What would Google do?

With apologies to Jeff Jarvis. Google’s YouTube is on track to lose $470 million this year, notes Boston Globe reporter Emily Sweeney on her blog. Why can’t the New York Times Co. find geniuses like that to run the Globe?

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The wrong solution to the wrong problem

No doubt David Carr’s column in today’s New York Times is going to get a lot of attention. Carr takes a look at the triCityNews of Monmouth, N.J., a small alternative weekly that is thriving, supposedly because it doesn’t put any of its content online.

I don’t have a fully formed reaction, but I do have some observations that should provide some context.

  • It’s hardly a secret that small newspapers are still making money, especially if they haven’t been burdered with the crushing debt that chain ownership often brings. Nor does putting content online have much of an effect on the print circulation of small papers. The triCityNews would probably be doing fine even if it had a robust Web site — especially since the print edition is free.
  • Large papers aren’t doing as badly as you think, either. Tribune Co.’s headline-grabbing bankruptcy was due entirely to the $13.6 billion in debt it’s carrying, the result of two ill-conceived mergers. In fact, the company’s newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, would be operating at a profit were it not for the debt.
  • The most lucrative part of any newspaper, large or small, used to be its classified-ad section. That’s gone forever, mainly because of Craigslist, which will continue to thrive regardless of the triCityNews’ online strategy.
  • Even so, free online editions may slowly be moving toward profitability. Jeff Jarvis reports that the LA Times’ Web site revenue is greater than the cost of its news-gathering operation, suggesting that the print edition could be scrapped at some point. I suspect it’s not quite that simple. But it’s not hopeless, either.

Carr wants that newspaper executives to rethink the whole notion of putting their content online for free. Carr’s a sharp guy, but in this case I think he’s proposing the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

Jeff Jarvis and the future of media

I took a pass on the recent dust-up between Slate columnist Ron Rosenbaum and new-media advocate Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis can drive me up a wall, and I thought Rosenbaum made some good points about Jarvis’ Web triumphalism. At the same time, Jarvis is a valuable source of ideas, and, frankly, I have no interest in pissing him off.

But I can’t recommend strongly enough a long profile of Jarvis that appears in the current New York Observer. Written by the Observer’s media columnist, John Koblin, the piece is deep as well as sympathetic to Jarvis’ point of view — yet Jarvis’ critics have their say, too.

If you are looking for a good overview on the state of the news business — and especially the struggling newspaper business — then you need to read Koblin’s article.

And by the way, I can’t help but observe, Jarvis-style, that Koblin’s article would be better still if he and his editors had made the extra effort to link to what he was writing about.

A world without editors

Jeff Jarvis argues in his Guardian column that editors are becoming obsolete. These days, he says, we write first and edit later, often in response to what our readers tell us.

The Jarvis system works for a certain type of journalism (mainly short, bloggy-type stuff like this), but it wouldn’t work for everything. I can’t imagine a major investigative series coming together without deep involvement on the part of skilled editors. Then again, that’s the sort of journalism most endangered in the current environment.

And it would seem to me that an editor whose intervention prevented a libel suit has just covered her salary for the next five years.

Beyond convention wisdom

Jack Shafer of Slate and Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine are both arguing that the media ought to stop covering the national political conventions.

Their reasons are obvious. The nominees have been chosen entirely through the primaries since the 1970s, so there is literally no news coming out of them except for the acceptance speeches of the vice presidential and presidential candidates. I understand the point. But I would make two counterarguments.

First, what better place is there for the three cable news networks to be? The prime-time line-ups of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC consist mainly of talk shows with a heavy political bent. The conventions give them a chance to do what they do, only at a higher level and with a larger audience. Nothing wrong with that.

Second, the conventions are filled with interesting stories, though very few of them take place inside the hall. Yes, I’d agree that having 15,000 reporters on hand to cover the same thing is nuts, but that’s not what they ought to be doing. Maybe 10,000 of them ought to go home (perhaps I don’t disagree with Shafer and Jarvis after all), but the other 5,000 ought to get outside and look for stories.

In 2000, I was at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, on assignment for the Boston Phoenix, when similar complaints arose about the news-free nature of the event. I wrote about what the media should have been covering rather than whining about the dullness of the proceedings. I’d say the same thing today.