Browsing through Dan Farber's review of a recent Pew Research Center survey on news readership, I was reminded of one of the central tenets of blogging: blogging helps to destroy the business models powering its original source material:
While the Internet is growing as the place where people go for news, the revenue simply isn't catching up fast enough. The less obvious part of the Internet overtaking newspapers as the main source for national and international news is that much of the seed content--the original reporting that breaks national and international news and is subsequently refactored by legions of bloggers--comes from the reporters and editors working at the financially strapped newspapers and national and local television outlets.
I've long recognized this, and have taken my share of swipes at a new web mentality that celebrates aggregating largely amateur content, without providing the financial incentives to replace such content with professional content. But what to do about it?
Looking at my own readership patterns, I tend to read the front and back of magazines and newspapers. That is, I read the headlines (much of which derive from original research and authorship on the part of that publication) and the op-ed page. Everything else tends to be minor filler, "Associated Press" content that doesn't motivate me to purchase.
Is the new model for media to discard the AP and focus on original content?
I don't mean the model that The New York Times has taken, focusing on a publication that is almost entirely of its own making, nor the experiments that The Wall Street Journal is making.
Rather, I mean making media heavier in two core areas: the big stories that no one else can do better than a given publication, and the commentary on the big stories and everything else, because the commentary on the little stories arguably makes them much more interesting.
And so, TechCrunch thrives because its founder, Michael Arrington, is an industry player that has conversations with technology's movers and shakers that others get less often, if at all. I'd wager that people read The New York Times as much for its columnists as for its slant on the news. Ditto for The Wall Street Journal. I read Businessweek starting at the back, plowing through commentary and then usually giving up once I get to the "news."
Less filler, more killer: is this the new model?
If I'm not alone in how and what I read, then the answer to media's woes is to stop pretending to be all things to all people, and instead to significantly up investment in a limited but potent brew of original news reporting, focused in areas in which one's staff has competitive differentiation, as well as the best commentary for this and everything else.