Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why the MSM is struggling

Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber neatly sums up why the traditional MSM are losing money hand-over-fist (The Telegraph, for instance, is apparently losing £200,000 a week).
What works in today’s web landscape are lean and mean organizations with little or no management bureaucracy—operations where nearly every employee is working on producing actual content. I’m an extreme example—a literal one-man show. A better example is Josh Marshall’s TPM Media, which is hiring political and news reporters. TPM is growing, not shrinking. But my understanding is that nearly everyone who works at TPM is working on editorial content.

Old-school news companies aren’t like that—the editorial staff makes up only a fraction of the total head count at major newspaper and magazine companies. The question these companies should be asking is, “How do we keep reporting and publishing good content?” Instead, though, they’re asking “How do we keep making enough money to support our existing management and advertising divisions?” It’s dinosaurs and mammals.

Quite.

Increasingly over the last few months, in particular, people have asked me whether I think that blogs are going to kill the MSM. I don't believe that they will, partly because, as many have pointed out, many of us are parasitic on the MSM itself.

However, I do think that the days of highly-paid opinion columnists are numbered—even more so as devices such as the iPhone make it easier to read online whilst on-the-go.

Should you find good blogs, the comment in the blogosphere is just as sharp—and often considerably more informed—than that in the MSM. Furthermore, those opinion-writers are not on a salary of £100,000 plus.

To put it another way, the fact is that Polly Toynbee and her ilk are dead ducks. Or, of course, it will be the businesses that employ Polly and her ilk which die.

Instead, I believe that the MSM companies should slim down their operations considerably—to become, as Gruber describes it, "lean and mean organizations with little or no management bureaucracy"—operations where nearly every employee is working on producing actual content"—and refocus their efforts where they have competitive advantage—in proper, verifiable reporting and news-gathering.

Otherwise, I cannot see how they will survive—no business can lose £200,000 a week forever...

12 comments:

Martin said...

no business can lose £200,000 a week forever...

Except for Government, Ltd.

captainff said...

Polly will have to rely on her income from fakecharities like this one then? Although as Martin just pointed out above the business model that funds them makes £200,000 per week seem like peanuts in comparison

Anonymous said...

A pedantic point but isn’t it lame ducks and dead in the water? Though dead ducks seem to be proliferating these days.

Dodgy Geezer said...

"..However, I do think that the days of highly-paid opinion columnists are numbered..."

I can't follow the argument on this one. You say that bureaucratic organisations will die, and the survivors will be lean content producers. Polly, for example, is a content producer, as are all 'highly-paid opinion columnists'. If anything, their days are increasing. It is the standard office worker in a dead tree press who will go to the wall...

Andy "Amnesiac" Coulson said...

I'm sorry, I don't remember that. I didn't see anything.

Yes, I can remember to forget too.

James Higham said...

Increasingly over the last few months, in particular, people have asked me whether I think that blogs are going to kill the MSM. I don't believe that they will, partly because, as many have pointed out, many of us are parasitic on the MSM itself.

We were talking about this and the need for a news source channeller once the newspapers go under but still - they'll stay online.

David Davis said...

Don't worry about Polly - she has "enough money" for her life as she wants it to be.

There is no way to hurt her sadly. Not now, it is too late, and too late to hurt the ones like her unless they are very young say under 45 and still have student debts.

But £200,000 a week is only £10 million a year. You have to ask how much the association the barclay Bros think they have with the Enemy Class is worth?

£10 million? (50 weeks)
£100 million? (about 10 years)
£1,000 million? (about a century)
(Call their bankers at about this point I think...)

thefrollickingmole said...

Any indications on what will happen to newspaper job ads in the event of a Tory win at the election? Cameron could cut the Lab mob off from their propaganda unit at the guardian by switching job ads to on-line.

That would leave the gruinaid (and others) with much less guaranteed income to budget on. Might speed up some of that slimming down you are talking about.

I strongly suspect it has been used as a back channel form of pay for comment for a long time. The same job ad "has to be advertised each week for 2 monthsin order to allow maximum exposure to applicants". My hairy arse, thats at least 1&1/2 months payment for nothing.

FlyingRodent said...

Until man overcomes his basic natural need to take a dump every now and then, there shall be newspapers.

That is all.

Deadbeat Dad said...

It's only a couple of years or so since The Independent abandoned pay-per-view for editorial content.

The only reason I'd want to read columnists like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Joan Smith or Deoborah Orr is to take issue with them. The imbecility of these people is the reason I don't buy the hard copy any more as a matter of principle (it only encourages them), so the chances of me paying for it online are zero to none.

As DK indicates, we still need a strong media to serve hard news, accurately reported. Perhaps this might be paid for through ISPs in the form of an optional supplement (in the same way as we currently buy packages of broadcast content). On those terms, I'd be prepared to pay a couple of quid extra a month to have access to a selection of news services along the lines of the BBC website.

marksany said...

If Polly is gone I will be celebrating. Richard Murphy will still provide the entertainment.

Reading this blog, with my iPhone, whilst sitting on the bog - who needs a newspaper.

wapping escapee said...

"Instead, though, they’re asking “How do we keep making enough money to support our existing management and advertising divisions?” It’s dinosaurs and mammals."

May well be so but at NI the model is 50/50 cover price/advertising, so supporting the advertising division is protecting half your revenue. And thats just the print side as the online side never has, and never will, make any money despite what anyone from NI tells you. Where that leads is the insanity of outsourcing their entire IT to India (just about completed) and losing some of the very people responsible for (and capable of supporting) streamlining to the extreme the production process i.e. cutting down on the people who used to make plates etc. Even an online operation depends on its delivery mechanism working correctly and consistently and whilst a one-man band like DK can farm this successfully, its not necessarily feasible for an operation producing a regular multi-faceted production to pretend it can be majority content-producers with a thin layer of management above.