Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Convienience Uber Alles

One of these days I'm going to get around to posting some actual Rob-created content here again. Until then, check out Eric Burns-White's post on Websnark about the new media/old media divide. Here's a slice, but there's a lot more food for thought where this came from.

I don't know very many people who read a newspaper cover to cover, whether online or on paper. But a lot of people read articles that are germane to them right at that moment. Articles get linked on twitter or Livejournal. Google gathers these things together and points people at them when they're interested. And news sources that accept that they're a brief stopover on one's daily web journey get far more traffic than news sources that make a person jump through hoops to get the news. Bring money into the equation, and suddenly that readership drops by another order of magnitude or two. Robert Murdoch and those like him may assert the value of their goods, and equally assert that content must be paid for, but the only thing they can possibly do is make their content irrelevant to the broader world that's coming.

Let me repeat that.

The only thing paywalls or other direct monetization can do for newspapers or any other topical content is make it irrelevant to the world of the internet age.

Burns-White goes on to assert that convenience trumps all other characteristics of the content: quality, reliability, etc. On a level playing field, quality will out. But if there's even a little hurdle to cross before reaching it--even free registration--some other content filling the same niche will get the hits instead.

From experience, I know convenience affects my behavior. I read Krugman, Dowd, Herbert, and Rich all the time for a while at the New York Times' site. Then they erected a paywall, which lasted for a while, and I stopped. (For a little while, I went to a pirate site to read them, but that was too much hassle.) Now there's no longer a pay wall... and I read them occasionally. Usually when someone links to Herbert or Krugman, and Maureen Dowd, very rarely at all. Frank Rich is the only one of the bunch I seek out on my own.

I don't know what that says, really. Except that even some temporary inconvenience can break a consumer habit.



Ami Angelwings said...

That's a good point :) Also, I think newspapers need to learn or accept that no longer is what they think is important for us to read.. important... which is the thing that frustrates me when I hear "old news" types complain about blogs and linking and other news sources online... for so long newspapers and the tv media have taken for granted that ppl can't rly get information about the world easily elsewhere or current events or issues, and so they're used to controlling that information... and now like, just cuz the Toronto Star doesn't think Transgender Day of Remembrance is important, or that the murder one conviction of the killer of Angie Zapata was BIG FREAKING NEWS (none of the canadian papers even mentioned it) or the death of Christine Daniels is worth more than a couple lines in the Globe (and hasn't shown up newhere else) where they show no respect to her at all, it doesn't mean it's not important to others, or that you can just ignore it and say "well too bad you have nothing else to turn to".. I dun need to read you or buy your papers or nething nemore... we can pick and choose what we want to read and what we think is relevant to us... and also it's no longer "Well even if we get the gender pronouns wrong, and etc etc, you should be lucky we're talking about trans ppl at all in one article a year!"

and.. i dunno if i'm making sense :|

Rob S. said...

Oh, that certainly makes sense. There are plenty of audiences that go unserved by traditional mass media, so it's no surprise that people are abandoning it. There *are* so many other options now.

Problem is, fracturing the media also leads to a greater fracturing of our communities. MSNBC-watchers and Fox-watchers live in two separate realities -- one in which ACORN is a Serious Threat to Democracy and the other in which ACORN is The Latest Silly Thing That's Got Repubs in a Tizzy. We need a common reality, some facts we can all agree on.

But those facts HAVE to be inclusive. If the facts that MSNBC and Fox give us don't include those 163 murders last year, they're Not Good Enough. They need to speak to us all, and give us all the information, sometimes just the raw data, that we need. But the mass media is shrinking, and devotes its considerable resources toward chasing ratings rather than informing the public, which will just drive their ratings down more, as people turn from Balloon Boy and Tiger Woods to the internet to get their info. And the media will contract, and shrink their resources yet again.

And when news media chases ratings, it's minorities who lose -- because if they weren't just a fraction of the market share, they wouldn't be minorities. By chasing stories with so-called "mass appeal," they're effectively ignoring their responsibility to cover ALL the news, and undermining their credibility when they say they serve the community, when there are so many voices and stories they ignore.

But there's got to be more to the solution than just to go online, because while having that information out there on a small site, or a string of blogs, is good -- and interested people can find it if they look, how many people know to look? Google is great, but it's limited by the search terms you put into it.

I think the next media mogul will be the person who figures out how to harness our million differences & interests and is able to present it in a way that lets us know what or information options are, and is able to present them with a certain level of credibility that mass media used to have. Even better, I'd like to see some way of suggesting news and information that challenges us, rather than reinforcing what we already believe, so we can't self-select ourselves into a bubble. And so we can still select ourselves out of the bubble the mass media has made for us.

And now that I've written so much in this tiny comment box, I better just click submit before my computer crashes and ruins my day.