Our Real Problem: The Death of the News Package

The problem we have to face up to is that just sticking a paywall
around what we used to do will not solve our problems on its own (and by decreasing page views, may harm ad revenue and make things worse…. ) We actually have
to re-evaluate what we do from the ground up and separate those things
that were an inherent quality of print from those that are an inherent
quality of journalism. (Hint: if your job has “news” or “features” in
the title, you’re still defined by print.)

Some of our most sacred cows are due for the slaughter, I suspect. I find this post by Chris Alden, now CEO of blogging platform compny Six Apart, but formerly the guy behind Red Herring magazine, compelling in the context of this discussion:

I think hiding behind “expert” quotes is one of the bad
habits of professional journalism and ranks up there with “anecdotes”
as one of the most abused methods for injecting a story bias. A story
bias is when the writer has the story concept first, and then gets the
anecdotes, quotes, and statistics to make the case. The bias can be
left or right, up or down, but usually it’s in favor of the salacious
or exciting story, and against the dull “nothing to see here” story
which is more often than not the reality. Even those journalists that
can resist an ideological bias often have a hard time resisting a story
bias — because without a story they don’t have a job. It’s an inherent

The sobering truth is that journalists no longer have anything near a
monopoly on access to publishing tools. We can no longer define
ourselves by the narrow information channel, the page count and the
lead story. The internet has destroyed the existing structure of our
profession and we need to find a new one. And the reflexive habits of
our profession, shaped by the need to produce a package, need to pass
away with our old business model.

  • Another great post.

    I think there is too much blame placed on the Internet for this. The problem began with 24 hour news on TV.

    For those of us who like news, we thought this meant more detailed, thoughtful reporting – the birth of a golden age of journalism.

    Unfortunately it has led to less news, and a constant demand for the next story, even when there isn’t one.

    Then you combine the reality TV phenomena and UGC and we’ve got news networks filling up countless days with vacuous non-news. And from that point, it’s easy to conclude that people don’t want news, or aren’t interested in topics.

    One of the main problems is that journalists no longer build any relationship with the reader – there is no trust. Because there is only editorial and very little actual investigation, our press is filled with comment and no insight. When somebody actually does get some news, every other publication and news network jumps on it and flogs it to death until nobody cares any more or ridiculous actions are taken to shut everyone up (e.g. MP expenses).

    I hope that somebody in publishing will stand up and say “we are going to stand for news.” Then perhaps we will see if you are right and people don’t want news anymore, or whether there is actually a market of people becoming increasing disillusioned with ‘news’.

  • good post – the internet basically delivers package-less journalism, making sorting out your paywall pricing sums a bit of a nightmare for News Corp I suggest … in another way I think this is what Jeff Jarvis was talking about when he made his new ‘rule’ for online newspapers: “cover what you do best, link to the rest”. Don’t focus on the whole package as people won’t consume it anyway. Just do what you do that is differentiated and valuable and link to other publishers for the other stuff

  • What’s interesting, whether packaged or not, is whether people are losing the listings and detailed information which they used to get from their local newspaper, such as lost pet adverts, charity fair announcements and council meeting times.

    If these things can be covered by hyperlocal start-ups then great. But they were valuable information sets which were part of the paper package and haven’t been easily transferred to online counterparts.

    Perhaps we could also stop talking about the death of things, and look at the births and re-births of old-school traditions in new wrapping with new methods of delivery.

  • This is exactly what I told the select committee on the future of the regional press yesterday: that all this talk about selling content overlooks the fact that people never paid for news, they paid for newspapers. And no publisher has come up with a compelling online package to replicate that. For that reason I would bet more on the events- and discounts-based community packages being looked at by The Guardian and Times+ than any content-based strategy.

    I’ll also be making the same point very strongly at next week’s AOP event on microlocal monetisation.

  • Ah, Paul, you shame me. Here I am, pontificating on my blog, while you’re busy telling truth to power… 😉

  • Oh, I believe that people want news. I just believe that our vision of it is significantly at variance with what people actually want. Once of the most rewarding parts of my job has been watching journalists start reporting in a positive feedback loop with their audience, responding and reacting to requests for news from their readers on forums, blogs and Twitter. The folks at Farmers Weekly are really good at this.

  • Hi Adam. I completely agree with the point you’re making here and have written as much myself:
    For me, it’s all about thinking of content as a service. Sticking a paywall around stuff that already exists and people can access elsewhere for free won’t work. Repackaging, delivering value around the content, will. IMHO at least anyway.
    Good post.

  • This has interesting implications for page design/linking etc. Can we recreate these content packages on each page a person arrives at (i.e. every page on a site) by judicious use of links to interesting features, news, community pages? And we could also link to other sites that are related, making them part of a wider package (this would also help provide context – another debate that needs to be had). In effect can we apply Jeff Jarvis’s maxim at a micro/page level as well as a macro/site level?

  • I also think we should include ‘a relationship’ in our concept of the package – that’s why people are willing to pay journalists like Christopher Allbritton to go to Iraq because the ‘package’ they get is so much more than just news, but a social experience. One of my former students, Gareth Main, runs Bearded Magazine on a similar model – you pay for the package of being part of the community, not just the printed product.

  • Katherine Warman Kern

    Clearly we are in a phase when we are focused on understanding THE PROBLEM, a necessary step in the process to innovation.

    Let’s say THE PROBLEM is, as Paul Bradshaw says, people never paid for news they paid for newspapers. Which I think is very consistent with what you are saying about packaging.

    I very much agree that so far internet technology has been used to cut costs, but there is so much more technology could do (http://bit.ly/8nN7h7)

    I also agree with Paul Bradshaw above that relationships is key to packaging.

    Think about it this way. What were the benefits of “Packaged” news – many are relationship oriented for different contexts – being aware of what’s important in the community, politically, socially, and culturally, being aware of what your peers are reading and basing their opinions on so you know how your opinions may be relevant to theirs, etc., etc.

    The point is that maybe the way information is packaged traditionally by a local newspaper has less value on the internet.

    Many seem to assume that the global perspective on a context “trumps” the local. Many assume that news “trumps” historical perspective.

    But, I suggest that comes from the way information used to be organized. I suspect people still care more about information that is relevant to a personal, real world relationship. These tend to be local.

    We think it is important to bridge the real, local world with the broader, virtual, global world – a sort of bottom up approach where the goal is not to have as many “followers” as possible, but to be able to discern between the connections that have mutual benefit, with whom there is a reason to collaborate.

    Katherine Warman Kern

  • It’s a really interesting point to think about the notion of bundling within a newspaper. Each reader will value different sections differently, and it is inevitable that the excess utility some readers will get from the cheaper elements (such as the crossword) cross-subsidise some of the more expensive elements (such as foreign news). Online, this is far more difficult to achieve.

  • Hi Adam. Hope you’re well. Just to let you know that I shortlisted this excellent post in the Post Of The Month vote I run over on Only Dead Fish…

  • In early 2008 I tried to teach a first year intro to journalism course based on the assumption that the news-based journalism model by which most universities structure their journalism courses and degrees would not be relevant when in 2011 these students would hopefully graduate. The students were upset that the course did not conform to the long existing romantic fantasy of being a journo. I was employed as a casual academic and was not asked back to teach the course. ha!

    My rationale was based on my phd research into enthusiast magazines. I could see similarities between the media-audience relation of enthusiast magazines/web/etc and newspapers/web/etc.

  • I had noticed. 🙂

    Many thanks…