You get what you pay for

 It’s never a great idea to start a piece with the words “So much has been said about…”, but…: So much has been said about the death of newspapers and print media, that I don’t really have much to add. But I started thinking about it again a few days ago after reading a sad but interesting piece in the Times. It made me think about just how near this “death” is, and how I – all of us, actually – are taking part in it.
newslaptop2The article was about Peter Kaplan, the editor of the New York Observer who has stepped down. The Times hinted (through some anonymous employees) that the reason could have been differences between Kaplan and the 28-year-old publisher Jared Kushner (a real estate tycoon, who’s dating Ivanka Trump). Of course there were other reasons, such as the shrinking budgets that all the media is suffering from, especially the print media, but it’s also a sign of the times, and Kaplan basically admitted that a new leader was needed to tackle the challenges of Web 2.0. There was one paragraph that really caught my eye and summed it up:

“He [Kaplan] will leave a New York media world that is very different from the one he began covering in The Observer in 1994 — one that is challenged by faltering bottom lines and atomized into dozens of blogs and Web sites. Just last week The Observer broke a story about a Brooklyn con woman, the so-called hipster-grifter, in an article that provided just the kind of New York intrigue and context that had been a hallmark of the newspaper. But Gawker, the Manhattan gossip blog, immediately took custody of the story, annotating it with attitude and reader-submitted sightings of the protagonist that all but obscured where the story came from in the first place.”

I’ve heard of stories being “stolen” by the Web, but this was the first time I actually saw a good example of it. And these days, it seems like Facebook and Twitter just seem to facilitate this process. They make access to information on blogs and other websites much easier, and much closer to when events actually take place – especially when cell-phones are becoming more and more user friendly towards web surfing. I’ve always thought that the news I get in my morning paper seems old, but these days it just seems ancient. So old, in fact, that reading the news section in any paper these days really seems like a waste of time. A waste of paper.

And why do I feel guilty? Well, I just started writing a blog, and a few days ago started “tweeting”. So, I kind of feel like I’m taking part in it. Most of all, it’s because I left Ha’aretz in 2006 precisely for those reasons. The writing was on the wall (or is it on the screen these days?). There just didn’t seem to be a future in print journalism, and I didn’t feel I could be a good provider for my family if I stayed at the paper. This is the decision many journalists have to take these days. In Israel, the situation is pretty much like it is all over the world. Ma’ariv has been hemorhagging for years, and Ha’aretz’ future seems just as unclear.

But should we really worry about this anyway? A few months ago I met a former colleague of mine at Ha’aretz, and if I understood him correctly, there’s really nothing to fear. He believes it’s a zero sum game. If print media dies, it doesn’t mean that journalism will die – it will live on, just in a different format. Newspapers will transform into websites, bascially. I kind of agree with that. One of the problems I do have with it, is that I don’t know if all the journalists being fired from print media are finding new jobs online.


Rupert Murdoch

An interesting development in the field is Rupert Murdoch’s decision to charge for News Corp websites. Murdoch is betting it will work, based on the success the Wall Street Journal is having with charging for its content. I don’t know, but to me it still seems like a risky move. On the other hand, maybe ITunes is a good example of how it actually could work. People are willing to buy music from Itunes, despite the fact that you can download songs from a zillion other sites for free.

But what worries me the most about the broadsheet -> tabloid – > website transformation, and is the raison d’etre for this post, is the certain loss of quality journalism. I just don’t feel the same kind of reverence for electronic media that I do for publications like the NYTimes, Ha’aretz and The Guardian. These papers and others bear the torch of high quality journalism, they’re the ones that set the standards. Their reporters are the epitomy of journalism at its best. Sure, there are a few good news shows and investigative reporting shows on TV and radio (60 minutes in the U.S., Fact in Israel and many others around the world), but they seem like a drop in an ocean of mediocrity.

Will it be the same when newspapers turn into websites? Will the websites be able to generate enough revenue to pay high salaries for top journalists? I have a bad feeling we’re going to get what we pay for.


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