These are some of the things that have caught my attention lately. It’s a more eclectic mix than just the news business, but then so’s life:
- Tom Engelhardt: The Axe, the Book, and the Ad | HuffPo — “In the style of some black hole, the vortex of the Internet has, for years, been sucking in young readers and, more important for the finances of journalism, ads, which account for four-fifths of all newspaper revenue (with disappearing classifieds accounting for half of that). Under the extra pressure of hard times, the decline in ad revenues is now turning into a deluge.”
- It Costs Digg $5 Million a Year to Run the Internet [Black Holes] — [I]t’s worth thinking about Digg’s numbers amidst the litany of complaints about the ink-on-newsprint business: newspapers coast to coast are seeing devastating declines in advertising revenue. The New York Times has mortgaged its headquarters. The Tribune Company has declared bankruptcy. And yet, even in their decline, newspapers remain prodigious generators of cash.cash. This moribund industry generated $13.7 billion in profit in 2007.
The same cannot be said of Digg, a site conceived by television host Kevin Rose as a replacement for the editors who pick headlines for readers.
- Interview with Clay Shirky, Part I | CJR — What the Internet has actually done is not decimate literary reading; that was really a done deal by 1970. What it has done, instead, is brought back reading and writing as a normal activity for a huge group of people.
Many, many more people are reading and writing now as part of their daily experience. But, because the reading and writing has come back without bringing Tolstoy along with it, the enormity of the historical loss to the literary landscape caused by television is now becoming manifested to everybody.
- Murder your darlings | Howard Weaver — I was at the think-tank session at Rand in 1987 that led to New Directions for News. It was the first time I’d ever worked with professional “facilitators,” the first time really that I knew such things existed. I was fascinated by their contention that that could apply the same principles across many industries to foster innovation, and asked one how working with newspapers compared with other clients.
“Great question,” he replied. “It’s so different. Everybody else just wants us to help improve their widget. Thy want a better widget or a faster widget or a cheaper widget. But you newspaper people are in love with your widgets.”
- Extinction-Level Television Event | NYTimes.com — The big networks have all been trending inexorably downward for years. Shows that pulled in an audience of 20 million or more viewers only a couple of years ago are now happy with numbers in the mid-to-high teens, and the acceptable slice of the demographic pie is getting ever narrower. (Expect a press release someday soon boasting that a reality show won its timeslot among redheaded girls ages 11 to 11 ½.)
As the audience shrinks and the networks increasingly program for niches instead of the general public, they resemble cable channels more and more.
There’s a lot to be said for the cable model, where lowered expectations and a smaller inventory of original programming has led to instant classics like “The Wire,” “The Shield” and “Mad Men.” But while “Mad Men” is a wonderful show, it gets two million viewers when the winds are calm and the planets are aligned. It’s in no danger of becoming such a big hit that people at the post office will laugh at your Freddy Rumsen impression.
- New popularity for Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’ | Los Angeles Times — [S]ignaling social alarms was long at the core of Dr. Seuss’ mission; over the years, he warned about fascism (“Yertle the Turtle”), conformity (“The Sneetches”) and nuclear proliferation (“The Butter Battle Book”). “Children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which the future of this country will rise. Or not rise,” he wrote in a 1960 essay. “Books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on earth.”
- The economics of comments | Window on the Media — My point is simply that a larger audience automatically leads to a conversation of lesser value, relative to the number of participants.