Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Look to future, not past, for digital 'do-over'

How can you tell old-media reps from the new-media ones?
  • They wear suits instead of T-shirts at industry conferences;
  • Few of them live-tweet at events;
  • They haven't heard of Chatroulette or use Foursquare.
Or so claimed some snarky observers on Twitter during the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors, which concluded today in Washington, D.C.

And, it appears, old-media types also would rather get a "do-over" on the just-concluded decade, when aggregators grabbed content from newspaper websites and made it widely accessible on the Internet.

"Do news execs know where their companies went wrong?" asked a headline at an online-journalism news site, reporting on a poll released at the conference. The survey, conducted in December and January by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, showed that members of ASNE and the Radio Television Digital News Association are worried about their operations' sustainability.

Asked what they could have done differently in the past decade (see chart), many editors in particular said they should have invested in new technology sooner and should have put their papers' online content behind a paywall.

Source: Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism
"These answers could indicate that perhaps many of today’s news industry execs still don’t quite grasp what caused their companies to fall on hard times," said Amy Gahran, who posted the "Do execs know" item on the Knight Digital Media Center site. Her concern: their thinking could hamper old-media's adoption of new-media strategies in the future.

Indeed, "Charging for Digital Content: Fix or Folly?" was a topic for discussion yesterday at the ASNE conference, when two media executives and two media observers debated paywalls and other suggestions (philanthropy, government assistance, pledge drives) for propping up traditional -- but declining -- revenue from print ads.

They split evenly, 2-2, on whether free access to online content should be curtailed. The pro-paywall side had some support from the Pew survey, which found 10 percent of respondents working on charging fees for access, while 32 percent are considering the idea. (Of the others, 11 percent rejected the idea and 35 percent haven't even considered it.)

But Jim Brady, a former editor who is heading up a soon-to-launch online local-news site in the D.C. area, called paywalls "more folly than fix" because they ask people to pay for something they don't want to pay for.

Instead, he and Ken Doctor, a media analyst, said editors and broadcasters should develop strategies to charge for news access via mobile phones -- where more and more Web traffic is expected to shift in the near future and where smartphone users already are accustomed to paying for apps.

They said that's a better do-over than trying to take back content already set free by the aggregators.

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