The Octomom gave birth to a Ponzi scheme causing an international pandemic of a proportion not seen since the implants of Miss California whose talent for singing surprised even the most jaded American Idol audience members as they twittered accusing Wanda Sykes of crossing the line finding John and Elizabeth Edwards on the other side while Dick Cheney was on the dark side using tortured logic to justify the logic of torture. Meanwhile, the very existence of newspapers is threatened by the lack of what used to be paid -- attention. Attention equals time and time equals money in the media world.
Newspapers are not faring well, many closing or on the brink of closing. They are inexpensive, deliver a lot of value for the cost, great variety of topics, highly portable, foldable, recyclable and require no batteries or any other power. Newspapers also have reporters, researchers and spend time on stories that no one else does -- important stories that have local, national and global importance.
The Pulitzer Prizes for journalism were announced on April 20th, here are a few of the winners:
Investigative Journalism: David Barstow of The New York Times for his reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, were co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq. Many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that profited from policies they defended.
Public Service: Alexandra Berzon of The Las Vegas Sun for reporting on the high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip due to lax enforcement of regulations. Her reports led to changes in policy and improved safety conditions, ultimately saving lives.
National Reporting: St. Petersburg Times Staff for "PolitiFact," its fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign where reporters examined more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to inform voters.
International Reporting: The New York Times Staff for its intensive coverage of America's deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reporting frequently conducted in dangerous conditions.
In December of 2008, The Pulitzer Prizes were broadened to allow eligibility to online-only news sources in all 14 journalism categories. There were 65 entries, no winners. I'm not suggesting that won't change, but I am suggesting that there is no replacement in sight for the very important work that is done by newspapers across the country.
It's not just the newspapers. News itself is having a rough time. The network television newscasts have steadily been losing viewers, the numbers have been declining every year since 1997, down over 54%. Locally and nationally, television news crews have been steadily cutting back on both personnel and coverage. The net result on television is less news gathering, because that is expensive and more pundits, interviews and celebrities, because that is not expensive. We may be entertained, but we are not informed.
Newspapers and reporters have to make money, but no one has yet figured out how to make money from news articles on the internet.
Music was the first major industry in recent history that was forced to totally rethink its financial model and delivery methods as a result of new technology. It has happened before; cylinders gave way to platters, platters to vinyl, vinyl to cds, cds to digital downloads. What they all have in common is that each is a delivery medium -- it gets the music to us. The internet is just another medium of delivery. Think about how people got the music they wanted. In 2008, the iTunes Store passed Wal-Mart to become the number one music retailer in the U.S.
However, despite the rapid growth of downloading music online, CDs are still the most popular format, selling 361 million in 2008, down about 20 percent from 2007. Almost 84 percent of all album purchases were CDs.
The online music business is moving from a model based only on sales to one of monetizing access to music. Access services could prove to be the most important current development in the business. While the specifics may differ, the primary idea is offering consumers access to music, either bundled with other services or as an additional subscription. HBO does this with its movie, original and on-demand content.
Newspapers could adopt the same model online, sell "singles", articles, or purchase the "album". The principle idea is paying for access. Does something like Amazon's Kindle have the potential to be the Ipod for print? Maybe, but like CDs, there will always be a market for physical newspapers.
The idea that all content has been free and therefore should be free is naive. Providing something free and then selling it has been going on since the birth of marketing. People now pay for picking airline seats and in-flight food, baggage check-in, bank checking, telephone directory service, cable television -- you get the idea.
It's important to create a viable financial model for online news delivery so journalists who research and report the real stories, stories that impact our lives, can continue their work and be compensated for it. Their reporting forms the foundation of our free press. What gets our attention and drives the demand for all forms of media is content. Stories like Octomom, Miss California's opinions and implants, Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin, the Edwards family problems, will always be around. Those stories catch what is so hard to capture, people's attention -- so do loud noises -- but when the noise goes away, we need reporting that engages, provokes and informs us -- not just entertains.