or other news source are more engaged with the issues of the country.)And bloggers aren’t (yet) collaborating to run polls on Afghani opinions.None of this is meant to imply that reading a wide variety of sources on a topic isn’t worthwhile, just that quality debate requires some common knowledge. This might just mean reading about the poll on your blog rather than watching the CBC, but any discussion about Afghanistan should now include information about the poll.

    Reply

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