Why Newspapers Need To Fail

Rather than having the courage, willingness and fortitude to adapt and change with the times, the newspaper industry is instead, taking a much more old-boys club approach to finding ways to get back into financially flourishing.  The latest cry is that we should allow them to violate U.S. antitrust laws…  It’s sickening, deplorable, and  though they claim that their failure would be threat to democracy, the TRUTH is that allowing them THEIR way would be the real threat to democracy…

Tim Rutten, in his latest opinion piece at the LA Times, jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of the panic-stricken print media today calling for the Obama administration to turn a blind eye to the antitrust ambitions of that group of old-guard old-boys.  Since this is now a trend building great momentum, I felt compelled to chime in.  Not because I’m a journalist with a voice in the matter – in fact, I am not a journalist.  I am, instead, just another American citizen who happens to have been a visionary from the early days, when it comes to the Internet.  I am also a staunch supporter of all that is great in America, and oppose bully tactics on all fronts…

NOTE -Since there didn’t seem to be a way to do so directly at their site in any type of comment area, I’ve contacted Mr Rutten by email inviting his reply.  It would be nice to have a dialogue on the subject….

Mr. Rutten essentially regurgitates what several in his industry have been spewing lately. (How odd- a “journalist” who just repeats what all his buddies write)  That since print media is now obviously on a road to ruin, they should have the right to conspire, so that they may reap the financial reward that comes from monopolistic behavior, much like the oil cartels in how they manipulate the price of a barrel of oil.

At one point, he states:

“Readers — and democracy itself, which depends on a vigorously free and independent press — will be the ultimate losers.”

Well, Mr. Rutten’s article is an entertaining read.  That’s for sure. He and his colleagues have been using terminology and words that evoke fear, panic and a sense that America itself will die if they don’t get their way.  Kind of like the Republican Party did during the last election cycle.  And Dick Cheney is doing now. (though in my opinion, he’s doing that because he doesn’t want to go to jail, which is another story altogether…) (and no, I’m not a bleeding heart liberal.  I would have loved to have been able to vote for decorated war hero Colin Powell for president, because I feel he’s got the healthiest mix of views of just about anyone these days…)

Here’s where I have a problem with Mr Rutten’s whole premise.  (one mind you, that no major print media journalist has the guts to cover in depth because that would threaten their paychecks even if it would be true investigative journalism…)

First, the Internet has been around for a long time now.  Some of us recognized what it is and where it’s headed long ago.  I myself, on the very first day I was introduced to the world wide web in January of 1995, instantly understood the potential, and in that living room of a friend in Felton California that winter afternoon, knew that the Internet was the future, and in fact, my future.

Because I acted on that intuition, I’ve been an Internet professional ever since.  It’s been an amazing and wild ride.  Ups and downs have come in all sorts of ways.  And I know of what I speak when I mention things like “adapt and change with the times if you want to survive and hopefully thrive”.  It was because of that mentality that I was able to ride out the dot-com bust.  And it’s why I’ve continued to adapt and change how and what I do as an Internet professional all along.

Has it been an easy ride?  You tell me.

At my first financial peak, 1999, I brought in $139,000.  After the bust, in 2001, I brought in $12,000.  While that was extremely humbling,  it just drove me harder to find new ways to monetize my passion for the Internet.

Over these 14 plus years, I’ve had to learn HTML – versions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 4.1.  I’ve had to learn the essentials of Javascript, XML, ActionScript, Flash, Photoshop, FTP,  XHTML, CSS, ColdFusion, PHP, IIS, SEO, and SEM.  Over the years, I’ve had to become intimately knowledgeable on Email marketing, Spam prevention, Social Networking, affiliate networking, and of course, blogging.

Nobody forced me to learn any of that.  It’s been by my choice, gladly, because I have understood the concept “adapt or die”.

And the Internet has been my passion since the beginning.  I have no formal programming training, I didn’t graduate with any technology degree (in fact I have no college degree – I’ve been working out in the world since I was 17.  My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, and my high school guidance counselor spent a grand total of 10 minutes with me my entire high school span, so I had nobody helping guide me back then).

Yet I’ve worked hard.  Very hard.  For many years.  Late into the night.

Because I embrace the Internet so completely, so thoroughly, I learned early on that if you truly want to succeed on the Internet, all you need to do is reach out to those who have come before you and succeeded in whatever path you are wanting to be on.  And they’ll gladly, freely share with you tips, suggestions, insights on what has and what has not worked for them.   They don’t conspire with you.  They teach you how to fish for yourself.

And most of what I have learned has come to me because I’ve found it freely, thank you very much, available online.  There to read, download, and learn from.

See, that’s the beauty and power of the web.  It’s the single most potent vehicle in the history of humankind as far as being able to empower humans who might not otherwise have been able to afford to pay for that empowerment.  People who want to learn just about anything, including how to adapt and change.

Oh yes – there are plenty of things we need to pay for online.  Essentially it’s got to do with superior quality, and more comprehensive content.  Heck, even Mr. Rutten admits that some entities like the Wall Street Journal have found ways to monetize very high quality deep content.  And to boot, he also refers to the fact that news media apparently raked in $447 million in online revenue last year.

What?  They made money online?  Hundreds of millions of dollars?

Yep.  Except that’s not nearly enough to help pay for the thousands of people who currently work in the print news industry.  They expect that they’ll need to make billions online if they are to survive the inevitable shift. And as of late, they’re working to get Google to pay for at least a big chunk of that.

Well that’s the rub Mr. Rutten.  Your industry failed to fully embrace the Internet more than a decade ago.  For the most part, your industry’s leaders have apparently been too myopic, or too arrogant or too lazy perhaps, to find a way to adapt even though the writing’s been on the wall for so many years.  And you still to this day, refuse to even consider that a dramatically smaller staffed group of niche market news outlets might in fact be both a much more focused and stellar bunch of journalists, let alone a dramatically much more highly profitable bunch.

No, heaven forbid tens of thousands should lose their income.  People who would, in that scenario, be obsolete.  Not needed.  Superfluous.  Actually, they wouldn’t – all anyone who loses their career in such a manner needs to do is learn to adapt and find new opportunities for themselves.  Is it painful?  Yes.  Does it take a huge toll on an individual or family?  Of course it does.  (See my experience from the year 2000 above). Yet due to the current financial crisis, people who, through no direct fault of their own, are having to do that right now – all across America, in all sectors.  But unlike them, your industry has gotten in this pickle through direct failure to take actionable steps based on sound business principles.

The bottom line here is this – deep-pocketed old-boy networks (wall-street, Detroit, and now print-media everywhere) find it easier to use fear-mongering and lawyers in suits when dealing with a potentially catastrophic event of their own making rather than the hard work and dedication it takes to adapt.  And since Congress (both parties thank you very much) consist of like minded people (read that – paid off under the table during their tenure in congress and as lobbyists afterward), we have a serious problem here people.

While I have no problem with individual news entities sharing their success stories with their peers, I have a serious problem when the entirety of the biggest players decides to get together so they can force that entire industry to stop giving news away in any form of any significance.  And I also think that how they do all they can to marginalize professional journalists who blog as independents is yet another major bully tactic to try and keep themselves relevant without adapting or embracing.

I encourage everyone who reads this to contact your members of Congress and express your outrage.  I did so yesterday – sent a  lengthy email out.  And I’d greatly appreciate you leaving a comment here – either letting me know how wrong I am or if you even agree a little… Because unlike the LA Time’s opinion column online, I believe it’s only proper to allow comments on an opinion piece article…  Call me crazy like that…

About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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One Comment

  1. Hi Alan, I totally agree with you. It’s adapt or die in the world we live in. Personally I could care less about newspapers–they lost relevance for me a long time ago. If I want news I go to the Internet for up-to-the-second news–not something 24 hours old.

    Newspapers are not useful anymore and allowing them to dictate the terms of their survival is like paying all these dinosaur companies billions of dollars to keep them out of bankruptcy: Ultimately it’s not good for anyone.

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