A Retirement Home For Out of Work Journalists?
His latest misinformed missive was the lead story today on the Poynter Institute’s media blog put together by a little guy named Jim Romenesko.
First, here’s some of what he had to say, followed by my response.
I’m a fan of some conspiracy theories. And so really, what could be a more compelling conspiracy theory than the plot to destroy the American newspaper, hatched – in our imagination anyway – by a secret cabal of bloggers and Web gurus meeting in a diner off Calle Ocho in Miami, then launching their assault on circulation from a Grassy Knoll somewhere in cyberspace?
Except this is one conspiracy that can be easily debunked. The American newspaper is being assassinated by “a lone nut.” And we’re going to tell you the name of that lone nut:
Craig Newmark of Craigslist . . . a man whose altruistic vision of running a business to NOT maximize profits is now threatening the livelyhood of thousands of working men and women across this country, your neighbors who work at and publish your local newspaper, jobs that were once supported by the classified ads that have migrated to the most free . . . Craigslist (sic: dot org).
Last week, Newmark’s co-conspirator (OK, he’s not a totally “lone” nut) – his CEO Jim Buckmaster – told stunned Wall Street analysts how they’re happy to forego profits to save you a couple of bucks on a classified ad, and put some of my best friends on the unemployment line in the process. They even leave on the table money in ways that wouldn’t come directly from their customers:
If you won’t charge customers for ads, and apparently you won’t, then at least start accepting those text ads, and funnel those millions of dollars into the newly formed Craig’s Foundation. And what will be the main benefactor of this new foundation? A scholarship fund, to pay for the college education of the dozens of displaced journalists across America losing their jobs everyday. . . . And if there’s any cash left, how about building a retirement home for any newspaper folks who might somehow see a diminished pension down the road?
Since no one else will ever set the record straight on this, apparently, perhaps because they have not studied the issue enough to be in command of the facts, let me have a go.
It’s not that much of a mystery to me why newspaper reporters do not understand what’s going on here. Most of them got into newspapering in the first place because they could not do math. And from their early days in the business, they shunned any knowledge of the business side of newspapering, believing that to know the facts about business would jeopardize their objectivity.
But anyone who has ever worked as an academic, teaching journalism, should be familiar with the literature on how newspapers make money to pay reporters. And its not from classified ads or the price of a subscription.
Admittedly, a lot of academics don’t have those facts at their disposal for a variety of reasons. I once got into a heated argument with a faculty member at a reputable regional university who insisted out of ignorance that the Washington Post was a national newspaper, for example. But anyone who knows the facts here, including the publisher and the circulation manager at the Post, knows this to be true: The Post made a conscious decision not to invest in regional printing plants and daily distribution across the country like USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It is a metropolitan newspaper with distribution in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
They now have an opportunity with the Web Press to reach out to a national and international audience, however, and so far they seem to be capitalizing on it – without charging for access to their Web edition.
So let’s be clear. Craigslist.Org is not putting any newspaper reporters out of work because the revenue from classified advertising never, ever went for paying the salaries of reporters in the first place. Nor did the price of a mail subscription or the price of the paper in the newsstand or box on the corner.
The price of the paper itself has always been earmarked primarily for the cost of distributing the newspaper. If anything was left over from that, it went for the cost of printing the newspaper.
Fact: It costs nothing to print or distribute a newspaper on a Web Press. It does cost a little to put it online, but nothing compared to the millions of dollars of paying for and maintaining an offset press, not to mention the rising cost of paper and ink.
Classified ads in newspapers has been a source of revenue for paying staff at newspapers, but mostly for the production and circulation staff. News staffs and most of the employees of newspapers have always been paid from general advertising revenue.
So perhaps Mr. Bunch should redirect his ire at Craigslist toward building a retirement home for newspaper delivery boys and pressmen.
But guess what? There’s an antidote to Craigslist and the newspapers have it in their power to overcome the threat from the competition. If they would just stop bashing the online revolution and join it, they are in a powerful position to take advantage of it. If newspapers would just invest in original journalism and put it online for free, thereby putting themselves in a position of generating a massive amount of traffic AND online advertising revenue, they could survive.
They could even start their own free online classifieds to compete with Craigslit. They could sell Google text ads and pocket all the money and brag at the end of the year to their stockholders.
But apparently, newspaper managers (and columnists) are so out of touch with the reality available right in front of them that they will go on bashing the Web until they are out of business.
When that day comes, us former newspaper reporters who understand the Web Press will be right here to take over where they left off – if there is a First Amendment left after Bush’s appointments to the federal bench get done with sending it to the trash heap of history.