Avoiding The Big Yellow Taxi Moment

There was an exchange between RickG and me in the comments to the "A Focus Group Of One" post I did on thursday.

Rick said the following:

First, you don’t report. You opine. That’s fine and I very much like
reading the site, but it’s not a substitute for news reporting. For
example, in Seattle we’re debating a large transportation project… a
good reporter will talk to various sources from the governor to urban
planners and city officials, then synthesize that into a story. They’ll
do this over and over. Bloggers almost never do that. They won’t have
access to the officials and they might not even know who the urban
planners are to talk to them.

Second, the blog approach does
NOT scale for the reader. One advantage of blogs is that the urban
planner in Seattle could offer their opinion directly on a
blog…that’s great, but it is one piece of a story and I as the reader
have to find that. Again, a good reporter will bring together a lot of
sources into one place and present the information from them in one
article. With online stories, I’d like to see them link out more to
things like an urban planning blog too.

So blogs aren’t doing
reporting for the most part. For the ones that do… what’s the
aversion to finding a model to actually pay the people who are doing
real reporting? We seem to have gotten the idea that we should get
value for nothing, not only in this case, but in music, etc. I don’t
think a direct translation of the subscription/local ads model will
work for newspapers, but if we want people to spend time digging into
stories vs commenting on them we need to find some way to pay for that.

As I was reading Rick’s comment, I thought of that great song "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell:

They took all the trees
Put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

I think all the hand wringing about the death of newspapers comes down to this very issue. Are reporters/journalists like the trees in Joni’s song? Will we miss them when they are gone? And if so, what can we do to ensure they don’t go away?

As much as RickG has got me thinking, I’m not sold that microjournalism (aka blogging) can’t get the job done. Look at what Henry Blodget is doing at Alley Insider for example. He’s doing a lot more than opining. He’s doing real work on a lot of the issues he’s covering. The same is true of many other bloggers. And as reporters/journalists leave the big papers and start writing for their own blogs/brands, I think they’ll keep doing what they’ve been trained to do their entire career. Can they all make good money doing this? That’s not nearly as clear. As we talked about in the "scale economics" post (I do mean we, read the comments), revenue per ad impression is going to be a dollar per thousand not ten or twenty dollars per thousand. I make about $30k per year on this blog and it is read by 150,000 people per month (web and feed) and gets around 250,000 page views per month (web and feed). So that means I am still getting ten dollars per thousand on this blog running only one ad unit. If I was getting one dollar per thousand and running three or four ad units, I’d be making around $10,000 per year on this blog. And my numbers are pretty good for a one man band. And $10,000 to $30,000 per year isn’t enough for most reporters/journalists to live on. So even if the microjournalism approach works from a content production point of view, it doesn’t seem to work from an economic point of view.

As to Rick’s point about blogs not scaling for the reader, I think that’s a solvable problem. We’ve got a few investments, like zemanta and outside.in, that are working on aspects of smart aggregation and there are a host of other startups working on it. We’ll get that problem solved.

So to me, avoiding the Big Yellow Taxi moment comes down to solving the business model question for microjournalism. Is there a way beyond ads to compensate microjournalists? Subscription seems like one approach but what can you charge for online? Participating in expert networks might be another approach. Speaking and writing books could be a third. My gut tells me that microjournalists are going to have to do more than just post to their blog to earn a living. In fact the blog will probably be the loss leader that keeps them in the game.

I am not sure that anyone has the answer to this question and that’s why it’s bothering so many people right now. I’m an optimist and I think we’ll work it out. And our firm is investing in the services that play  a role here. And we’d like to do more of that.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. dave

    Yes I absolutely do believe it, and if you read my comment you’d even knowwhy.

    1. Steven Kane

      I did read your comment.

    2. BmoreWire

      Dave, I’d disagree. Fred is in fact an expert, but often times Fred is the story. He’s the investor, he’s involved with a lot of the companies that he writes about. He is also a moving part of the industry, so rather than being an expert on the story, he IS the story. Much like you cannot trust Barrack Obama to write his own story about his election because he only has his point of view. If a blogger/reporter interviews Fred and some of the CEO’s to his companies, and gets market feedback about the industry, then they can synthesize a story, but much like you talk about Paul Krugen and Jay Rosen reporting off of the city administrator’s blogs, Fred cannot be a trusted fact-reporter on his own companies and his own business that he’s involved in.

    3. kidmercury

      don’t let the haters get you down, dave. as usual you’re right.though krugman, save for the occassional insight and intelligent forecasting, is generally a chump who is drunk on big govt kool aid. stefan karlsson is the man when it comes to economics blogging.

  2. dave

    Good then you know why. :-)I hope you also give it some thought because reporting is all aboutopinions, and when the governor has a blog and the other people quoted inthe stories have blogs, then the reporter’s value-add is almost alwaysnegative, it subtracts value because people’s perspective is oftenmis-stated by the reporters.I once gave a talk at a conference of high tech CEOs and CTOs and asked fora show of hands of any of them who had ever been accurately quoted by areporter. Not one hand went up and the place broke out in laughter. Try itsome time.So if the reporters are doing such a bad job of reflecting our point ofview, then how a good a job could they be doing in representing other pointsof view.Steve, this is what I’m an expert on, this is what I’ve devoted my career to– to understanding the transformation we’re going through. If you’re intech, think about it, that’s what you’re invested in too.It’s not because I don’t respect and appreciate the contributions ofreporters — I grew up admiring them, they were my role models. I also knowthat there was an incredible diaspora from the ranks of professionalreporters when the web came along, the really great ones of my generationwere inspired by the web, as the really great technologists were, they sawwhich way it was going, and went there.Talk with Scott Rosenberg about this some day or read his blog,wordyard.com– he’s another one of my role models. He started hiscareer at the SFExaminer, went to Salon and now is writing on his own and supporting hisfamily pretty well (I know what it costs to live where he does, we’reneighbors).So yes — I absolutely believe we’ll get BETTER news in the future than thepast, because we’ll better know what people really think.

    1. Steven Kane

      Dave I have read a lot of your writings and I respect what you¹re doing andI think I get what you¹re trying to say, but I do not want to live in aworld where anyone who thinks they are an ³expert² on something (um, whodoesn¹t?) is simply taken at face value.I know I know, every journalist makes mistakes and has biasesAnd I know I know, everyone who is reported on or quoted is misquoted ormisunderstoodbut so what?Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?Who watches the watchmen?Porfessional journalism, flawed though it may be, is an essential part of afunctioning democracy. A professional class of investigative reporters,trying to syntheisze large confusing situations and myriad facts and figuresand divergant points of view — and trying to peer thru the smokescreen ofpersons and experts often contradictory ³opining² — I think it is essentialI¹d rather have one Rachel Carson then a dozen bloggers opining.(Also, and I know you¹re going to hate this — your views about this remindme of nothing so much as the Bush/Cheney gang¹s approach to intelligencegathering. Fact gathering and synthesis of diverent viewpoints by aprofessional class of intelligence gathereres weas vastly less valuable (tothem) than the opining of a few experts convinced of their own theses.)

      1. dave

        Do you take Fred at face value?I don’t.How about Mike Arrington or Scoble or me?You shouldn’t.Same with a reporter at any publication. I don’t even have to say that,everyone knows it. There are all kinds of things they can’t say that mightbe true because they could lose their jobs if they do.There’s a whole industry that’s never been reported on. For 10 points, whichone is it?I’ve pressed pros on this and was told to shut up, never got an answer.I’ve been inside the sausage factory, there’s nothing mysterious about whatgoes on in there, it’s exactly what goes on in the blogosphere. That’s thedirty little secret that’s not so secret anymore.

        1. Steven Kane

          Not sure how your personal experiences ­ compelling and instructive thoughthey may be ‹ are meaningful in the big picture.I too have been .on the inside ­ an editor at a large urban weekly. I toohave been on the outside ­ CEO of several companies, semi-frequent coveragein the general and business media.But I do not want my personal experiences and opining to be nything morethan that. I love that the web gives essentially every person access to themedia, and to publish and distribute their opining. I just get very veryanxious when the brilliant minds of the digital era (seriously, not beingfacetious) promote the idea that we need revolutions, not evolutions, andthat the new and the traditional are mutually incompatible. Is there reallyno way to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater? To seek to avoidthe moment when we ³don¹t know what we got til its gone²?To all the digital revolutionaries out there, I like Fred quote a toweringrock oldie:You say you want a revolutionWell, you knowWe all want to change the world.You tell me its the institution.Well, you know,You better free your mind instead.John Lennon, ³Revolution²

          1. dave

            Steve, I didn’t know you’re an editor — so let me make a correction — evenif I were promoting the demise of the newspapers and magazines, which I amnot (emphatically) — it wouldn’t make a difference. That’s just adistraction keeping the people of the news industry from dealing with theactual issues they must deal with. It’s pretty common to look for ascapegoat as a distraction, it’s human nature, and it only bothers meinasmuch as it keeps us from moving on to the next stage.I’ve been meeting with people from the publishing and broadcast world since1980 to try to work with them on integrating technology with their practice.There have definitely been times when they were just as excited as I am bythe prospect. But — not always.

          2. Steven Kane

            Nicely put, DaveThanks for taking the time to exchange views ­ very fun and stimulating.(Btw, I haven¹t been an editor since 1991. Been a tech entrepreneur eversince…)

      2. Steven Kane

        btw, for anyone who doesn’t know who rachel carson is:www.rachelcarson.org/

      3. BmoreWire

        I think I agree with Steve and my final thought is. I like reading blogs almost more so than news, but it cannot replace news just like NY Times cannot make their opinion section the front page because it’s not in fact ‘news’. It’s the reaction quotes of news which is what blogging is.

      4. Debunkr

        Steve, there are mechanisms that allow the best to rise to the top and these are much more market oriented than the traditional newspapers. Dave has it absolutely correct, journalists have lost the reader’s trust a long time ago. Synthesis is not understanding. I’d rather read a very informed single source than an amalgam of either underinformed or people with an agenda who are feeding the story, which is what journalism has become.

        1. Steven Kane

          Um, which journalists have lost which readers trust, and how and why and when, and how do you know and… ?Sorry I don’t agree – and I shudder at such broad sweeping generalizations. Some journalists are great and some are less so. Some are altruists and some are cynical. Some bloggers are brilliant and talented and responsible and some are charlatans, scalawags and snake oil salesmen.Sheesh.

    2. rick gregory

      Dave – tell us more about Scott Rosenberg. Does his writing on his site support him? Does he take freelance assignments? If he freelances… that’s great. Who buys his articles? Or did he take enough money out of Salon as a co-founder to cushion himself? I’m not in anyway disparaging him (thanks for the pointer, actually), but that site doesn’t make money for him since there are no ads or sponsorships.My discussion earlier with Fred and here isn’t meant to cry that we need to preserve journalism in its current form… it’s to ask a question that I see brushed aside a lot which is “How do we support real news reporting that informs a broad population about what’s happening in the society and the world?” There seems to be a predilection that news should be free to the reader/viewer/listener. Fine. People cry ‘aggregation!’ which merely pushes the problem out one level (who writes the content that’s being aggregated?).I’m actually not worried about specialist, niche areas like, say, technology. ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, TC and a few others do alright there. Entertainment blogs seem to do fine too. What I’m concerned about are the more mundane stories – the fraud in an agency, the story behind a strike at Boeing, the reporting on local or regional sports in a Portland or Kansas City, the machinations of a mayor of a mid-sized city somewhere. Current events, mundane, everyday news. The web of ongoing real events that makes up the lives of most people and that affects them, plus things that aren’t event driven – transportation projects, redevelopment of a waterfront, tax breaks for a large corporation, the sale of a sports team…For a specific issue area like web technology or clean tech I can put together a list of blogs and other sites that will keep me informed… but many of the things that make up news reporting don’t fall into neat categories… look at the list above. Are we really going to see citizens decide “Oh, I’d like to learn more about this transportation issue… let me find urban planning blogs, the governor’s blog, the mayor’s blog, the sites of the various business associations representing the affected people and whoever represents the park it would go by and…” Yeah. That’s not going to happen. Most people will simply not do that. But if someone does do that they can get an overview of the issue with various sources and if that reporter links out the sources we start to have both things – a story that represents some of the complexity around the issue and links so that people can dive into aspects that they want to know more about. And there’s value in BOTH of those activities. The current system does the first, not the second.Oh value… yes. Why again do we continually insist that we should get value in this new world but not compensate the people creating the value?

      1. fredwilson

        One of the reasons I like microjournalism is that everyone is a free agent,an entrepreneur, and they will demand and get compensation for their work ina more efficient marketplace for talent than a big bloated firm

    3. fredwilson

      Dave ­ I think your point that the story about the Blagojevich shouldrevolve around his blog and then people will link to it and/or comment aboutit and the story will develop around it is an amazing visionI wish that Mark Cuban could do that with the SEC investigation into his³insider trading² but his lawyers are not going to let that happenBut I don¹t see how this won¹t happen over time. It¹s the right idea.

      1. dave

        “But I don¹t see how this won¹t happen over time” — a very valuable way tolook at tech. Try to imagine something not happening.If you can’t it’s husta matter of time.

  3. dave

    But certainly his point of view about the story is important, no?I didn’t say that his writing was the full story, I said it was reporting.I chose my words carefully.If you want another point of view of what Fred is doing, go to Brad Feld, orgo to an entrepreneur, or Marc Canter will probably tell you what he thinks(Loic probably won’t).We know how much we can trust each voice over time.Mike Arrington will probably have an opinon on what Fred does too.Scoble! http://scobleizer.com/I might even have one. http://scripting.com/ :-)We know how to do this now, that’s how reporting works in the 21st century.

    1. BmoreWire

      Agreed, but a true reporter would need to compile all of those opinions, interview Fred as well and report all sides of a particular story. That is honest journalism, not just one opinion and I think this is where blogging falls short to be a primary news source.

      1. fredwilson

        It fails in many sectors but not in tech where it has mainstream adoption

    2. atduskgreg

      The idea that a governor or mayor’s own point of view about a story is important goes straight to the heart of what the blog & aggregate model misses over traditional journalism. Someone mentioned Watergate above. Expecting blog & aggregate to replace Woodward and Bernstein implies an expectation that the Nixon whitehouse would have just blogged the Watergate story themselves. Look how well that worked out with the Bush administration. When investigative journalism budgets shrink, an entity with good message discipline can keep incredibly huge disastrous secrets.Really impressive journalism is about extracting stories that people don’t want told. That takes time, money, and institutional support with at least enough firepower to stand up to the institutions that are trying to keep the secrets in the first place.A small personal example. A few years back, I was working on a story for my local Portland alt. weekly. It was about an unannounced plan the city government was working on to transform an old sports arena. One of the beat reporters on the paper heard about a meeting the mayor was having with a bunch of the players involved. So, I went down to city hall and sat in the meeting room a half hour before the meeting was scheduled to start. In theory, all city council meetings are open to the public. People started trickling in. Major executives from big local corporations and real estate developers, eventually some city council members, and the mayor’s staff. When the mayor’s chief of staff came in, he got a concerned look on his face, came over, asked me who I was and why I was there, and quickly ran out of the room. A few minutes later, the mayor came in and pulled me aside. She chewed me out for ten minutes about how did I know about this meeting and what was I doing there. She claimed it was a private meeting and I had no right to report anything that went on there. Being well-enough trained as a reporter, I didn’t argue with her. I just agreed to her deal that I could stay as long as I didn’t print anything that happened in the meeting. Then, I kept really good notes. The next day I wrote up my story in consultation with the rest of the news staff. We decided that some of what happened in the meeting was relevant and, by consulting the paper’s lawyer, that it was probably illegal for the mayor to bar the public from the meeting. So, the editor of the paper called the mayor up to tell her that we were running with the story including quotes from the meeting and if she wanted to argue about it, she could come down to the newspaper’s office to explain why she’d attempted to intimidate a reporter in order to illegally make a gov’t meeting private.Almost every stage of that story would have been extremely difficult for me to pull off as an individual blogger, from the fellow beat-reporter’s contact which had been earned after years covering every aspect of the city’s bureaucracy, often in ways that produced no printable stories for that week’s paper to the legal and authoritative backing of the paper as an institution (the mayor might not have cared how much she pissed me off, but she certainly couldn’t completely burn the bridge connecting her to one of the main journalistic outlets in town). Even the beat aspect of the story is more institution-specific than it seems as first, since one of the reasons that I went on this long-shot controversial story instead of the reporter on the beat, was that I could push some buttons and piss people off without hurting his connections that brough us information; we were working as a team.Blog & aggregate is at best analysis and at worst printing press releases. In a few very specific cases it can be more, like the crowd-sourced document analysis that Talking Points Memo did to help break the Alberto Gonzales attorney general firing story, it can offer something new in the world of journalism that is extremely exciting. But it is not going to replace the real workaday desperately important public role of journalism on any scale from small to large.Contrariwise, the old model for funding real journalism is dead and is not coming back. This year is going to finish off a lot of the wobbly papers. A new model for funding this work is going to emerge, but I highly doubt that it will be advertising based. I think that much of it will enter the non-profit sector. The best newspapers, like the NY Times, are almost in that sector already, run as extremely publicly minded operations by rich families. Journalism has social value in surplus of its economic value. That suprlus must be funded in some non-market-driven way or be lost.

      1. fredwilson

        Greg ­ pardon my naivete but why would it be hard for an individual bloggerto do what you did with the private meeting?That¹s exactly what I see the microjournalist doing.

        1. atduskgreg

          Fred — It would have been hard for an individual blogger because it was such a collaborative effort. The lead came from someone in the newsroom who covered the city hall beat and had done so consistently for years and in the process created lots of deep contacts without worrying about having to publish stories every week. Another collaborative element related to that is that part of the reason I was running down this story in this way was to preserve the beat reporter’s contacts. If he’d showed up at the meeting, the person who’d told him about it would have gotten in trouble and possibly stopped feeding him this kind of information in the future.If I had been solo, or even a freelancer, the mayor could have strong-armed me more effectively. When my paper’s editor called her back over the issue, she was forced to become extremely civil. She might not have cared about alienating me, but my paper was one of the three main news sources in town; she can’t completely burn that bridge.And none of this even includes the collaborative writing and editing process in which a great amount of the communal knowledge of the paper makes its way into the story to make the background better informed.

          1. fredwilson

            I hope that as the newspapers that employ them slowly go out of business,reporters can figure out how to continue to do this kind of work and cancontinue to collaborate in this way

  4. Jeffrey McManus

    It’s naive to think that “opinion” and “journalism” are opposite ends of a spectrum. In fact, opinion is and always has been a component of journalism.Now, what Rick (and a lot of other commenters, on my blog as well) are actually lamenting is the loss of what’s called enterprise journalism — the kind of reporting in which reporters start with a thesis (as opposed to, say, a press release) and take the story wherever it leads them (even if their investigation requires many news cycles to complete).The death of enterprise journalism would indeed be a tragedy for our society. But guess what? This has already happened. Enterprise journalism has been on life support in this country for 20 years. If something Watergate happened today, the President would have gotten away with it, because there is no Woodward and Bernstein to investigate him.So rather than asking the question “What can we do to preserve journalism as it is today,” it may be more correct to ask the question “What can we do to hasten the demise of journalism as it is today so we can start over with something better?”

  5. dbmurdoch

    In my opinion, the beauty of microjournalism (usually) is the very vertical expertise of the writer. Usually a regular journalist does the research, but the end product is many times a brand new subject for him/her. If it’s a more vertical writer who knows the topic, it is still aggregated from the opinions and research of what they view as most important. Many times we don’t agree with the angle, or the validity of the sources, or the overall opinion – yet because it is the work of a journalist many people give it more credit and “believe what they read”.In our new media world, we end up being our own reporters, and do our own research from our own trusted sources. We seem to like our own work best. That’s why we use our Readers – we each have an individualized meritocracy and give some microjournalists more credit than others, based on the personal history we have reading past material. I love what Henry has done with Alley Insider as well, and the way the material is presented. It is entertainment and information together. He is investigative, yet it feels like he knows he will be a piece of a puzzle we will put together ourselves by connecting his work with other reading. He gets me there first because he makes it fun, even if it isn’t a fun topic.

    1. Debunkr

      Let’s go further with this line of thinking, because I think it’s the key factor that will enable blogs to surpass journalism (or at least modify it). Many of the bloggers I follow are people who have significant expertise in the topic they write about. And THIS IS THE CRITICAL DIFFERENCE with journalism: we now get to hear from people who have the expertise and experience. You can not understand CDO’s by talking to a few investors and summarizing their opinions if you don’t understand the details of high finance. And this is why the decline of journalism isn’t only about the rise of blogs and the web. The decline of journalism has as much to do with the the fact that our world is more complex and requires a deeper “vertical” understanding of topics in order to analyze it correctly and present the “real” story. Journalists have lost the ability to cut through the barriers and unearth the real story. I’ve been interviewed a few times and when I see the quotes, they’re either presented without understanding or to fit a predefined outline the journalist had. If I’m the expert, then I should set the outline. And now, with blogging I can.I was having this conversation over wine with a journo friend of mine and they said, yes, but what about the slant? How do you know what you’re reading isn’t written by someone with an agenda? Good questions, but the reality is that I think I can see and adjust for slant. And secondly, I see way more nuanced slant in the media than I see on blogs. Fascinatingly, I don’t think journos know when they’re being fed a slant. And this leads me to my second reason why journalism has declined — people and institutions have become very savvy at playing the traditional media. Look at the press corps relationship with the outgoing White House. Basically, if you said anything negative or tried to counter their spin, you were excluded from any further access. How does that create good journalism? It doesn’t, and it’s precisely why Jon Stewart can rip journalists up one side and down the other with impunity.So, the idea that journalism creates better product is a claim that I take issue with. I’m getting much better information from my feed reader that is precisely tuned to my tastes and focused on writers that know exactly what they are talking about. For an example, go find Bill Burnham’s post regarding his take on why the subprime mess occurred. More insightful than any of the grade-school summaries that the press has issued to date.

      1. fredwilson

        Certainly in finance, the expert blogger has a huge advantageThat was the insight I got from watching Jim Cramer blog from his tradingdesk in 1997We just didn¹t realize the model was to find more Jim Cramers and turn theminto bloggersInstead we tried to create a competitor to the WSJYou gotta make some mistakes in life to get smarter

        1. rahmin

          The news of the day is a commodity. I will pay for interpretation and context that helps me parse what’s going on though.Example: http://Gregor.us is a top notch energy analyst turned blogger. He recently release a premium newsletter that comes out monthly at $1470/year. Having read his posts religiously over the last few months, I would pay for it (if i had that sort of cash :)The irony here is that the walled gardens seem to be going back up.

  6. dave

    That’s a cliche and it’s not true.I listed a number of bloggers that cite their sources as a matter ofintegrity and wanted their readers to be informed. I do it myself.Bloggers absolutely do assemble stories.Check your facts. 🙂

  7. Morten Josefsen

    One very good example of blogs ‘beating’ journalists is the coverage of what journalists called the subprime crisis. Tanta over at Calculated Risk easily beat all the journalist in coverage, opinions, reporting, sarcasm, wittiness and pure geekiness. So if I was a journalist working for a newspaper, I would pay very close attention to what is happening with blogs.

    1. BmoreWire

      Arguably the best true journalism I have seen about this issue was the episode of This American Life’s podcast where Ira Glass interviewed the experts to explain exactly what was going on to the lay-person. Again, I think blogs are covering the topic and providing a lot more “interesting” commentary, but they are supplying the reaction and opinions on the story rather than reporting the facts of the story. So I wouldn’t necessarily say they are “beating” journalists to reporting the news and the facts, they are more providing more interesting commentary….which don’t get me wrong, I completely appreciate and enjoy…but it’s dangerous when we confuse this with actual news reporting.

  8. BmoreWire

    Fred and Jeffery, you guys are missing an important part of journalism. The problem with using SAI as a news source is that, though I am a faithful reader and thoroughly enjoy SAI, it comes with Blodget and his team’s slant. It by no means is honest journalism. It does in fact report the issues and current events in a timely fashion but it comes heavy handed with their opinion. For a blog to be a “true” news source, it needs to be straight reporting. Now, I am not naive enough to think that the NYTimes or Washington post doesn’t come with some editorial slant but there is a strong effort to honestly report the facts. The difference between newspapers and blogs is that newspapers, sans the opinion section and columns, much like RickG said, build a career on having the relationships to do the fact finding and then report the facts in an un-watered-down manner. I know that Henry Blodget gets great inside information and and has built a career of using these relationships to get timely news, however he does NOT by any means stop at reporting the facts. Also, many bloggers like Blodget have no self governance or filter. For example Blodget breaking the story that Yahoo and AOL have merged probably at least 3 times by now base on a rumor. We all know he’s just trying to boost his readership and he typically prints a correction within an hour of posting this, but you would never see the NY Times take that risk or compromise their reader’s trust like that. With SAI and blogs like that we take their stories with a grain of salt because we know it’s sensationalized news and we rely on Blodget to entertain us while he informs us. That however can’t be the mission of a primary news source. They must have a strict code of reporting fact-based news and have a certain code of honesty and diligence before reporting a story.I think the best way to shed light on this issue is to watch The Wire Season 5 and David Simon’s follow up interviews. To be specific here is his interview in Salon. Start at “Making a profit was their downfall, essentially……”http://www.salon.com/ent/tv…The whole article is worth reading as well but I figured I’d start you where it starts to become relevant.

    1. Debunkr

      The slant comes from the sources that journalists are talking to and traditional journalists are either unable or unwilling to recognize it. Besides, Henry has a much better understanding of how the markets work than 99% of the journalists out there. I’ll take his slant (and adjust for it) more than I’d ever listen to someone who is uninformed try to explain a complex topic.

    2. fredwilson

      That¹s a great interview with David in SalonI reblogged a quote from it on fredwilson.vc just nowThanks so much for sharing itI understand your point about bloggers all having ³slant² but if Iunderstand the history of newspapers, they all did too until very recentlywhen it became fashionable to be ³balanced² but the Times vs The Journaljust shows that never really happened.

      1. BmoreWire

        Yea, I laughed out loud when I read that and, I don’t know if you watched the wire, but that scene could have fit into the final montage that wrapped up the series.I agree that you can’t get away from slant and after re-reading all of these discussions for a day, I kind of feel like the comments look like the notepad of a reporter covering a story. The only problem is the final story ends up in the readers head rather than being culminated into an actual final story. I think it would be cool if you could highlight and grab quotes from websites (pre-sourced with links), import all of your disqus discussions, and basically keep a “reporter’s notepad” as your doing research for a blog entry. I think when a blogger goes to post a blog entry it’s either a thought or reacting to another story in which they link that supports a thought that they have had for a while or recently developed. It would be great to be able to gather all of that information as you browse in zemanta under topics for possible later posts so when you actually post people can see a bibliography and source all of the quotes. I think something like this will enable bloggers to evolve into journalists and provide a richer experience to readers……Which I guess goes back to your original post that some of your companies are working on this…..

        1. fredwilson

          I do a bit of that on tumblrCheck out fredwilson.vc for today

  9. Craig McGill

    I think a lot of journalists will need to work more on funding and getting grants and so on for extra cash. That will help give them some independent status though.

  10. Steven Kane

    Fred I think your points are all excellent, but I fear trhey don’t add up to anything. And I fear RickG’s anxieties are real and of copncern to everybody who cares about the “Fourth Estate”Certainly every journalist and news organization has biases, but there is still a HUGE difference between opining and reportingI can blog about how I believe water resources and infrastructure are a huge issue (I do!). I can even link to stories and sites that support my POVBut I recently took in a journalistic review of the situation – a long thoughtful TV documentary — where the reportage synthezied facts and comments and histories and the like from a large variety of municipalities all across America, and presented opposing strategies and views from many many sources, some professional authorities some laymen some consumers etcI have yet to see any blogging venue take on any kind of endeavor of any kind of scale like thatalso, that story was probably in the works for many months – with the news organization supporting the reporter(s) all along the way, basically for the purpose of trying to further the public’s right to know and common goodeven the best blogging outlets like SAI and HuffPo don’t do that. They jump on whatever is current then move on.i mean, I am a huge fan of Henry B and his team and SAI, and I read them almost every day, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any longview longform journalism there. certainly henry is a brilliant financiual analyst and observer and does wonderful work looking at financial sitiuations and opportunities, often at considerable length. but there is no comparing SAI’s reportage with that of say, WSJ or Barron’s or even the NYTimes.fred you as usual do a great job of isloating the problem — who will pay for the cost of great journalism and in what form? i only wish i had some decent answers.finally, while i am huge fan of aggregtion sites like HuffPo and others, i can’t help but woner what exactly they will aggregating iof a few huge old fashioned news reporting organziations get out of the business of reporting news. media will become like some sort of mobius strip, as aggregation sites simply aggregate each other?

    1. Steven Kane

      btw, that water resource documentary is called Liquid Assets – please check it outhttp://liquidassets.psu.edu/

    2. BmoreWire

      Steve I agree with you. I personally volunteer myself to be part of a joint venture with one of these newspaper companies to take over their websites and experiment with the revenue model. The fact is a paper like the Baltimore Sun (my hometown paper) has an incredibly talented reporting, writing, and editorial department they are just can’t get out from under all of their costs but to re-design and re-model their online version and set up technology resources to leverage that talented primary source reporting could be incredibly valuable and profitable if done the right way. Maybe have a section with completed stories and a section with developing stories with reporter’s notes and corrections so that users can watch a developing story evolve. If you’ve ever read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter S. Thompson, it’s a collection of stories about the Nixon election that were printed in Rolling Stone and then collected into a book with HST adding filler and connecting some of the stories. Imagine if you could watch a masterpiece like that evolve and then be archived into a repository of masterpiece stories that are then added to over the years similar to a Wikipedia entry. Just the fact that a story would evolve over months or years and a story would have a certain demographic that could be actively sold to advertisers along the way similar to how a television show develops an audience and then it grows and is re-sold week after week to advertisers.

    3. fredwilson

      Well they added up to one thing steve ­ a fantastic discussion in thecomments. I am stunned by the quality and intensity of this discussion

  11. dave

    Most people will learn to go somewhere for the news (on that we agree, btw)and then that somewhere will read the governor’s blog. It’s alreadyhappening, as I pointed out in another comment in this thread.

  12. dave

    You’ll learn.Necessity is the mother of invention.If you want the news, and the pros are gone, new pathways will develop. Theymust, and they already are.

    1. Josh Young

      I agree that new pathways will develop. All I’m saying is that google only has certain tools and can therefore build only certain kinds of pathways. Those pathways might or might not be the best pathways, however, and we should think about why we care about the news in order to imagine more useful possible pathways. Once we have more useful pathways in mind, we should think about new kinds of tools for building them.

  13. dave

    Fred, there’s a fallacy in his argument that’s so huge it’s hard to see.First a dry statement: When Fred opines about a subject he’s an expert in, that’s reporting. There’s nothing about reporting that’s any more than that.Second, to answer his implicit challenge — which I wish one of these guys would make and then stop, not assume he has the answer and proceed to spell out doom and gloom — he says: “a good reporter will talk to various sources from the governor to urban planners and city officials, then synthesize that into a story.”There’s a problem, all that synthesis causes the story to drift, esp when the reporter isn’t an expert in the subject matter, and sometimes it’s deliberate — the reporter has an axe to grind. But in the future and here’s the answer that I’d like to see refuted — we will go to the governor’s blog, and the uban planners’ blogs and the citty officials blogs, and synthesize the story for ourselves.And certain bloggers will become experts at knowing where the credible experts are. And guess what — they’re already doing it. Paul Krugman on economics, Jay Rosen on journalism, Doc Searls on fires in Santa Barbara, Fred Wilson on high-tech finance. The list goes on and on. When an event happens every year I have more places to turn that aren’t professional reporters.If I were a news organization, I would have embraced this years ago, and would have a great rolodex of these people ready. None of them, as far as I know, were that forward-thinking.BTW, I gave my Blogger of the Year award this year based on this principle, to Jay Rosen.http://www.scripting.com/20…Dave

    1. Steven Kane

      “There’s nothing in reporting that’s any more than [a writer who] opines on a subject he’s expert in?”C’mon Dave, you can’t really believe that?Multiples sources and confirmation of allegation and facts and evidence, none of those things matter?I think I’m an expert on any number of topics; I would hardly call my opinion to be anything more than that.

    2. rick gregory

      Dave,it’s not a fallacy, we merely disagree. Most people will NOT go to the governor’s blog, the planner’s blog, etc and educate themselves. Yes, those vitally concerned with an issue might, but they’re a minority of the population. And Seattle has several issues like this right now as, I’m sure, most communities do. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that a sizeable number of citizens will regularly become reporters for themeselves and track down sources on the web. Also, not all sources blog. It’s a nice fiction that everyone does, but a lot of, say, urban planners don’t. It may be that the best ones in Seattle don’t… to get their knowledge out to people someone would have to go talk to them.As for story drift, etc… that’s merely a quality of writing and reporting issue. Not all reporters are great reporters and I don’t think that they have an inherent advantage in being able to write well. Their advantage is mostly that they have had the time and resources (and access) to dig into stories. The best ones develop sources and relationships over time that provide a set of social resources that they can rely on to inform new stories on their beat.

      1. fredwilson

        Rick ­ I am sure technology will solve the need for the average reader to doall of that work. Think of what a wikipedia model could do to solve thisproblem.

        1. Amy McDougall

          So many fascinating posts here, and a recurring question/sentiment I keep hearing is this: How can we keep content creators––whether we’re talking about bloggers or traditional reporters––accountable to tell the truth, provide accurate information, and offer us the “full story”? There’s probably not a one-size-fits-all answer, but I work for a start-up that offers one way of tackling this issue of quality control: it’s a toolbar called Spinoculars, which allows readers to call out the spin and inaccuracies they find on any Web site. Whether it’s a mainstream journalist who left out an essential party of the story or a misinformed “expert” blogger, readers have the power to actually flag it, edit it, and then share their edit with others (including the content creators who “committed the spin”).

          1. fredwilson

            It is a firefox extension?

    3. Josh Young

      But the fact that bloggers will become experts at knowing where the credible experts are is far from enough. In Rick and Fred’s words, that doesn’t scale for the reader.How am I supposed to know that Doc’s blog is the place to go for the scoop on santa barbara fires? A search for “santa barbara fires” might naturally enough turn up Doc’s blog (in fact, it’s number 4). But it might not–much of Doc’s google juice comes from his leadership on VRM, after all. It’s an architecture problem, and search and hyperlinks and pagerank probably aren’t robust enough for the news.For one, search is a pretty limited method for content discovery in which we can only find what we already know we’re looking for.For two, we care about the news for so many other reasons. We’re more likely to trust something if our friend wrote it or read and likes it or if some stranger who likes what we like likes it. We’re more likely to read something if we know for sure that it mentions people we care about. We’re more likely to care about something if it happened one mile away than if it happened one hundred miles away. We’re more likely to be interested if it fits some general topic traditional indexing might miss because that topic latent within the text, not explicitly mentioned. We’re more likely to read something if the thing we read before it doesn’t require us to travel to an entirely new web page or service (which is to say that aggregators and rss are convenient). I could go on and on, but the point is that the news is its own thing that requires new tools.We need startups that can envision the architecture that fits the way we want to read the news–and build services that can create, collect, and scale the data to populate that architecture.

      1. fredwilson

        Joshua ­ it¹s that last sentence that describes what we are excited aboutinvesting in in this area

    4. fredwilson

      yeah, Jay has really been great on this issue

      1. Eric Marcoullier

        Jay is awesome and all it takes is 10 seconds on his blog to see my previous point in action. Here’s the opening paragraph of his most recent post:”I have a nifty assignment from Chronicle of Higher Education to write about why I’m on Twitter. Personal essay, 1200 words, for print and online. Wanna help? If you’re on Twitter, tell me what you use it for.”Jay’s a smart guy and could *easily* spend 1,200 words opining on why he’s on Twitter. But he’s a journalist and when he writes a story he immediately looks for multiple sources to weigh in.How many “bloggers” to you know of who quote more than one person in an average post?

        1. fredwilson

          That¹s going to be my goal for 2009 Eric ­ to quote at least two people inevery postI think I only quoted one, Rick, in this one

    5. Eric Marcoullier

      “we will go to the governor’s blog, and the uban planners’ blogs and the city officials blogs, and synthesize the story for ourselves.”Dave, that assumes that all of those people are actively blogging. Highly spurious assumption. Further, it assumes that they are all actively blogging about contentious issues.* Do you think that Blagojevich is sitting down in front of his laptop right now typing out his side of the story? *Will Obama send brief screeds via Twitter on his Blackberry?* Will the Palestinians who currently don’t have access to basic necessities find the means to post their feelings about the conflict with Israel?The list goes on and on. Online publishing is still the domain of the privileged: privileged with education, means, access, freedom of speech, etc.The role of the reporter is to seek out views from both sides and synthesize them into a cohesive story. Often, their job is to give voice to people who can’t otherwise make themselves heard. Often their job is to force people to speak who would rather not answer questions.For now, very few people who write online meet that basic criteria of multiple sources which turns an opinion into journalism.

      1. dave

        If he’s not blogging about it, I bet he’s not talking to reporters either.

        1. Debunkr


          1. Eric Marcoullier

            Really? No, REALLY?How many members of Congress have blogs or Twitter accounts? I must have missed Harry Reid’s posts about his opinion on seating Burris last week. Maybe he’s over at HuffPo and I just missed him.

          2. fredwilson

            EricIt¹s not about the present. It¹s about the future. It¹s all going to happen.At least that¹s my belief.

          3. Eric Marcoullier

            Fred, I guess I got a little off track, because I agree with you that an industry could develop around microjournalism (although I wonder how much economies of scale factor in, at least for national and international stories, where multiple people must often work in tandem).However, the idea that journalists will ever be “replaced” by an army of constantly opining experts (not your thesis, see previous comments) is laughable. I probably should have just let it go, but you know me 😉

          4. fredwilson

            Let it go? Never!!!

  14. kidmercury

    1. objectivity is a myth that is now being shattered2. the community (i.e. comments) and automated links to find relevant content provide alternative opinions; authors can also easily link to dissenting opinions and will naturally be incentivized to do so to weave themselves into the conversation and thus get links in return3. information overload = “just give me the analysis” mentality. example: do i really want to dissect the endless history of conflict in the middle east? or do i want a trusted expert source to give me their analysis and their opinion?4. information overload = “give me the best filter.” fox news talks about sex scandals in missouri. 911blogger.com talks about 9/11 truth and the destruction of the Constitution. which is more relevant for national news? who is the better journalist? who has the community that can flesh things out, offer dissenting opinions, and offer even more insight?5. IMO monetization is all about trust. do i care what banner ads are running on AVC.com? no. would i take an endorsement from fred to buy something seriously? yes. facebook’s strategy of showing people’s shopping stream and trying to monetize that is the right idea, but i think they are coming at it from the wrong angle. the value needs to go to the brand owner (i.e. the person making the recommendation). i do believe it will require proactive salesmanship though, more than just a widget (i.e. why you like it, why you bought it, pros/cons, caveats, etc)6. to the extent that point #5 is valid we can deduce that share of wallet is more meaningful than number of customers. i.e. “depth beats breadth.” herein lies the economic revolution as it will allow small audiences (i.e. niche publishers) to be profitable. thus not only will you be able to profit from allocating attention to the long tail, but you’ll also be able to profit by being in the long tail.

    1. BmoreWire

      to your #5, the problem is truly talented salespeople are engaged in their content and the media that their company puts out there and can sell this. And good Marketing Directors/CMO’s can find the good salespeople and buy adjacent content that will build their brand or draw an association to purchase or catch a user just-in-time to purchase in the consideration phase. The problem with that is good sales people and good marketers are hard to find. That’s why google works so well, google can hire “order takers” (glengarry glen ross) and Marketers can have zero marketing intuition and it still works……..i.e. I’m selling cell phones, I bid on the word ‘cell phones’…………DONE. You could teach a monkey to do that. But to build a brand like P&G or RJ Reynolds has done over the years for a white brick of soap or tobacco stuffed into a paper tube that draws on emotions, psychographics, experiences, attitudes, and lifestyles built buy years of buying the right media and the right creative……that’s where you need to know what you’re doing and unfortunately that’s incredibly expensive.

    2. fredwilson

      I agree with most of this Kid, but I still worry about the microjournalistcovering the city hall beatHow is his/her endorsement potential going to be enough to make a living offof?

      1. kidmercury

        IMO to answer that question we have to think about what type of person is most likely to be providing city hall coverage. i vote placeblogger.i expect placebloggers to eventually replace local newspapers. they’ll do this by importing RSS feeds/linking out. IMO there are two key obstacles to creating this reality:(1) placeblogger needs an appropriate content management system; i don’t think a standalone wordpress blog won’t do it, needs something that can truly leverage the community (i.e. discussion forums, social news voting like digg, etc).(2) everyone else needs to get RSS feeds/blogs. goes back to what dave winer was saying elsewhere in teh comments of this post regarding the governor having a blog, city hall having a blog, etc. placeblogger could simply filter these blogs, add their own insight. so to more directly answer your question i dont think the placeblogger will need to directly cover city hall; they can rely on direct sources and other commentators, i.e. they can push it out of their company. they can then add their own insight if they so please, or can even rely on the community doing that if the community is developed and passionate enough.in turn this will allow the placeblogger to focus on monetization by simply recommending what they like. for instance restaurants they endorse, dry cleaners they use, etc. the big problem here in the case of placebloggers is that we don’t have dry cleaners with aff marketing programs. we don’t even have dry cleaners with blogs! i expect all local businesses to eventually get a social media presence and to have point of sale capabilities, but until we get to that point, i think a lot of what i am saying is simply too unfeasible to execute. at least in the niche of placeblogging, in other types of niche blogging i don’t think the problem is as applicable. though in general the issue of people just needing to get on with the show and realizing that social media is the future is holding up a lot of potential businesses and may cause a lot of businesses that are in place now to fail because they are too far ahead of the curve.at least that is my take.

  15. dave

    Everybody cites Woodward & Bernstein, just like every startup invokes Google& Facebook.If only reporters did their jobs with the tenacity of those two guys.It’s been a long time since journalism was practiced that way, imho.BTW, a lot of reporters conduct their interviews that way, and I know whenI’m covering something up and when I’m not and no reporter is ever going toget it out of me, and it gets so tedious and the likelihood of them quotingme accurately is so low that I just blog it and they can quote from the blogif they want, if not — no big loss. I’ve noticed that getting quoted in thepress doesn’t do me any good. So why should I bother?Yes, I do realize this makes me like Bush and Cheney. Even a broken clock isright twice a day. 🙂

    1. atduskgreg

      Everybody cites Woodward and Bernstein because it’s the only example of reporting that most laymen are even remotely familiar with. And by telling my own, very small scale reporting story above, I was trying to point out that while few of us may have Woodward and Bernstein’s impact, their method of working is standard operating procedure in professional journalism. It is how important stories are discovered. There’s not another way of doing it that anyone has discovered so far (though like I said, the TPM crowd-sourced document research model has exciting prospects).Every headline you read in the NYT that is surprising, from their coverage of rendition and illegal gov’t prisons to their piece breaking Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution scandal is the result of this kind of tenacity. In professional journalism, tenacity is routine; it is institutionally supported; it is mandatory. Granted, as their budgets have collapsed and they’ve been out-competed for advertising dollars by pseudo-news-o-tainment such as Fox News, much mainstream journalism has become less professional. It’s important to distinguish between those two attributes. Just because un-professionalism has become mainstream doesn’t mean that professional has become less effective or important.With regard to be quoted accurately, unless you make your own recordings of your interviews (a highly recommended practice, by the way), you have no idea if you’re being quoted correctly. And if the reported is making a recording, then you almost definitely are being quoted correctly. There is major psychological effect of seeing your spoken words on the page in a context created by someone else causing the speaker to experience a sense of denial around having said them. Usually, what that feeling implies is: that’s not what I meant, rather than that’s not what I said. And that’s because if the reporter is doing their job they are not simply transcribing and amplifying your view of things. They are questioning it and running it up against hard facts and data and contrary opinion. They are double checking every one of your claims and even, and especially, your implied claims. They are filling in the picture around you. If you went into the interview hoping to get your message across unchanged, you will not be happy with the result. If the discovering and spreading some portion of the truth on the issue the reporter’s covering is important to you then you should “bother”. If what you care about is what good the coverage will do you, or getting your own message out directly, then by all means put out press releases instead.On the other hand, we’ve all had the experience of reading pieces on areas where we have particular expertise and finding things wrong with those stories. If you find one of those to be especially egregious, that is a great reason to get in touch with the reporter to correct him. You’ll more than likely end up being a contact for future stories on that topic, whether quoted or to help with background understanding. If you having topics you care about treated knowledgeably in public matters to you, then speak up to those who are reporting on them. A recommendation, I’m trying to model with my actions here 🙂

      1. Mayson

        I think I. F. Stone beat Woodward and Bernstein hands down for journalistic excellence, and he was much closer to the solo blogger model than the institutionalized reporter model.

      2. fredwilson

        Instead of contacting the reporter and correcting them, we are going to blogabout it on our blogs and correct the story ourselvesI already do that and I make sure the reporters know I am going to do it

  16. dave

    So we agree. And Google is not the answer. Again, agreed.

  17. dave

    I think I’m going to let you have the last word. It wouldn’t be appropriatefor me to answer teh question about Scott’s finances, and I agree that weneed to answer these questions.

    1. rick gregory

      Slacker! :)I’m not trying to have the last word… I slept in and am on the West coast, so I’m late to the comments here. My question about Scott was a proxy for a larger question – are there good examples of solo journalists (or small groups of journalists) that support themselves doing general journalism without relying on sales to traditional media? I can think of several in the tech field, but few really in general journalism that aren’t supported by investors, foundations or other sponsors.I noted the sale/closing of the Seattle PI in the earlier post comments… the two technology reporters for that paper left a couple of months ago to do a project called Techflash which is a tech news site that’s allied with the people who do regional business journals (bizjournals.com). It’s not a pure, two guys and a website model, but it’s closer.

      1. fredwilson

        We are going to see tons of this, reporters going solo because they have nochoice, over the next couple years.So we¹d better get busy building the tools that will make this model scale

  18. bijan

    one of my favorite posts of the year on avc. I like it because:1. great discussion between steve and dave2. and any post that quotes joni mitchell ranks high in my book!

    1. fredwilson

      The gotham gal likes joni mitchell so I am familiar with a lot of her workAnd generally, I don¹t like it very muchBut Big Yellow Taxi is an amazing song

  19. Dan Blank

    Fred,As the other commenters here illustrate, it’s a complicated issue. Just two things I wanted to share:1. Like you, I am a huge fan of how the web has changed communication, and I am constantly impressed in the ways writers, bloggers, regular folks are leveraging these tools. Call it journalism – call it opinion – it doesn’t matter. It’s changed our culture.But recently, I have been floored at the level of reporting in a few NY Times articles. Understanding that it took a team of journalists working for months, reviewing thousands upon thousands of documents that were not easy to find – speaking to everyone again and again – and ferreting out new sources that no one would have ever found. Then, creating something cohesive – something that gives our culture a deeper understanding. I believe one of the articles was on the Anthrax case. So this was not a “news of the moment story” where everyone is writing about it, and serving the public that way. This was a story that I hadn’t read about in awhile – in years – and they made it news. That is the thing I notice about a fair number of blogs and aggregators – “traditional media” is not just one “source” of news – in many cases – they CREATE the news.2. With regard to journalists creating multiple revenue streams for themselves by creating their own platform… Love this idea, but find it problematic for some cases. This essentially means that the individual journalist has to become an entrepreneur – they have to create a platform, create these streams, etc. While I see the value in people securing their professions in this manner, many journalists will simply want to focus on the journalism – not in booking speaking engagements, and in focusing on ensuring they can pay the bills each month. This shift is bigger than just a media shift – it’s a lifestyle shift, and one that many folks have zero interest in.Thanks – great topic, and great comments on this thread.Have a nice day in the snow.-Dan

    1. fredwilson

      There¹s a cover story in the NY Times this morning about Israel wanting USbombs (and our approval) to bomb a nuke site in Iran. It¹s one of thosestories you talk about Dan and that¹s where the Big Yellow Taxi questioncomes into play. Who is going to be able to do that story in 20 years?

      1. Debunkr

        As with most trend analysis discussions, everyone tends to talk binary when in reality it’s an analogue world. Enterprise reporting will remain, but it may not be done by newspapers considering the state of their business model. Frontline has been a bastion of enterprise reporting that I think will have a bright future and they appear to have been experimenting with different ways to present the content. Their business model is probably not at risk since it’s purely donation based. Ira Glass is another example of public broadcasting supporting enterprise reporting which has been referenced in this discussion. In fact, I’d say that PBS has stepped in with the high level of analysis that the more traditional media outlets have missed over the last 10 years.But yes, Gretchen Morgenstern of the NYT will be missed. Unfortunately, I think this level of competence and capability is too far and few between in the landscape of print journalism today. Gretchen rises above the fray, but there aren’t many more that are able to do so. (Michael Lewis’ co-authored piece with Einhorn is a shocking reminder that print still has some skills, however. See my blog to get to their fantastic pieces.)But let’s frame the question another way: can enterprise reporting be done in a blog format? I think it can. Huffington Post is getting close to having the size to start funding bigger efforts. Portfolio.com originally dusted off Michael Lewis in a fantastic piece that probably put him back on the map for the NYT — and I got that from their website, not the print vehicle. And in some sense, this discussion on Fred’s blog is probably the single best discussion I’ve seen about the state and future of reporting versus blogging — it just requires the reader to self edit. And maybe that’s one of the key assumptions that will have to change from traditional journalism to whatever the new form is. Journalism was steeped in grammar, style and editing. Maybe the future enterprise reporting vehicles should spend less on these resources and more on facts, synthesis and reportage. As I mentioned earlier, I have some journo friends that have told me stories about how much waste their is in the print industry. There is a chance to reform the model and still fund something beyond Scoble and Arrington in their boxers at 3am breaking new Apple iPhone models.The idea that enterprise reporting can only be done by traditional models is false. Fred’s talking about tools for microjournalists, I’m talking about identifying the financial model that enables new form enterprise reporting.

        1. BobN

          Your comment that “it just requires the reader to self edit” hits on a key issue to me. In areas where I feel I’m an expert and have the time, I’ll happily self edit. And I often find myself questioning the competence or bias of Editors that try to get between me and the raw info.But in many other topic areas, where I’m just a fan/layperson, I don’t want to rely on my self editing. It takes too much time and is too error prone. I value someone’s synthesis.I can’t help but think that this has major implications for any viable financial model. On any given topic, the wonks, who generate most of the visible on-line energy in terms of posts and commentary, rarely will pay to play. It’s that much large group of interested layfolk, who see value-add in someone’s filtering and synthesis, that could be induced to pay with more than just their attention.And to make that a sustainable model, you need to figure out a reliable way to get a chunk of that monetary value to trickle down to the sources/reporters who contributed to the synthesis.

  20. Pete

    It is not profitable for newspapers to maintain a staff of reporters, so they should outsource reporting completely and let markets determine the value of content. Journalists around the world become freelancers who post directly to their own blogs, but then syndicate themselves out through multiple channels, online and off. There could be different models for intermediaries who package up content from a geography or beat, or package up a select group of journalists into a feed. If the NY Times wants an exclusive from a certain reporter, than can negotiate for it. If a news outlet wants to assure there is reporting from a certain geography or beat, then they can hire someone to cover it.Newspapers would lower their costs, and reporters can make up the income (or more) by taking their content to other markets.

    1. atduskgreg

      Pete, the problem with this is very well-captured in Dan’s comment above. The very best reporting is almost always done by teams of reporters. Not to mention assignment editors, researchers, copy editors, beat reporters, and photo journalists. You just can’t aggregate coverage like that together after the fact. At its best it is cohesive and coordinated. And not just in a weak sense of the story coming out 10% better, but in the strong sense of some stories never being reported at all without that kind of coordination — the medical beat reporter gets a tip from a local doctor that some of his peers are juicing athletes, etc.It’s not a coincidence that the best two or three papers in the world break almost all of the important stories. There’s a huge multiplier effect in concentrating talent and resources, not just for old fashioned economic efficiencies, but for implicit knowledge sharing and explicit improvised collaboration.

      1. Pete

        atduskgreg, what is stopping a team of independent reporters from doing this on their own, and then marketing that content together? If a group of independent software developers can get together and build a cool product that has value, then why can’t a team of journalists do the same thing?

        1. atduskgreg

          Pete — That’s a great question and it has a very simple answer that is incredibly relevant to this thread.VCs don’t fund journalists.There’s no chance of a 10x return on investment in journalism. VCs fund technology that has substantial leverage, i.e. where a relatively small amount of work by a small group of people over a short time period can produce monetizable value for a huge number of people over a very widespread area for the foreseeable future.But serious journalism has no silver bullet. It’s always going to be the kind of endeavor where the only way to do it is to get a group of talented well-trained people together and let them work hard at it with enough support day in and day out.Denial of this fact and the attempt to imagine journalism as a web-scale business is exactly what drives web-utopians to constantly try to answer this question in terms of aggregation: “if we just got the algorithm right then we could transform this pile of blog posts and twitter messages into a piece of investigative journalism”. It’s like expecting commenters on Instructables to design and implement the Three Gorges damn.The model you’re proposing is a great one for a small business. And I’m sure that in the coming years after the imminent utter collapse of print journalism we’re going to see a lot of journalists doing exactly that. They will just not be able to reach the scale both of investigative achievement and reach seen in the golden age of newspapers. It’s like, after the fall of the Rome, there were plenty of pockets of lettered civilization across the western world for the next few hundred years, but we still call that period the dark ages.Conversely, though, they may be able to do some exciting things with data manipulation and with crowd-sourced open research in ways that the NYT and TPM are pointing towards now. I don’t want to be completely pessimistic. And the biggest and best of the current journalistic institutions will manage to stick around in some non-profit style public interest form. Watch what happens when the Tribune Company moves to shut down the LA Times in the coming months. That will be a really interesting test case to see if a coalition of wealthy Angelinos can save the paper in a reduced public interest mode or if it collapses completely spewing all of its reporters out to try to do exactly what you’re describing here.

          1. Pete

            I never said anything about VC funding. If you want to draw an analogy from the tech world, it is more like the independent consulting model. Independent consultants hire themselves out for implementation projects, and when they’re not busy, can make themselves available to a small consulting firm if the firm happens to sell a project. These guys all network, and everyone knows what’s going on in the community. There’s a market for the talent, and the talent organizes itself to meet the demand. In some cases, the talent is on the payroll of the software vendor (=newspaper), but there is risk in that, so the vendor prefers to partner.There’s no reason a team of journalists couldn’t band together and do investigative reporting, and then sell that product to newspapers. And to websites, aggregators, etc. I agree with the premise that journalism is a different discipline than blogging. But my point is: a journalist can still practice the same journalism under different economics.

          2. atduskgreg

            The problem is that in a world that can’t produce a market that keeps the NY Times in business who exactly is commissioning this stuff? There’s a large freelance writer’s market right now but that mostly consists of writing copy for corporate promotional publications and the like.The newspapers’ problem isn’t that they’re paying too much for their reporters’ health care and retirement. Having the reporters on staff isn’t the problem. It’s paying enough of them to work together on anything of serious import. And you can’t do it as effectively on an as needed basis. Beat reporting, which is the heart of professional journalism, doesn’t produce profitable stories predictably and it doesn’t work on as-needed basis. It only works because some shlub worked the police blotter beat for ten years out of ambition to work his way up to something better, and he inherited the beat from some similar shlub who had it before and so on.There are tons of freelance reporters out there right now. But for the most part, they are not the ones who break the big stories. They do lots of really important feature work; they’re the ones who follow up on what life is still like in Katrina three years later, etc. They do the human interest stuff and the physically adventurous stuff. But the real grind work is done in newsrooms.People think the danger here is losing physical newspapers or reducing the total count of reporters, but the real irreplaceable when newspapers collapse will be the end of newsrooms. It’s going to take a long time to figure out the education, training, apprenticeship, and collaboration models to equal what is embodied in the modern newsroom.

          3. fredwilson

            Can we build the technology to create a virtual newsroom that scales forevery microjournalist?

          4. atduskgreg

            That is a good and really hard question that I think gets to part of the core of the issue. The problem is that the newsroom is not about explicit collaboration. It’s not like open source where we all get together to scratch some particular common itch. Newsrooms are about ambient collaboration. Multiple reporters on different beats in the same section sit across from each other and ask passing questions, relying on each others’ deep knowledge of their beats (and, importantly, the intuitions and contacts that come with that). Further, if one member of the newsroom has a question that cuts across subject matter into stuff covered by other sections, they can just walk over there and ask. I can’t find the link right now, but I remember reading about Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the reporters from the SF Chronicle who broke the Barry Bonds doping story, and how they talked with the medicine and science reporters at their paper extensively while working on the story in order to understand the difficult technical underpinnings of the story.Even at the level of authorship, so many stories are wirtten by pairs or teams of journalists who collaborate to cover a single story as it evolves over time. It’s important to distinguish between a single article and a “story”. When journalists refer to “covering a story”, they mean doggedly following an evolving set of facts or events through an on-going series of articles. This is exhausting fatiguing work and being able to dynamically add additional man power (in research or writing or politicking, wherever it’s needed) is extremely helpful and having a close collaborator who believes in the story as much as you do is often essential.Finally, there’s the collaboration vs. competition element. Every reporter in the newsroom wants to be the one to break the big story. Once big stories start to pan out, everyone wants to work on them and be a part of them. This creates an entrepeneurial environment where each reporter is frantically trying to find a lead on a story that’s even bigger and more important than their peers, but once someone finds one, it gradually accumulates additional collaborative resources to it and the newsroom comes to together to land it.I can imagine online collaboration tools that would make this kind of collaboration easier, but it will be some time before they are good enough to be as frictionless as just having a bunch of people sitting in the same room every day for years being paid to work together.

          5. Debunkr

            Fred, more important question: can you create an incentive model that enables informed microjournalists to cooperate to assemble higher quality content that approaches the historic value of “enterprise reporting”? Is it a tool or an incentive network?

      2. fredwilson

        But what happens when those two or three best papers don¹t exist anymore?That¹s what I want to knowBecause that¹s what¹s likely to happenAnd we need a new model

        1. atduskgreg

          See, here’s where I come off the rails a little bit. I agree that the big papers are in major financial troubles, but I think the idea that they are going to actually completely disappear comes from a little bit too much us vs. them schadenfreude. They may take on a very different form, either as smaller entities or non-profits, and they will probably be fully online, but I don’t think the three or four crown jewels of american journalism (NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, etc.) are all going away completely.We do still need a new model, though, I agree, because it’s a much bigger world than it used to be and these guys can’t catch everything even in their current state, let alone in their future reduced one. I think the place to start looking is probably the conversation we’re having above: try to observe what is so productive about these places newsrooms and then make it easier for places (real or virtual) to continue to exist in the future.The one element I have a hard time imagining being preserved, though, is the authority of these papers that is so important to their successful reporting on some of the big stories. On the really big stories, you’re always going up against huge institutions: governments, corporations, etc. And in these kinds of fights you need more than just the reporters. You need lawyers and politically connected editors-in-chief and you need money. And you need the prestige of a big institution. However Dick Cheney may feel about the NY Times, for a lot of people in politics and other fields, they represent The Fourth Estate — Journalism as Check on Power. And that makes people think twice about completely strong arming them. It will be a long time, I think, before any blogger achieves that kind of stature or prestige. There’s something more than sentimental about the destruction of the kind of histories these papers embody.Even if someone can solve the collaboration problem we’re talking about in the thread above, these institutions play a really important role as institutions and something will need to take their place for journalism to play the civic role we’ve come to expect from it.As I’ve said a few times in this thread, if it turns out that an online model can’t keep the NYT in business then that means that the civic value that newspapers provided in in excess of its market value, i.e. if it is possible to fill the consumer demand for news and information without playing the role of Fourth Estate, then we need to find some other way get that civic value, we need some other, likely non-commercial model to fund that stuff. Remember, we really care about it. After September 11th, NPR was the number one morning drive time radio station across the country for months. Maybe we need a public financing model for text-based journalism as well as audio.The model is not necessarily going to be a commercial one.

          1. fredwilson

            I hope you are right that we don¹t lose these institutions and I understandhow powerful they areBut a little anecdote from last night that¹s sort of relatedWe went to the 30th birthday party of the founder of eater, a blog thatcovers the restaurant scene in NYC (and LA and SF) last nightAs we walked into the party, I bumped into Mario Batali who I¹ve known for awhile and he says to me ³whose party is this?²I told him ³Ben Leventhal¹s 30th birthday party²And he said ³Ben, he¹s that guy who dogs us all the time. I can¹t shut himup²And I said ³that¹s the way it supposed to be Mario²It was all in good fun and not entirely serious, but it¹s also true thatMario¹s big brand and influence can¹t steamroller a young guy with a blogwho wants the storyMario¹s not Dick Cheney, thank god, but you get my point

          2. atduskgreg

            I’ll see your hopeful anecdote and raise you a disturbing one. I was talking tonight with a friend who recently graduated from one of the top photo journalism schools about this and her perspective gave me a whole new area to worry about: the training of reporters. Journalism schools are in a state of real panic, she said. They’ve been painfully slow to adopt to the online world. In her time in school, I helped her learn more about blogging and web technologies than the mainstream of her classes. Their problem is that the field is historically based on apprenticeship. While there’s certain technical skills and philosophical principles they can teach you, their main virtue is that they can put you in real newsrooms to do some real work collaborating with more experienced journalists. Where should they be sending students nowadays? There are a few people at papers who get it and are well-prepared for the future, but not everyone can intern with Rob Curley or at Monocle.The collapse of the papers is going to rip the guts out of the journalism schools both in terms of the opportunities they can offer their students and their actual budgets. My recently-graduated friend said it’s already happening, and photo journalism programs are significantly better off than their text-based counterparts since their skills have wider application.The death of newspapers also means the collapse of the whole tradition and infrastructure for training journalists. If you’re a young person who’s interested in finding out the truth about the world, who do you go to to learn about that? What tradition do you plug into so you don’t have to invent everything from scratch for yourself?I’d like to take this and rephrase it as an opportunity, but I’m not quite sure how. Maybe laid off journalists should run conferences and training programs for bloggers to do knowledge transfer on some of their tradition. Some of that will happen naturally as former LA Times reporters and such go to work for the Huff Post, et al. I guess part of what I’m saying is that the online world in addition to holding high the values that it has brought to journalism of equality of access and a high degree of interactivity needs to get off its high horse somewhat as it absorbs the talent from the disintegrating newspaper world so that it can learn from they 150 years of tradition and best practices that group embodies.

          3. fredwilson

            Yes, the whole education issue is a crisis, and its not just journalistsThat¹s another area I want to invest in

    2. fredwilson

      That¹s the ³microjournalism² visionIt¹s the end of the firm as we know itCoase pointed this all out in 1937 with his ³Nature of the Firm² essay

  21. toddgeist

    As a culture we have lost touch with what is truly valuable. We expect things of great value to be free (or very cheap), and we pay stupid amounts of money for things that are not. I see the current crisis as a recognition of this basic fundamental problem problem.The problem with the news media is similar to the problem we have with food. As nation we have substituted high quality healthy, locally produced, food with with cheap, mass produced, food like substances. With the news media we have substituted high quality real reporting with infotainment and rapid name calling. This imbalance with the food industry is coming home to roost with record levels of obesity, diabetes, and other health problem that will be around for generations.What will be the outcome of the news media being completely out of whack?

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with your diagnosis of the root of our country¹s problems but I seetechnology and the web as the sand in the oysterIt¹s going to force the change you seek and I think it can lead to a worldof ³microjournalism² that will workI just don¹t know how the economic model will play out

  22. dave

    This has been a great discussion, and I’ve taken one side, now I’d like to take the other (nothing is so black and white as to have just one valid side).If you look at the news the blogosphere covers, its generally the most salacious, trivial, inconsequential news, and the truly interesting stuff falls by the wayside, under-reported.This sometimes really impedes progress. For example, in late December I wanted to connect a photo site to a photo-consuming site in such a way that they could share thumbnails. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find a way to do this, so I invented one. It went all the way through, until I revisited it yesterday, and in a discussion on FriendFeed found out that Digg had proposed a format for doing more or less exactly what I was doing. I look at the effort as wasted time, but worse, had I not been informed the second time around, there would now be two ways to do the same thing. For all I know there’s another way to do it out there, that was never reported on in the news flow that I follow.This used to be the way it worked in the prime of the tech industry of the 80s and its reincarnation of the 90s. The minutia of the bigco’s is covered from emotional point of view, but the substance is ignored, and progress grinds to a halt until it resumes, explosively. It’s never been the kind of steady flow of news and ideas that technologists *need* to do their jobs well.So the new system sucks. Not just in this way, but this is the one I’m looking at today. We’ve got to try to do better. Much better.

    1. Steven Kane

      Hi again DaveAgree with you completely hereI will again quote a classic rock warhorse (blame Fred!) We are entertaining ourselves to death. — Roger Waters

    2. fredwilson

      I don¹t understand how the Œnet failed you on that one dave. Surely manypeople knew about the digg format. How did that knowledge elude you?

      1. dave

        It not only eluded me, but also the brain trust — the readers of my blog.We had a huge discussion about this format in December and if it had come upI would have gotten on board then and there, We *did* uncover a competingeffort from Yahoo which was nice but much higher tech and dynamic notstatic. It gets worse Fred, when I wrote that comment here yesterday Ithought Digg was the author of the format. Turns out it was actuallyFacebook. And they say bloggers don’t dig in and investigate. Me and thereaders are an incredible team.

    3. Debunkr

      Yeah, I want a Digg for serious news. A personalizable Digg.

      1. John Tan

        Yeah I gonna to Digg it too!

  23. phoneranger

    Suggestion: For one month — February? – instead of loading your site with widgets, load it with ad units. See what works and how much your revenue potential actually is.

    1. fredwilson

      Good suggestion. I¹ll think about it. How many ad units would be ³normal²and where should they be?

  24. atduskgreg

    Also, by the way, just in case nobody noticed, the NY Times, that paragon of doomed out-of-date old school print journalism, is also, as of the last year, producing the best most innovative uses of the web for journalism. For example, they just this week announced their “Congress API” http://open.blogs.nytimes.c… which “lets developers access information about Congressional representatives and their votes.” Just the latest in a series of very innovative data- and interactive-driven initiatives they’ve done from doing transcript visualizations of the presidential debates and states of the union to graphing the financial meltdown data.A number of years back that “In the year 2014, the NY Times goes offline” video http://idorosen.com/mirrors… made a big splash and the NYT became Example One of how the old newspaper outlets didn’t “get the web” and this would be their downfall. At the time, that was a somewhat fair assessment, since the NYT had much of their content behind a paywall, never linked to outside sites, etc. But, in the last few years, the paper has transformed itself into one of the most creative and prolific producers of cutting edge uses of web technology for news creation and propagation.That transformation is a really interesting story that not enough people know. It starts with Rob Curley at the Lawrence Journal-World Online. The LJW is a very forward thinking college town paper (run by a near non-profit style family owned business) that embraced the mission of local journalism through web technology with a gusto not seen anywhere else for years. Curley’s IMA Keynote awhile back is an entertaining barn-burner and a must listen for anyone interested in this topic: http://itc.conversationsnet… Django was invented at LJW to meet the demands of rapid deadline-driven mini-application development. The transformation of the NYT’s digital strategy was lead by LJW alums and other Curley devotees. It started with removing the paywall entirely, including the the complete back archive, and has continued into deep investment in open technology (how many other papers have published major open source software components) and participation. If the NYT can’t survive the new information economics created by the web, then that is terminal evidence that the public interest role of newspapers is surplus to their economic value and so must be supported in some other manner, i.e. as a non-profit entity like wikipedia or npr.

    1. fredwilson

      I¹m rooting for the NYT and I blogged about the congress API back when theylaunched it.It the NYT¹s web/digital effort was its own stand alone entity, it would bea great company with a bright futureBut it¹s bogged down by the Times¹ own financial issues and legacyinfrastructure and I worry that it can¹t get out from under that weightAnd of course there¹s the shared newsroom issue on top of that which is whatthis is all about

      1. Greg

        Good timing relative to this conversation, New York Magazine on how the new NYT innovates like a tech startup: http://nymag.com/news/featu

  25. Matt Terenzio

    Having moved from a scarcity (real or feigned) to a hyper-abundance of information, which of course includes news, we have deflated the old business model for media and are in search of a new one.When you want a business model, it follows that there needs to be a value that is being provided somewhere. Value does not come from commodities but from scarcities.What is scarce now? The users attention. That is the prize that everyone is shooting for.It follows then that the tools that filter the hyper-informations flow successfully will be the tools that add value and will therefore have a business model.Whether that is human powered (after all reporters were filters right) or algorithmic is not important.We have those services being built right now. Even I am working on one.The only real challenge is the long term investigative reporting and how that will be funded.Your average daily story or event coverage that 99% of what reporters do is will certainly be handled by the communties of experts and a decent filtering tool.

    1. fredwilson

      ³the only real challenge is the long term investigative reporting and how itwill be funded²Yes, and a bunch of related issuesThat¹s what were all debating and discussing here because we all agree withyour analysis

    1. fredwilson

      Looks like we all need to visit that URL tomorrow

  26. monsur

    I hit a wall with blogs in 2008. I think I just got fed up with all the top 10 lists and rumors. Is there any point in catching up on all the MacWorld rumors Monday night when you’ll just know the results on Tuesday? My goal for 2009 is to read less from blogs and read more from newspapers and magazines. There are a few reasons for this:1) I just prefer curling up on the couch with printed material rather than reading from a screen (maybe its time for a Kindle?). I still look forward to setting aside a few hours every Sunday morning to read the Sunday NY Times.2) Often times the source material for a blog post will be an article from the New York Times or Vanity Fair or some mangazine/newspaper. Why not read it straight from the source?3) I agree with what TIm Bray said in a recent post titled On Internet Addiction ( http://www.tbray.org/ongoin… ). Its easy to lose hours of time on the internet just consuming. As I get older and my personal time is balanced with work and family commitments, I’d like my computer time to be more directed, focused and productive.Programming blogs are an exception to this. There is a lot of great insight to be found in programming blogs; often times the issue you are trying to solve was solved in someone elses blogs. But at the same time, if I want to gain true mastery of a programming language, I still turn to books.I still follow many blogs, but they aren’t replacing printed material. If anything, they are highlighting just how good printed material can be.

  27. Kenosha_Kid

    The same Internet DIY content evolution that has led to thousands of blogs and infinite playlists, to the detriment of news journalism and radio, may lead to a reaction and pendulum swing the other way. There is frankly too much content out there, and the audience has necessarily become so fragmented that the bonding value of entertainment has been erased. And people by their nature don’t want to be isolated.When the novelty of being able to surf the web to access countless small opinions wears out, people will begin to miss the big opinions and, for lack of a better term, “good” writers. When the novelty of customized playlists or Pandora stations runs dry, people will begin to miss the personality of a DJ and his banter between songs.For thousands of years, to say the least, we have enjoyed gathering around to listen to story tellers, in whatever format this has been manifest, not only because this brought us closer to our neighbors at the time, but because it gave us all something in common with our neighbors, that we could share and discuss and even argue about. I use the term neighbor purposely, because it suggests physical proximity and a local bond. Again, this has been ingrained in our nature for thousands of years. How old is the Internet again, 10-15 years?As much as the Internet has brought down walls and shortened distances, the community that this has created falls short of real interaction, on a human level, just as a YouTube video does not come close to a night at the theater. And as much as technology has enabled us to discover thousands of new indie tracks and share our playlists with thousands of strangers, this is a dry and milquetoast experience that cannot compare to the joy we used to feel collectively in anticipation of the new Rolling Stones release that the radio DJ was building up over the air for weeks in advance.In short, the difference between blogs and news is not one of amateur versus professional, or reporting versus opinion, but one of distance versus closeness, coldness versus warmth, fragmentation versus commonality, isolation versus community. I really hope the New York Times survives. All due respect, Huffington is no substitute.

  28. Garbanzo

    Having worked in a few newspaper and editorial operations, there’s no “special sauce” that couldn’t be easily duplicated online by non-journalists. Think of the journalism Ponzi scheme — kid graduates from college and gets a job at a newspaper likely in a town s/he hasn’t lived in before covering subjects they know nothing about. Eventually they figure it out and become an “expert,” but not without a lot of mistakes and overgeneralizations (editors are supposed to help here, but they sometimes are cut of the same cloth). Many of the media experts you see quoted elsewhere in the media didn’t know much about their subject a couple years (or a couple weeks ago). Both vertical and hyperlocal bloggers will always be able to beat the quality and insight. There are always exceptions to this — specialty journalists on the national level in science, medicine, and business tend to be not-so-bad (while their counterparts at smaller papers tend to be amateurish). The only thing that MSM has is the revenue stream to support this type of activity and the aggregated access to sources (aka clout).

  29. Tristan Louis

    Fred,I think you’re on to the same concerns I’ve had for a bit now. In a piece I wrote a couple of years ago ( http://www.tnl.net/blog/200… ), I started writing about some of the issues around the net and its efficiencies. I suspect that journalism is but one of the businesses that may die as a result of the increased efficiencies we’re creating.While I was bearish a couple of years ago, I’m now becoming even more so as I think further on the subject. It may just be that inefficiencies are needed for the engine of capitalism to keep running.TNL

  30. Debunkr

    My commentary on this topic (in a bit coarser language) through an analysis of Michael Hirschorn’s Atlantic article:http://debunkr.blogspot.com

    1. fredwilson

      That was a nice debunk, but I actually enjoyed Michael¹s article and it leddirectly to this post and this discussion so in my mind it was very valuable

  31. Alex Salkever

    I live in a small state that has one large city (800,000) and actually has two dailies (for how long who knows). Due to the budget situations at the papers, there are only two reporters now covering state government full-time. Yup, you read that correctly. One of the majors (a Gannett paper) is actively firing as many people as possible and moving to a pro-am model. The other is totally strapped and not even close. There are vast amounts of news that goes uncovered — important news, things I hear about from people I know in government, in business, and other places. As often as not, its news that I wonder about simply because I read something in the New York Times and wonder what the local angle is. (An example — our dailies for months took the local banks on their word that they had no subprime exposure, even though it was fairly obvious one of them had a lot of California real estate dealings. Naturally, that bank is now rumored ot be near closure and it took an SEC filing to get the reporters to think about the topic). So we have crippled journalism and an island state where everyone is news thirsty. Because its an island, news is even more important — we are all even more impacted by decisions. Yet I can think of only one hyper-local blogger outlet and he’s not making any money. Others are doing piecemeal coverage but not much. The governor is not blogging. The Legislators are not blogging. The urban planners are not blogging. I even asked one of these government servants about this and they laughed. “You mean, besides being underpaid and overworked, besides not having time for my family, I am supposed to update a blog regularly? Are you smoking something?,” was their entirely genuine reply. Which is what I tend to think of the “technology will solve this problem” crowd. For starters, find me any significant metropolitan area where an interested person could truly assemble the information they want to replicate a local newspaper purely through perusing local blogs. Not a couple of interested hyper-local bloggers. Not even a very strong vertical or two. I mean the whole shebang. The answer is — it doesn’t exist. Not even in New York City (Gothamist covers crime but do they cover city planning meetings? Do they write obituaries?). Nor will it exist because its a chicken and an egg problem. To people to do it and do it well, you need to pay them. To pay them, you need a functioning market where none exists and there are scant prospects for one cropping up in any meaningful sense. I always laugh when people who want to “save journalism” utter the mantra “hyper-local.” Do you think a blogger covering my neighborhood in detail would ever have a prayer of making even a decent living? I see no prospect of it. So what we end up with is a tree museum, or perhaps more like a “Brave New World” where people don’t care about the news because they don’t even know it exists — until it’s too late. You really get what you pay for in this world and if you don’t want to pay for news or reporting, then you basically get darkness. And if a developer sneaks a sweetheart deal through the city council and crashes your property values but a blogger doesn’t cover it — oh, well. Not that economists haven’t studied this problem forever. It’s called the free-rider problem. Systems can only support free-riders for so long until they break down. Maybe the VC community could figure out a way to help with this. I’d love to hear how!

    1. fredwilson

      I don¹t think the VC community is going to solve this problem but we caninvest in a bunch of technology companies working on the problem. And thatis what we are doing and others are too.My bet is all these unemployed reporters are going to turn intoentrepreneurs because the cost of a printing press is zero.But can they make a living at it?That¹s not clear

      1. Debunkr

        If they’re as good as the pro-journo supporters say they are, they’ll break the biggest news items and provide the best analysis such that they’ll become huge on the web. Another way to think about this problem is whether NYT.com with it’s top 30 reporters and just the web ops is a viable business. I don’t know the answer but would love to hear some informed opinions…

    2. Lisa Williams

      Alex, you make an excellent point. People often dramatically overestimate how many reporters are on the ground now, whether it’s at the State House or in, say, Iraq. When I did a local site for my own town of 33,000 I wasn’t outnumbered by the daily paper; they, too, had only one reporter. And so, yeah, occasionally they got beat by some woman who worked on her back porch with a laptop. Sad state of affairs! Glad to say now they have much better tools; when I started, reporters weren’t allowed to update the paper’s website (!).

  32. Pat

    “Journalism” is already gone. I have pretty much stopped reading even the newspapers’ websites. Every time I do I catch the reporters :1) getting a factual error fundamentally wrong (confusing light rail with high-speed rail) 2) trying to remain “balanced” when reporting on *facts* 3) Unable to offer their own opinion (if they have been covering an issue for 4 years they should actually *know* something about the issue!)4) Unable to draw a conclusion where thye are not hiding behind a “source” parroting what the reporter wants to say (I have had a reporter asking them to give them a quote that they could use when they knew someone else was lying to them)5) An inability to admit that they have their biases and clearly state them.6) Too many times they uncritically parrot quotes without basic fact checking.7) …..The list goes on ….

  33. Rik Wuts

    I think the most viable model, though only attainable for a small number of people, will be where the blog lends the writer credibility and a body of work/knowledge to write a book which in turn (if successful) leads to speaking and consulting work that actually pays the writer decent money. In the long term the book could come out of that equation but short term I think not.

  34. fredwilson

    That¹s a better way of putting it, a jumping off pointThanks for the commentHas trueslant launched?

    1. Lewis

      We’re in Alpha testing now, moving into a closed Beta phase in the next month.

  35. fredwilson

    Google doesn¹t have 80-90% of the online ad revenues nor does it take 80-90%of the NYT¹s google ad inventory revenueI get the point that they are taking a large part of the online ad revenuemarket, but I don¹t entirely get your point

    1. Alex Salkever

      This ties back into the point I was trying to make above. I think that, for big stories, the blogosphere will probably work quite well. Twitter coverage of breaking events in Mumbai was astonishing. Presidential election coverage will be amazing. But what about coverage in your neighborhood, Fred, or even in Lower Manhattan? Yes, sites like Outside.In do some of this but to date that’s mostly been very light. Who is going to do the persistent pushing, for example, required to understand what is happening in Green Point with the contaminated ground water? Can you really crowdsource reporting for a question that impacts only, say, 15k people? Perhaps pro-am journalism in the answer. I know one thing right now, however. A lone blogger trying to cover a neighborhood or small city, even with some help and crowdsourcing, could not make ends meet. Not even close. So this means that the top levels of journalism (the 10%) perhaps gets a viable substitute. But the bread and butter stuff that impacts everyone’s lives gets the short end of the stick. While the CPA, the doctor and the coder may sit around dinner and be very smart about what’s happening in Israel, who is going to tell them that their neighbor just got arrested for running a meth lab and what that might mean for the surrounding neighborhood? Perhaps the government but they haven’t always had such a track record on these things to date. Local journalism is not perfect but it was pretty much all we had.

      1. fredwilson

        This is why everyone needs a blog and readersAs steven johnson says, the people on your street are the only ones who careabout the pothole on it

        1. Alex Salkever

          Agreed. Have not seen it develop yet. I sure hope it does. But when it does, I also hope there is someone to organize the charge and help people navigate the jungle to get to the “truth” as I doubt most people have time / inclination to do so in between making mortgage payments and just getting by. 🙂 Outside.In is a very interesting experiment. For me, it has been mostly useless. I sure hope it takes flight.

          1. fredwilson

            Outside.in as a destination in its current form is ³mostly useless² butradar is really powerful and with the investments they are making in scalinggeotagging (and tagging in general) and with the avalanche (and I do meanavalanche) of new geocontent coming online this year, I think it¹s going tobe a very different experience by year end

          2. Colin Mathews

            Fred and Dave both punt on the most important question: how will news content–especially local news content–get created? “That’s why everyone needs a blog and readers” is simply wishful thinking; that blog content that replaces reporting will emerge spontaneously is part of a utopian fantasy among some members of the technorati that technology will free people from the shackles of the corrupt/lazy/doomed legacy media.Outside.in is an aggregator. It helps with the discovery and distribution of content–like Topix, but from the bottom up rather than the top down. But someone still has to create the content! SAI (any many like it) is a curator of content: that team assembles stories from the WSJ (primarily) and other publishers the way a museum chooses, and then comments on, pieces of art. They even provide some useful contextual commentary. But they’re not creating 90% of the content that powers the commentary.

    2. jrh

      For 2007, total internet ad spend was about $21b, total GOOG revenues were about $16b. I’m presuming the ratio is a bit higher now — so yes, Google probably takes in 80-90% of all internet ad revenues.You could imagine a model where the main internet search engine functioned more like Visa, taking a very small cut and transferring the bulk of the revenue to other players in the ecosystem. Google does that to some (small) extent with Adsense, but not at all with the organic results on its main search page. Under the Visa model, Google would have revenues of a few percent per year of the Internet total, rather than the gargantuan share it has now.I’m not criticizing Google, just observing that the current ecosystem is structured in an odd, and probably unsustainable way. Both GOOG and the NYT add value, but the current compensation for what they do is out of whack. It seems like one way or another we will end up with a model that makes a bit more sense in the long run.

  36. fredwilson

    Let me know when it launches publiclyI¹d like to check it out

  37. fredwilson

    That¹s what I hope is going to happen and a placeblogger is amicrojournalist

  38. Lewis

    After 35 years in the News business, it seems to me the News media’s wrenching transformation will change the notion of being a “journalist” in far greater ways than the now quaint and tired journalist vs blogger debate.First, the idea that “I’m a journalist” because I spent 8 to 10 hours a day working for The Times or The Journal or ABCNews or Time magazine will fade away, as perhaps will the term “journalist” itself. An individual with topic-specific news knowledge will post to a blog, write for newspapers and magazines, do some television, Twitter a bit, write a book — become a true branded News hyphenate.In fact, this News hyphenate could be a former “journalist,” or an academic, or an author, or an expert, or a documentary producer. The key will be knowledge, experience, expertise within a particular News category, and those attributes can come from many walks in life. Where’s the “objectivity” in coverage in all of this? Well, let’s save this for another debate. But clearly the dynamics of the Web enable the seamless connection of multiple knowledge-based slants in such a way that a user can come away with his/her own independent thinking.That’s the thinking at our new start-up, TrueSlant.com. Our goal is to enable knowledgeable News content creators to build their digital brands and spawn communities of News interests. I don’t agree that having a Web presence is a “loss leader,” but I do believe it’s a jumping off point to the next-generation News career that can continue to serve the public interest.

  39. jrh

    The money is certainly there to produce internet publishing and reporting of all stripes. It’s just that Google absorbs 80-90% of it while producing 0% of the content that drives its model.You can compare the model of Microsoft/Developers (or Microsoft/Hardware Vendors) with Google/Publishers. Microsoft was content with a small but profitable piece of the action where everybody was a winner. Google takes so much of the pie that some big players such as the NYT are going to wither on the vine.

  40. NMM

    There needs to be more personalized ads for them to be worth more, no? I don’t think online ad agencies are doing a great job targeting. IMO

    1. alphanaliste

      To me, the most interesting — and telling — thing about this discussion is how almost every respondent ignored Fred’s core question, which was: What alternative non-advertising revenue streams might be available to support the micro-journalist? Almost every commenter avoided that question and instead talked about how advertising might actually work after all, or why no revenue streams were necessary (public funding, pure volunteers could work, etc.) Or just talked about how the blogging experience or the traditional media product could be improved.I think this tendency to avoid Fred’s question comes from a deep unwillingness to face reality. Consumer journalism will almost certainly be a loss leader for most writers. Deal with it.

      1. NMM

        there’s just too much supply of content.

      2. BobN

        Thanks for the reminder! 150+ comments later, it’s easy to lose sight of the original point (which is a characteristic flaw of the blog model, but that’s a different post…).But I think you overstate Fred’s advertising avoidance. I’d state his challenge thusly: “Jane Blogger may be one heck of a microjournalist. But her blog isn’t going to attract enough eyeballs to generate enough advertising revenue to support her. How does she make more money off her product, enough to make a living at it?”I think that advertising can and must be a part of the solution, but she needs to get it from more than just her blog.

        1. fredwilson

          Exactly. Ads are part of the answer but they probably will only cover the rent/mortgage. She’s going to need some money for shoes and bags and the like

  41. matt schulte

    This argument/discussion is like so many in the new media space (or whatever you want to call it). It presumes that this is a zero-sum game, where either the professional journalists win, or the bloggers do…that there is only one business model, one paradigm, one kind of career etc….when in fact, and always, the reality is an evolving mix of new/old. Fred is a tree, (albeit a fairly noticeable one) but don’t extrapolate him into representing the forest

  42. Lisa Williams

    One issue I’d love to see discussed is the role of private and public equity itself in creating the situation that newspapers now see themselves in.This discussion often treats newspapers as if their problem is simply a “business model problem” — that is, they can’t make enough money on ads to keep running their business the way they have in the past.This ignores what I believe to be the single major influence on US newspapers over the past 20 years: a flood of investment into them that created a bubble.During that time, federal limits on how many media outlets in a single market could be owned by a single company were lifted. This created a market for rollups. In radio, it created huge chains like ClearChannel. In newspapers, we saw private capital move in to roll up weeklies and regional dailies into chains. In the Boston area, where I live, nearly eighty local papers with dozens of owners who ran the paper like a family business were rolled up by none other than Fidelity Investments. A trio of private equity firms (Audax, Halyard, and Weston/Presidio) then bankrolled the publisher of the Boston Herald to buy the rolled up chain, with the idea that a single ad buy that covered the Boston metro area and the surrounding suburbs would prove attractive to advertisers.Well, it didn’t prove attractive enough to make a tidy profit for the investors, so eventually the Herald had to sell the chain to GateHouse Media, which went public, leaving the Herald looking very much as if it were on its last legs. Did GateHouse buy the suburban weeklies for too much? Well, they went public at $20, but now I think they’re trading OTC for pennies a share. (For anyone who’s interested in how the influence of private equity played out in the Boston area, you can read the story here.Declining ad revenues are only part of the story. The other part is that investors, seeing an opportunity created by deregulation, ended up blowing a huge “journalism bubble” — pumping untold millions into rollups or making it possible for the marquee brands like NYT and WaPo to go at values that were higher than those companies would be worth a few years later. Deregulation and investors created a journalism bubble.And now the bubble is being deflated.

  43. markslater

    i think for me it comes down to attention. I picked up my first magazine of the week today while on my throne, and don’t read daily or weekly papers unless i am in a doctors waiting room, or possibly a metro at the gym. I consumer a lot more smaller pieces of news covering a lot more subjects – i prefer this to the old consumption model.its evidenced at things like dinners and social interaction. I had dinner with 4 friends last night, a lawyer, a dentist, a software engineer, and a CPA (and my wife). We covered a huge amount of subjects, quicker than we would have 10 years ago, and we all knew some or part of what was talked about. That is the era of micro journalism at work.our attention span is shorter, our breadth has increased, our depth has definitely become more selective.

    1. fredwilson


  44. fredwilson

    This is a great commentI was mentioning my three consumption modes recently and they are identicalto yours

  45. BobN

    Great discussion! Thanks for the venue and the provocation, Fred.Here’s my simplistic model of the ‘News’ value chain, in terms of functions:1) The Source. The everyday schmoe just doing his/her job, be it Governor, scientist, truck driver, press secretary or whatever.2) The Reporter. Gathers input from one or more Sources, ranging from anonymous tip to in depth interview, and builds a Story.3) The Editor. Gathers, evaluates and prioritizes Stories, decides which need more work, which should be flushed and ultimately which should be of interest to the Reader.4) The Publisher. Manages the funding of the operation and the production and distribution of the News to Readers.5) The Reader. Consumes the News, pays for it with money and/or attention (for Advertisers). Over time, develops trust relationship with Editors and Reports, learns areas of competence and credibility.As a Reader, I consume News in three realms:A) My Core competencies, where I’m comfortable taking info directly from Sources and Reporters and doing my own filtering, evaluation and synthesis. (web technology, VC trends, architectural history, etc.)B) My Non-Core areas of interest, much larger than the core, where I actively seek out News but rely on Editors to do my filtering, evaluation and synthesis. (Chicago politics, urban design, sustainability, White Sox, etc)C) The rest, which I consume for entertainment or just ignore (Oh look, Britney has a new tat…)(I’m sure that the amount of our News time we each devote to the three realms varies widely. For me it’s probably 40/40/20.)After all that setup (sorry to seem so pedantic), my points are these:1) Feel free to disintermediate the Publisher.2) In my Core areas, feel free to disintermediate the Editor as well. I welcome aggregators that help me find more Sources or Reporters on-line.3) In my Non-Core areas, leave the Editor! I’ll pay! They add substantial value beyond mere aggregation and won’t be replaced by technology for several decades at least.I’m all for micro journalism, allowing Sources and Reporters to publish directly. For the core Readers out there, that’s perfect. But for non-core Readers, it’s just 10,000 points of noise…(And please spare me the image of a blogging Blago! I don’t think I could handle my effing Governor unfiltered.)

  46. BobN

    I’m entranced by BmoreWire’s idea of watching a story evolve. Why can’t I do this on the web, watching an Editor do his/her thing and see a story get better over time? If I return, I should be able to see how that article has changed. And drill down into sources (and discards) if I choose. And uninvolved Sources and Reporters could contact the Editor with new material to enrich the article.The right tool in the hands of an astute Editor would make for a great reading experience. And presuming credit (and revenue) is shared, it would draw in new contributors, making the Editor’s site that much more appealing to readers.

    1. Alex Salkever

      I think this would be amazing, including opportunities for audience participation. TPM does this fairly well on national levels. It has been done in some pro-am formats. Its far from the norm.

  47. suzanneyada

    Quick drive-by response: http://Spot.Us microfinances independent freelance reporters.

  48. fredwilson

    You¹ve got that right about this discussionI¹d love to go through this comment thread and pull out an edited summaryI probably won¹t though

  49. fredwilson


  50. kenberger

    We won’t bemoan this trend at all. It *saves* the very trees that Joni sang about.:)

  51. fredwilson

    I think the $21bn is wrong. Maybe that is US internet ad spend but Googlegets a lot of its revenue outside the USIf the ratio was 50%, I might buy that

    1. jrh

      Yes, you’re totally right, those are world and US numbers mixed. Google’s take was a little more than 25% of US internet ad spend in 2007 — could be as much as 30% in 2008. Yahoo was greater than 15% in 2007. So between the two of them it’s about 50% of US internet ad revenue.I’ve worked with many big US media companies over the last decade, and have been amazed at how bad they are at extracting revenue from their online content. They’ve basically ceded the job to outside firms such as google, and in the process, they’ve given away a big chunk of the revenue.

      1. fredwilson

        Very trueI think yahoo’s share is up for grabs over the next several yearsGoogle owns theirs and will likely grow it

  52. fredwilson

    Colin – you are absolutely right that the content needs to get created.My bet is that we’ll see an explosion of citizen journalism over the next five years. I suspect you disagree as you call that a “utopian fantasy”.

    1. Colin Mathews

      The utopian fantasy is that citizen journalism/microblogging will, on its own, spontaneously replace the content that we now know as journalism. There has to be “something else” on the content creation side (not just the aggregation/distribution/ad-serving-monetization-technology side) to allow useful, valuable local news content to exist in some form.Fortunately, readMedia has figured out a big part of that “something else.”

      1. markjosephson

        I think there needs to be a distinction between “journalism” and “useful content”.There is no denying the explosion of content. Blogging, twittering, facebook status updating and more. Everyone can be a publisher today. That doesn’t mean that everyone is a journalist, though.The journalism model is shaking out. Not entirely clear yet how journalism as a public good exists in the next phase. Much of the answer depends on how quickly the rest of the ad dollars leave print and other media to get online and how much of an editorial team (as we think of them today) that supports.We’re betting that a new model will evolve that combines informed curators (new form journalists) who aggregate (with help from co’s like outside.in) all of the content that is created.oh, and love to know your experience and what led to your opinion. feel free to drop me a line at mark <at> outside dot in.mark

  53. fredwilson

    I just finished reading it (in the magazine actually) and I enjoyed itThe ending is classic

    1. BobN

      “I just hope there’s a business model when we get there.” Sounds like too many of my startups.At least he (Pilhofer) knows the difference between a hope and a certainty!

      1. fredwilson

        Tell me about it!

  54. BobN

    Interesting article posted yesterday at NYMag about NYT’s efforts to at least go down fighting: http://nymag.com/news/featu

  55. Jason Preston

    Last Friday The Seattle P-I announced that it was on-sale (for 60 days), after which it would either shut down or become an online only publication. I think that the chances of Hearst running an online-only operation is huge, but the announcement has nonetheless thrown these issues into the spotlight in the Seattle area.Like it or not, and for the record I am a huge fan of blogging and a long-time blogger myself, blogging in its current or near-future form is not a replacement for journalism. The economics work yes, and many bloggers ARE doing real journalistic work, but journalism as a fourth estate is still an important pillar in our democracy, and I don’t think that self-selected coverage is going to be enough.Can you imagine a world where reporters could tell their editors to suck it if they didn’t like the assignment? That’s the world of micro-journalism. And it’s not going to be enough.

  56. Perry

    There’s one aspect to the downside that I really personally appreciate. I think of it as the “joy of unconnected discovery”. Over my lifetime, I have stumbled upon many rich things in “browsing” the Sunday Times or any of my local newspaper experiences. Web technologies all seem to be heading for increasing personalization and relevance. I fear the loss of serendipity than comes from things that A) are NOT related to anything I’d be logically be following, and B) not something I’d likely learn from friends. The efficiency of new media loses serendipity, I fear, and serendipity is a subtle but very important part of the human learning experience. The “I’m feeling lucky” button is a very lame proxy.

    1. fredwilson

      Twitter can provide that

  57. Adrian Palacios

    I think Rick might have too idealistic a view of American journalism; while I have friends who have worked hard in the industry and have done excellent *reporting* (as opposed to opining), they still lost their jobs. However, journalism has its own issues as well: how many stories do you see each day that are most likely cut and paste from press releases? Even more, how much of the news is rather useless (did anyone catch NY Times coverage of Google having more than the typical number of words on their homepage during the wide release of Android? Really, who do they have counting the number of words on Google’s homepage each day? Come on, this is the eff-ing NY Times!).

  58. Debunkr

    BTW, Fred, interesting article showing the breakdown of traditional journalism (from a different MSM outlet):http://www.newsweek.com/id/…Great read.

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