Blogging Keith Herndon’s paper on newspaper industries and the Internet
(full disclosure; Keith is one of my graduate students)
Keith’s research is important for providing the ‘long history’ of newspapers and electronic information technologies (note, print news was itself an information technology!). Notes the 1970s – emergence of commercial databases, and the electronic publishing paradigm. 1980s – attempts to establish videotext as viable business model – Knight-Ridder, Viewtron “primitive by today’s standards, but cutting edge at the time”. Fails – not adopted by “early technology adopters”. There were similar projects. These projects – both experience of them and failure – left newspapers wary about investing in electronic ventures and perhaps meant they were unprepared for Internet and, indeed, resistant of it. Resistant, in particular, of the telecommunications industry moving into this field which was seen as ‘belonging’ to the news; then also attempted to defend their interests by creating alliances with companies like Prodigy.
This is why new media is not new; new media is a phrase that could easily describe events from 1970s onwards, not just the Internet. Moreover, the Internet disrupts what was already being done with ‘new media’.
In the 1990s, as the INternet emerges as a dominant paradigm for CMC and ICT-based info services, various major news organisations estyablished the New Century Network (NCN) which attempted to control the Internet and manage it to create a portal through which 75+ newspapers would be online via the net in 2 years. (from 1995). NCN fails because it is too slow, measured, full of discussion, rather than action. NCN also brings with it assumptions about how news online would look and work – NCN to create standards (eg what a banner ad would be) which would be followed by all. Complete misreading of what the Internet was and would be. Interestingly, its failure was largely because of infighting between NCN partners. Note critical importance of advertising. Ultimately NCN never got that the Internet was open platform.
Hooker “Are you an organisation that supplies newspapers or are you an organisation that supplies information?” – news couldn’t decide.
So, what then were the practices of news orgs as they attempted to embrace the Internet. “Failed to embrace the opportunities of new platform to create new medium” – newspapers shovelled print stuff to the internet. (Keith was part of this history). Also lack of innovation to remain competitive – eg completely misunderstood the importance of search. Newspapers also had no idea that users would be generators of content. “clung to one-to-many” model “did not embrace many-to many model”.
Concludes – newspaper industry reacted to the Internet by trying to preserve existing culture.
Internet was very hard to understand; it was read as ‘what we do already, only different’ by so many organisations – libraries; universities; newspapers etc; very few people – mostly individuals – saw it as transformative, because they had no investment in maintaining anything.
one interesting thing emerges; news content via AP and similar is sold to Internet corps but at low price; too low, because newspapers who own AP didn’t realise that Internet would become PRIMARY, not secondary source for AP stories.
History of the Internet and newspapers – news orgs didn’t really think about intellectual property; that was not on their radar in 1990s and, probably, led to the situation where content ends up online for free and thus raises the kind of demands NOW (eg from Murdoch) for Google and others to pay for the content generated by journalists working for newspapers. (see my thoughts on Old media and Not Media).
“Desire to cling to the cultural form of the newspaper” – explains the current development of online multimedia that looks like the newspaper (page turning, structured pages, not database). USA Today is experimenting with this kind of pageturning style; but keith argues it will end up, not being a web-based phenomenon, but a play for the Kindle and similar market.
Is the natural form of the Internet to disintermediate the corporations that draw on the labour of journalists and extract surplus value? Eg – blogging means you don’t need Rupert Murdoch
Some of the founding cultural assumptions which sustain the legitimacy of the news business – eg be observers, not part of the news – are challenged by the Internet to the point where the business has no legitimacy. The news business is having to cope with the old question of what is legitimate and authoritative about ‘the journalist’ and ‘journalistic news’. Claims that Google is stealing profits etc are butressed by calls to the idea that journalists are a public good; but this emphasis on the business model actually conceals the very significant doubt as to the legitimacy of the necessary and unquestioned moral good of journalism. Some sources of evidence for this: ABC (US) reporter tweeting ‘off the record’ Obama comments; Hartigan (News Corp) decrying bloggers and citizen journalists in Australia.)