Seth Godin asks what we’ll miss about printed newspapers

Paul Raven @ 16-01-2009

newspapersWhen newspapers are gone, what will you miss? asks Seth Godin. His answer? Not a great deal. He takes the opposite view to the journalists who tell us that the ‘proper’ investigative journalism will be killed off by the migration to the web:

… if we really care about the investigation and the analysis, we’ll pay for it one way or another. Maybe it’s a public good, a non profit function. Maybe a philanthropist puts up money for prizes. Maybe the Woodward and Bernstein of 2017 make so much money from breaking a story that it leads to a whole new generation of journalists.

The reality is that this sort of journalism is relatively cheap (compared to everything else the newspaper had to do in order to bring it to us.) Newspapers took two cents of journalism and wrapped in ninety-eight cents of overhead and distraction.

The obvious response here, especially from anyone in journalism, is going to be “well, what the hell does Godin know about running a newspaper?” I can’t answer that question, but I do know that Godin understands marketing, economics and human nature pretty well, and I have to say there’s something very logical about what he’s saying.

Or am I just being sold the story I want to hear? [image by drb62]

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4 Responses to “Seth Godin asks what we’ll miss about printed newspapers”

  1. Jonathan M says:

    I think the problem is that regardless of whether or not moving papers online SHOULD kill off more resource-intensive articles, it clearly is.

    In fact, it’s killing off even non-resource-intensive articles like newspaper coverage of books and films whilst encouraging the production of easy to churn out editorials and celeb stories cut and pasted from press releases.

    What’s worse is that the internet has really struggled to fill the gap left by those newspaper services. Are there websites out there doing investigative reporting and long-view analysis? there are blogs that self-publish the latter to a certain extent but without editorial oversight or fact-checking. Even pay review sites struggle to keep themselves afloat unless they’re willing to go down the GameSpot route of climbing into bed with advertisers.

    I think the problem is that while I may not be willing to subscribe to a site devoted to investigative journalism or reviewing, I’ll happily pay 50p day and get a little bit of that and some other stuff that might peak my interest in a form I can carry around with me.

    I’d be the first to say that old media’s reaction to the internet has been wrong-headed (only the Guardian are close to getting it right and they’re run at a loss and always have been) but that reaction has taken place. To deny that newspapers have cut back on investigative reporting etc because of the internet is to live in cloud cuckoo land.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    I don’t think he’s denying they’ve cut back; he’s saying that the market will settle when the turbulence settles down. New models take a while to emerge.

  3. Jonathan M says:

    Sure, but I don’t think we can take for granted the idea that the results will be positive.

    For example, the BBC used to be cloaked in this Reithian idea that they should put out what was “good for people” and this lead to plays and other cool stuff. Nowadays, though free, the BBC chase eye-balls and the result is celebrity-obsessed nonsense and reality TV.

    At what point does optimism become blind faith?

  4. Rachel says:

    Seth Godin is great at realizing just because a medium like the newspaper once worked doesn’t mean it always will. He recently reviewed a book called ‘EXPLOITING CHAOS’ by Jeremy Gutsche that I think is a great example of the innovative thinking. The book has a website at http://www.exploitingchaos.com I think is definitely worth checking out.