There is an unspoken subtext for the Where-Art-Thou fist-shaking and hand-wringing among journalists and media industry critics about the destiny of the news biz: every voice is colored by what it all might actually mean for us individually: in influence and income and water-cooler-wiki schadenfreude. It’s not that people aren’t in good faith when they pronounce whether this or that technology or business model is good for the health of our woe begotten industry and precious democracy. But these are not uninterested third parties: it is the commentary class itself called upon to comment on themselves and their destiny (and that of their colleagues/bosses/industry betes noires) at a moment that there is both enormous risk and hints at opportunity for their professional futures. Everyone has a dog in this fight, in other words, which makes for one helluva loaded debate.
I then will be straight up front here with my self-serving point of view: right now, I am thinking most about what the NyTimes meter system (and I-Slate, for that matter) means as it relates to my not-so-modest would-be world news site. Is the birth/survival of a pay system good for my attempt to build and sustain my site? Is the survival of the NYTimes itself good for my site!? What will I have to do to adjust to the new e-book features and technology. The short answer to the first two questions is in the affirmative, as it would be as well for my fallback career as a MSM writer and foreign reporter-for-hire. In either scenario, my future will be rosier if a value is put on name-brand news. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have either a distinctive enough voice or clear enough point of view to draw a profitable audience as a blogger. Being abroad doesn’t help. As a would-be startup, all of this adds to the pressures and uncertainty. I will literally be updating my business plan after this week’s news, though trading in one set of uncertainties for another.
I am ultimately confident in the staying power of name-brand news: and my project is banking on it. For now, the Nytimes remains the standard bearer for serious branded print news in the English speaking world. They cant do it alone, but their survival is key for others making it too. And whatever the merits of the metered approach, it seems clear they can’t survive by giving it away. At the end of the day, if you run a business that is broken you must work urgently to fix it. Anyone advising against change may ultimately not have your best interest at heart. This was how Steven Berlin Johnson put it in a tweet yesterday: “Baffled by why-punish-your-fans arguments against Times meter. What’s wrong with extracting value from people who find value in what you do?”
Furthermore, it is a fallacy repeated often these past few days that the Times produces so-called “generic” or “commodity” news. This is probably true 70 percent of the time, ie, you can find the wire version of some times story. But think of the near daily scoops last fall from Dexter Filkins in Afghanistan. Of stories broken in DC that drive the debate for days. Unique features from halls of power and hard to reach places, and of course the weeks/months/long investigative pieces…all reported/written/edited by top professionals.
I also do not agree with Jay Rosen’s assertion that NYtimes journalists’ driving goal is to reach as many people as possible. Instead, I believe, it is simply to be able to continue to do their work to the best of their ability with the proper means necessary. Influence, which was hardly in short supply at the Times before the news reached tens of millions online, is always a relative and often immeasurable thing. Cranking out a good story – and letting the chips fall where they may – is what it’s ultimately about. So long as there’s tomorrow.