Newspaper industry analyst John Morton, who for the last couple of decades has been part and parcel of the self-destruction of the newspaper industry, has trotted out that tired old claim that newspapers are suffering because they failed to put up paywalls at the dawn of the Internet era.
He's actually making two arguments. One is often labeled "original sin" -- that the Internet pioneers at newspapers are guilty of leading those newspapers to their doom. I've debunked that repeatedly and it's ludicrous that it even comes up in this day and age. Early newspaper online efforts were, in fact, paid-content initiatives that were abandoned because the explosive growth of free Web competition quickly made them fail. I was there. I still have the T-shirt.
The other is often labeled the "digital vampire" argument -- that newspapers are being killed by news aggregators that are stealing their valuable content. The numbers simply don't bear that out (significant ad money and audience is not being shifted from local newspapers to vampirish aggregators), but there's nothing quite so attractive as a scapegoat.
But since we're talking about sin, I thought it might be useful to take a look at the classical Seven Deadly Sins and see how we fare.
I thought surely this one would be easy to escape, but then came the frat boys who trashed the Tribune Company.
There are many overbuilt temples, but Gannett's over-the-top corporate headquarters is egregious in an era when Gannett's reporters and editors are being laid off. We can shatter families and make them lose their homes, but let's be sure to hang onto our lake and our swans.
Fish, barrel, smoking gun. Instead of focusing on how their companies might leverage new technologies to create awesome new services, "news" corporations have thought only about their current-operations top line, bottom line, and (shockingly large) margins. How do we "grow?" We take over our competitors, all with borrowed money, with -- of course -- the advice of certain industry analysts. We were warned not to do this, but when these companies should have been investing in the future, they instead bought more of the past. Results include the Knight-Ridder deal, ranked as the worst of 100 M&A bad-deal takeovers by Bloomberg.
No, we don't need to change. We don't need to reconstruct our sales forces, create smart incentives for digital sales, take the risky path, practice interactive journalism, try something new. I can't count the times I've been told "we're doing pretty well." That continued right up to the moment the economy collapsed.
What other word can you use for a newspaper company that sues a cat blogger? Suing people who cause you actual measurable economic harm is one thing; what the Las Vegas Review-Journal is doing is vindictive and ought to be embarrassing.
There's certainly plenty of it going around. Everybody envies Google, of course; instead of understanding why and how Google creates value, some have resorted to filing lawsuits against it.
Ah, yes. There will always be newspapers because the public will always need newspapers. We are the only business protected under the Constitution. Professional journalism has standards and those bloggers in pajamas are just parasites. Our classified ads are Bona Fide and those other sites are just junk. What goes before a fall?