Monday, June 23, 2008


The press may be dying, but it’s an American problem

by Larry Geller

If you read the overseas newspapers via the web, you probably already know that media are dying here in America but still thriving overseas.

We Don't Need to Catch the US Media's Cold

Journalists keep droning on about 'the death of their profession', but they're mostly US journalists talking about the death of US journalism. By Peter Preston

America's press, on this examination, is deeply conservative and deeply caught up with its own self-image. Recession and the advance of the internet blow mist all over the battlefield. But the crucial element in its distress is just plain, old-fashioned ineptitude. Too many companies paid too high a price to gobble up competitors in the fat years and now can't service their debt mountain as times grow thinner.

'There's been a lack of compelling strategic vision and subsequent execution that would make creditors comfortable that lending to a newspaper company over the long horizon is a proposition they could be compensated appropriately for,' one influential analyst, Mike Simonton of Fitch Ratings, told Editor and Publisher a few days ago. They all insist they have a digital strategy, but cannot articulate it. But 'the margins available in the digital space will not replicate what's going on in the print space, with its high fixed costs. So how are they going to get there?'

Many big names aren't going to get there. Some of the biggest - such as the Tribune Company and McClatchy - are wilting under the pressure. The pressure to hack costs to service this debt is relentless, but hacking merely accelerates the spiral of despair. Is it journalists' fault that too little has happened, too late? In part. US papers have been slow to change. Why only now discover that readers don't carry on following extended tales from page one to page 91? Why be so keen on ubiquitous news ripped from the agencies when that also pours continually from every cable TV orifice?

As I’ve asked before, what will happen to the “digital strategy” as more and more users adopt ad blockers? Sooner or later, advertisers will catch on that reading the news on the web isn’t like reading it in the printed paper, where that furniture ad (or worse) is right there in your face.

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Forgive my ignorance, but can't a web site be designed that withholds all content UNLESS you allow the ads to be displayed? In other words, a block to the ad block?

Now, if I were a newspaper industry mogul, I'd want one of THOSE.

Yes, that's exactly what some sites have tried. They take you to a page that says something like "I see you are using ad blocking software. You must turn off your ad blocking software to view this website."

The trouble is, many people simply go elsewhere. Some don't know how to turn off their ad blocking software because it came as part of the security system they are using.

Some ad blocking software takes the ad but simply won't let it be displayed.

So I imagine a game will take place between some websites and ad blocking software designers.

People do think it's cool not to see ads. Pop-ups are pretty universally blocked at this point. There's software for media center PCs that skips commercials, and it is continually updated to deal with commercials that somehow escape. It's really pretty good.

I watched Al Jazeera english TV news for two weeks recently on a trip to Spain and it was excellent! I hail from the right and I was VERY skeptical when my wife put it on, but I must say it was very credible journalism. It was not the propaganda I expected. I wish I could get it here. There were exposes of human rights abuses in Africa. Stories critical of right and left wing governments.

Al Jazeera is available (kind of) via the web, here:

There's a link on the left side. But you have to keep restarting it unless you pay for a subscription.

There may be a better way to get it. Some people know how to set their satellite receivers to pick up all kinds of stuff.

Given the revenue at stake, I think the media companies will eventually withhold content from people who block ads. I don't see any other business model out there, and consumers will want to look at the sites they want to look at, so they will accept the ads. There will always be geeks who find ways around the blocks, but seems like that will be no more troublesome than cable TV piracy, right?

It's usually hard for the website to tell that the ad is being blocked. For example, one method makes it appear that the ad has been received, but just doesn't display it on the screen.

More common methods don't fetch the ad, in which case yes, they can tell.

This is the little game that is being played right now. But really, if the browser does fetch the ad and just doesn't put it on my screen, I don't think they can either tell that I don't see it or do anything about it.

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Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

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