Washinton Post Modern
The Washington Post is being bought by an internet billionaire This Week in Review Why Bezos is buying the Washington Post, and what's next for it Nieman Journalism Lab. The billionaire in particular is Jeffery Bezos of Amazon, Bezos the disruptor, here buying into the old media. Almost like buying a small bookstore in a sleepy seacoast town -- and putting an Amazon.com logo over the lintel.
Amazon was a first generation internet company. Explicitly it moved across the land as brick and paper displacer. First bookstores then books themselves as e-readers came into their own. The internet, a network of screens, was a new distribution medium. One combining many of the best features of telephony television, and libraries and few of the worst. There was a great deal of low hanging fruit in those days, a great deal of money, fortunes to be made by those fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. I admit I placed Jeff Bezos along with Steve Case and many others too numerous to list into that category.
It's also not really possible to to assess the personality of Bezos as a measure of his new stewardship of the Washington Post. His other side projects The Odd Philosophy Behind Jeff Bezos's Weird Investments - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic the space missions and fantastic clocks show the fascinations of youth and wealth that has outstripped adult imagination.
I was also struck by the sheer volume of advice that came with the commentary, on the sale. More advice I imagine than billionaires are used to getting Jeff Bezos Should Run the Washington Post Like Amazon New Republic, Five things Jeff Bezos should do to reinvent the sinking ship that is the Washington Post - Tech News and Analysis mark a small portion of it, even former staff jumped in Mr. Bezos Goes to Washington (DC) | Politics & Prose Bookstore. That first article is by former FCC head Julius Genachowski. Briefly after this story broke some were saying this would increase the likelihood that Bloomberg will buy NY Times, or that the Koch brothers the LA Times. This remains to be seen.
Internet is many things. A sliding of the world into a new interactive communication medium. All of them making money in different ways. All too disparate to be regarded as a single comprehensible thing. An online bookstore is not online newspaper. Its not that simple. However well-run your information management and catalog system, your point-of-sale money and exchange system. It is not simply a content-management-system with a feeding system of reporters/editors shoveling words into the boilers all day long. Newspapers are the publishing industry in miniature. Yoked mostly to the special purpose of the new if not the novel. Any newspaper placed online will begin to adopt the behavior of an online aggregator. The pressure of ongoing events leads to collection and commentary even as resources engage with the occurrence.
Reminiscing the Paleolithic
The Washington Post was (and is) a "big" deal with genuine history Washington Post-Wikipedia A newspaper started in 1877 headed by privately then grudgingly publicly by a single family, the Grahams, in both matriarchal and patriarchal modes for eighty years. A major story broken that shook and shaped the entire nation; the Watergate scandal. A legendary editor, Ben Bradlee, who was as "big" as editors in the business ever were. Further as if that weren't enough going back into the dawn of the last century, they had their own theme song/march (I guess that's what they called walk-on-music back then) written by none less than John Paul Sousa.
Along the way the Post checked its rival, the Washington Star, into the boards and came away with its best columnists and in a show of magnanimity doubled its comics page to accommodate the majority of the Stars comics. This brought about the age of monopoly, as DC like most large US cities dropped to one daily and evening editions evaporated. There was the Washington Times, operating somewhere outside the economy, and it did have its impact, but the Post steadily assumed the mantle of paper of record of the Government of the United States Why the Sale of the Washington Post Seems So Significant - James Fallows - The Atlantic.
So why did Graham family give up now?. How did paper lose so much value worth only $ 250 million at the end, only $80 million for the Boston Globe the paper I grew up? Compare this for the prices obtained by Instagram and other internet services. You might conclude that valuation is not entirely rational or linear.
Before going into those questions its worth taking a brief look at what got sold to the Begums, and what didn't. Essentially only the single concern -- the Washington Post newspaper was sold. All other elements of the Washington Post company: real estate such as the headquarters building , the online magazine Slate, Kaplan reviews, and significantly Washington Post Labs all remain with the publicly traded company run by the Grahams. These presumably are all normal business that will continue to respond adequately to market conditions. It is the the paper that is going private and stepping outside shareholder scrutiny and demand.
Strength through failure is overrated
The failings of the Washington Post (and other big city papers) is both obvious in its generalities and puzzling in its particulars. It is like finding yourself outrun by a glacier. Daily newspapers find themselves joined at their morning swim by modern media types and paced by the velocity of news. Newspapers have faced decades of semi competition from first radio, then television, and television's multiverse changeling; cable -- which freed television from the need to be broadly compelling. Finally (the) internet: near the entire corpus of human information digitally distributed among the set of joined file spaces. The internet is hardly a single static thing having taken many forms already, a communication growing through clients thick and thin out of the marriage of computation and telephony. There is no more focus to it than there is to the world Online news hasn't killed newspapers.
From my day job, as a clerk matching existing MARC bibliographic records to existing books, par of which involves cataloging books from the broadcast archives at the University of Maryland (a collection of radio and television era material) Mass Media & Culture, UMD Libraries. I know that radio and television had to prove their advertising model and the mix of information and entertainment that carried it into households, prove it in a more rigorous way than newspapers were expected to, particularly at the time. They didn't just have to figure it out once either -- as each technical cascade of innovation erupted and layered the landscape with another strata of ash everything adjusted again. Television changed radio. fm changed am, as the telephone changed telegraph.
Another factor that has disadvantaged traditional print newspapers is the emergence of the the 24 hr and sub-24 hour news cycle. Inevitable as it seems it always struck me as caused by capacity as much as called by some necessity. Most don't need constant news the subjects of news need nothing from them, but radio and television are always on the air and cable news made every minute a news minute.
It was a differentiation point; a selling point and through the mechanistic tyranny of the clock and the competition of hours news escaped beyond morning and evening editions to become as necessary as oxygen to modern life. All politics and business. Mass disasters and other calamities, a subset of news, of course don't wait for day parts to occur and serve to demonstrate the part of journalism's mandate that information (profession and infrastructure) is safety and a public good. It's worth pointing out that sports news has played its part in real-time reporting as well.
The sense of being overwhelmed by the news is a by product of the merging of news and analysis. Getting more of the why and what in the news is a good concept, but masks the difference between information and understanding. Commentary inside the twenty-four hour news cycle rarely adds to the latter.
The main factor that affected the newspaper business is the collapse of the advertising model Collapse of Print Advertising in 1 Graph - The Atlantic 2012 Derek Thompson. An often mention adjunct to this is their failure to guard the classifieds . Paper's late secret: classifieds were a tremendous cash cow. Classifieds would have had to move online in whole or part before Craig's list or E bay to have kept that game. Likely even the expectations Craig's List itself had at time would not have generated sufficient foresight of disruption to see this. A more obvious error perhaps is that newspapers never tried to connect their classifieds strongly to their brand, before they encountered competition.
The moment of truth for advertising revenue flow was the revolt of advertisers on the web. Already online advertisers were attracting a different national local split that the print versions. National brands -- cars -- internet travel services. Tiny vague non-local ads didn't measure well with consumers and fueled a spill-over skepticism leading to an inability to appeal to advertisers that benefit most from big time-sensitive ads. Newspapers are simply a very different from a web page. They are permanent physical objects. You probably don't, generally, read the ads at the same time you read the news, but you remember they're there. There is an attention offset, you've scanned them as you go, and will go back to them if you need them. The inability of online advertising to produce a believable return on investment with ongoing and subsequent doubts of the daily print newspaper reach represents lead to a fall of a house of cards for the newspaper business.
Looking back on it many see a subsidy effect by department store philanthropists. Paper's 2nd little secret: local businesses had been underwriting journalism.beyond nominal value for decades. As long as the cash flowed these beliefs by local business owners desiring recognition, in prestige, in community and other intangibles, made a certain sense.
Maybe what journalism wanted, what it always wanted was a Sugardaddy. A Daddy Warbucks with deep pockets. Perhaps journalism requires patrons like any other art or cultural catalyst. A sponsorship, if you'd prefer; the sort of public largess enjoyed by sport team owners. At any rate a comfortable equilibrium between interested parties, a consistent revenue stream from news consumers, and a mutual beneficial arrangement that all can see and value. Journalism will never be able to paywall itself off to freedom.
Transition and pivots
The Washington Post is undergoing a number of transitions simultaneously: ownership, decreased resources, digitalization of operations, transitioning away from paper. This last the most far reaching. Newspapers like the Post were always a bundle of services under a single banner, or brand. They were paper embedded in that medium like the ink that carried the message. The future isn't paper though. It seemed to me like they've know that for a decade. The paper slowly shrank, then withdrew then withdrew altogether. I refer to this as the Washington Post's Berliner era. Strictly speaking the Berliner format is 12.4 by 18.5 inches. If the Post never got that small, it certainly left the open plains of the American broadsheet behind. Graphically it was tight and balanced, but the comics became a microform.
My own experience, over the last decade is that the Post became much harder to buy. It disappeared from the familiar blue kiosk boxes, they lay empty or disappeared themselves. It became scarcer at stores around the University of Maryland. At the Student Union store there were lengthening hiatuses around various semester breaks. Eventually a few years ago now the Washington Post (Along with the Baltimore Sun, USA Today and NYT) just stopped coming.
Before the Post put up it's recent paywall I lived a double life between their paper and digital products. Paper on Sundays (from a 7-Eleven -- subscriptions didn't work out in my neighborhood). Paper at lunch on weekdays, when I had time. I was increasingly dependent on RSS feeds, but losing a sense of the paper as a whole in the process. When their first App came out I gave up weekday paper, I stopped imploring the convenience store at the U. Maryland to continue ordering the one solitary copy they seemed to buy. I read the paper on an iPod touch.
When their second App came out this Spring it was a greatly improved beast. It had comics; that's largely what I mean by that. More broadly ii had worked out a presentation of stories, features, photos and columns that did not leave half their identity on the doorstep. I accepted this as an acceptable form (I had an iPad by this time), and bought a digital subscription. although as a financial matter that meant giving up the civilizing ritual of the Sunday Paper.
Its unlikely I took that path alone or that the Post developed those Apps just to grab another percentage of readers. So another transition the Post is executing is the transition to mobil. In as many ways as this continues the transition from paper this represents the death of desktop, of strategies that depended on a browser and the open web.
The last transition the Post is trying to accomplish is the transition to mobile. This is as much the death of the desktop, of all the Post's website paywall and trapper-keeper strategies, as the death of paper. It is the birth of mobile.
What value the services sold by a enterprise like the Post? The public resists directly valuing it at full cost. Advertisements give information to people as consumers which reliably measures, up to a point, as traffic and sales for retailers. Smaller lesser mobile ads are also smarter targeted and potentially more able. Crafted, ideally, to be seamless with, even augment, the formal news content provided. The key of course is collection and sale of information about individuals through active tracking and data mining. Services existing on the web alone already sense this Why does Twitter buying MoPub matter? It's all about persistent identity and mobile ads Tech News and Analysis. To the corporations they belong to news divisions are simply fungible content.
The future is ubiquitous atomized news on platforms. People it is presumed want to know particular things, in reference to particular places, at particular times of day. The mobile web enables this. Engagement is achieved with this targeted news, but there is a considerable downside. This comes from siloing: confirmation bias, and a similar term the filter bubble developed by Eli Pariser. Both are related by a narrowing of received information: confirmation bias describes an internal human tendency to seek out and only retain information that reinforces what they already believe and what supports their current choice sets. The filter bubble is an external process where the institutions that deliver information to us through algorithms and simulacrums of ourselves only sort only pleasing conformations our way.
The ultimate value of news is not to the atomized individual, but to the community, to ad hoc groups to the society as a whole. The shared discussions and decisions they make. An ongoing dialog among ordinary people with each other in a virtual public sphere. Not as a decided fact from on high being learnt simultaneously. Not under the ageis guidence or control of government. As the governing, not governed.
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