Yesterday IÂ portrayed daily journalism as the dog that won’t hunt.Â Now aÂ Columbia Journalism Review article, Beyond News,Â offers a different take onÂ why newshoundsÂ may have gone astray.Â They continue toÂ act as if they’re delivering new informationÂ whenÂ mostÂ ofÂ what theyÂ publish has been broadcast, web cast orÂ gossip-cast before. Author Mitchell Stephens, aÂ New York University journalismÂ professor, saidÂ newspapers can no longer simply answer the five “W’s”Â — who, what, when, where and why. Instead, heÂ writes inÂ CJR:
“We will requireÂ . . .Â journalists who are impeccably informed. Letâ€™s call this one of the five Iâ€™s â€” a guide to what journalists (will)Â need to be, now that at least four of the old five Wâ€™s are more widely and easily available. Intelligent would be another, along with interesting and a holdover from the previous ethos: industrious. But the crucial quality is probably insightful.”Â
This article quotes Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of the British daily the Independent, deridingÂ the notion “that a newspaper is going to be peoples’ first port of call to find out what’s going on . . . you have to add another layer: analysis, interpretation, point of view.” Kelner calls the Independent a “viewspaper.”
What a provocative idea from a young paper with a bold story.Â But EuropeanÂ papers are generally moreÂ opinionated thanÂ their American counterparts.Â IsÂ mainstream journalismÂ in the United States ready for point of view? I hope theÂ CJR pieceÂ starts thatÂ debate.
* * *
Entrepreneurial journalism? While CJRÂ questions the canon of objectivity, the Sacramento Bee tinkers with theÂ price ofÂ news. The Bee, flagship ofÂ the McClatchy Company,Â has created a premium website calledÂ Capitol Alert. ForÂ $499 per yearÂ lobbyists and politicalÂ junkies will be able to getÂ “exclusive blogs, expanded columns, e-mail updates . . .Â (and viewing)Â three hours earlier than most of the next dayâ€™s paper appears online,” writes Paid Content.
It’sÂ a fascinating experiment rife with ethical pitfalls. Will people reallyÂ pay a premium just for faster access to the same political coverageÂ as would appear in the paper or the regular online product?Â I thinkÂ not.Â Vote-tradingÂ in Sacramento hardly proceeds at the same speed as stock trading on Wall Street so the time-value of political information would seem to be less than that of financial information.
So what else will the Bee throw into Capitol Alert?Â How about anÂ annual schmoozefest with the paper’sÂ political reporters and editors? Maybe a trade show or convention for political technology and campaign consultants?Â Is there a way for newspapers to make money from theirÂ influence –Â there’s a sixth “I”Â — without inviting damnation?
Let’s hope the Bee cracks the code on that because itÂ couldÂ be salvationÂ for beat reporting.Â As aÂ Silicon Valley reporter forÂ nearlyÂ 15 years, most of what I do isÂ simplfy things without being wrong. Most ofÂ the specialized knowledge thatÂ I acquireÂ gets left out. Is there a way to monetize it? And can I get a piece of the action?
* * *
And now aÂ word from Google’sÂ guru:Â This notion of charging moreÂ for premium coverage reminds me of something I heardÂ late in 1994 or early in 1995,Â shortly after I returned to work at the San Francisco ExaminerÂ followingÂ a 12-day strike that I had feared would haveÂ ended myÂ newspaper career.
Instead,Â I found myselfÂ dispatched one day to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley to hear a visitingÂ professor of financeÂ from the University of Michigan give a talk about variable pricing. The details escape me but IÂ recall he citedÂ the airlines as an industry that had created differentÂ price points, from coach to first class, by embellishing on the same basic service of safely conveying passengers from points A to B.
The professorÂ wasÂ Hal VarianÂ who,Â shortlyÂ thereafter,Â became dean of UC Berkeley’s iSchool.Â Nowadays VarianÂ is aÂ financialÂ consultant to Google.Â While offeringÂ such advice presumably nets Varian a pretty penny, I note thatÂ heÂ still offersÂ aÂ discountÂ version of hisÂ pricing insightsÂ throughÂ theÂ periodic columns he writes forÂ the New York Times.