A friend sent me a funny video: Mark Fiore’s “Old vs. New” is a debate between a crusty old newspaper and a too-perky laptop over what best constitutes news gathering in the age of Twitter. Newspaper stresses its historic role in uncovering and combating corruption; Laptop, the wired world’s flexibility and freedom of information access.
“I know how to monetize, and collect micro-payments,” Laptop says.
“I need macro-payments!!” Newspaper cries. “I’m laying off good journalists here!”
“And have been for years while trying to satisfy corporate’s hunger for double-digit profits,” Laptop retorts. Touché.
It’s true that newspapers’ former monopoly on the news made them bloated cash cows just waiting for technology to knock them off their slippery perch. It’s also true that this very same monopoly allowed them to shine a light on abuses of power—public or private, local, state or national—far more effectively than any digital publication can today. While the Texas Tribune does great work, it is necessarily niche in a way that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in its heyday, was not. Plus, as a 501(c)3, the Tribune does not enjoy the resources of traditional newspapers. It’s hoping it can just break even.
As I’ve written before, one answer for traditional media is to stop looking down on micro-payments. As the music industry learned the hard way, if you want people to pay, you need to make it easy for them. This means offering paid daily access on NYTimes.com, not just expensive digital subscriptions. It means selling articles, e-books and archives, and figuring out how to capitalize on print in creative new ways.
As Newspaper and Laptop reveal at the end of the video, both often find themselves running a little low on cash. The failure of any one digital news site to corner the market on anything is traditional media’s great opportunity. Unlike the old days, one business behemoth has not been replaced by another; the playing field is even, and, as terms like “traditional” and “new” begin to lose their meaning, the spoils will go to any player who can master the multiplatform marketplace.