Strong opinions, weakly held

David Simon is wrong about the news

One assertion I’ve seen David Simon make in multiple places is that newspapers blew it by not charging for online access to their content when they could.

I think he’s just wrong about that, as does former newspaperman Scott Rosenberg:

I always saw print journalism as doomed. I loved it anyway, the way you might love a beautiful old car whose engine leak is too costly to repair. There was no way to know how much longer the old newspapers would run, but — outside of exceptional cases like the Times and the Journal, which face their own struggles — they plainly weren’t going to run forever. When the opportunity to leave for the Web came along in 1995, I took it without hesitation.

Here we are, a dozen years later, and only now does it seem to be dawning on many newsroom veterans that the entire industry missed the boat. Simon blames narrow-minded executives, and they are surely at fault, but they were also stuck in a transition that was bound to overpower them. Complaining that newspapers should have charged for their online wares “when they had the chance” is foolish and self-deluding — like wondering why you missed the chance to boost your restaurant’s profits by charging for air. That model was never going to work.


  1. I’d think there’s tons to be made via advertising on old content. These papers and magazines with 100+ years of content in their archives are sitting on an immensely valuable resource that really should be made available publicly. I think they could make enough off the ad sales to pay for the data entry, and maybe hire an archive-blogger to link to the truly interesting stories from over the years as things are converted.

    Of course, 12-13 years ago web advertising was not so clearly valuable as it has become. I don’t think newspapers have lost the game yet. There’s still time to become locally relevant before Google or Yahoo come up with some truly compelling local content. That’s an area where I, living in small markets for most of the Internet area, see a huge opportunity for growth.

  2. That’s certainly the “long tail” approach to the problem.

  3. I certainly wouldn’t pay my local paper for online access to its crappier version of what top international papers do with worldwide coverage. but I would pay both local papers for access to their local coverage online — in fact, I’m totally reliant on their expertise for local news, but am unwilling to subscribe to even one daily paper (with its deluge of high-level crap), let alone two…

    there should be a way to make this work, keeping the locals alive for precisely what they do best. certainly, the inaccessability of their archives is something that should be addressed!

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