Newsweek’s last print issue

Newsweek just released their last print issue (cover). It shows a vintage photo of Newsweek’s old offices. Below the photo is a Twitter hashtag: #LASTPRINTISSUE (we’ll forgive for a moment that the hashtag is in all caps).

The hashtag is a nod to who killed Newsweek (the Internet), and to Newsweek’s future (the Internet).

Here’s the cover, then below some discussion:

newsweek-last-cover

I remain convinced (or perhaps newly-convinced) that putting news online for free, over a decade ago, was a huge mistake.

At the time, I was thrilled. Especially as a gay man, it was amazing to be able to read gay news from around the country – around the world – when once upon a time I used to read the Chicago Tribune every day just waiting, hoping, for the occasional gay-oriented story. I remember going to the library and searching for “gay” books – something, anything, to reaffirm that I was “normal,” and just to connect with people (ideas, words) like me. So putting newspapers online for free was huge, in that regard.

But 15 years later, I can’t help but feel that it was a huge mistake.

First we had recession of 2000/2001, which hurt media a lot. Then there was the competition from blogs, which, rather than “stealing” stories (at the last the good blogs didn’t steal), would link to news stories and provide a quick summary that, in retrospect, may have worked too well as a medium for sifting through the mountain of news online. In some ways, blogs helped to elevate the best news by highlighting it away from the rest of the competition.

But I wonder whether blogs didn’t also divert the MSM’s “drive-by” traffic – people who used to cruise news Web sites for news, now cruised blogs in order to find out what news was the best, most interesting, news, and only then would they go to news sites and actually read the stories in question. That decreased traffic. In the same way that Twitter and Reddit and Facebook, among others, are now decreasing traffic to blogs and the Netroots. People cruise social media to see what the latest news is, and only when they see a headline that piques their interest do they visit an actual news site/blog. That decreases our traffic, which decreases our revenue. And many of us maintain these sites as full-time jobs – the best sites can only be maintained full-time – so a drop in revenue hits us the same way that losing half of your salary would you. It’s a big hit.

And finally, you have the advertising crisis. Ad sales plummeted during the recession a decade ago, and they plummeted during the Great Recession (depression) of the last four years. People don’t advertise nearly as much when the economy sours. I lost three quarters of my income on AMERICAblog after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Imagine 3/4 of you annual income suddenly disappearing. (Those of you who lost jobs know the feeling.) And my experience wasn’t unique. Media, and online media especially, across the board suddenly saw their revenue dry up.

So first we had the problem that online advertising fell down. Now we’re facing the problem that online advertising is not getting up. And it may not ever again. Some blame Google, and Google certainly shares soe of the blame. A lot of advertisers, including non-profits and political campaigns, prefer to buy ads on sites through Google because they can get bottom of the barrel rates, as compared to our other ad networks. Why don’t we just remove Google as an ad network? Because it brings in too much money on its own, that we’d take a huge hit by dropping it. So it’s a Catch 22. Keep em and lose money, drop em and lose money. And for anyone who says “that’s just the market at play,” we don’t say that when big companies want Americans to work for chump change, or worse, want foreigners to work for $1 a day. The free market and a livable wage can and should go hand in hand.

Putting that aside, many now worry that online advertising is never coming back. As I noted in our recent fundraising appeal:

DailyKos announced yesterday that their online ad revenue has dropped 30% over the last year. At AMERICAblog, we’re in a similar financial situation…

[A]s Markos noted over at DailyKos, that’s no longer enough:

“The business of online publishing has changed… [we] can no longer depend on advertising to finance operations… [and] we have to make up the shortfall in other ways.”

So online advertising revenue isn’t sufficiently coming back for anyone.

Then, to add insult to injury, people are now using iphone/mobile and Web browser apps that convert Web sites into more “readable” formats – in other words, they strip out all of our ads and feed your our content in a text-only format that steals 100% of our revenue, in essence forcing us to work for free, and eventually bankrupting us.  I understand the desire to more quickly be able to visit Web  sites.  I do not appreciate anyone creating an app that literally steals my income.  Keep that in mind if you ever think of using these apps, or know anyone who does.  You’re reading content online for free.  Content that people have slaved all day producing.  Yes, it’s a pain to wait a few seconds for their pages to load.  But consider it your contribution, your donation, to the very hard and very good work these people are doing on your behalf, and on behalf of the issues you care about.

So, add all of that up, and you have a whole world of pain in the media and new media business.

I don’t know where things go from here.  But when Republicans create entire fake-news networks in order to circumvent the media – the truth – because they see the truth as the number one threat to their political message, then it worries me when that media starts to wither on the vine.  People may have some gripes with the traditional media, but that media is necessary, and many do a great job in spite of our sometimes gripes.  For all of our concerns about the MSM, we’re worse off, and the Republicans are better off, without them.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • josephebacon

    Ask yourself how much does John’s work at Americablog mean to you? It’s an indispensable part of my morning routine, along with Daily Kos, Democratic Underground, Digby, Atrios The Real News, Democracy Now and Talking Points Memo. I gladly used Paypal to send some $$ to John as a way of saying thank you. Nothing would being more joy to the Kochs, Adelson, Foster Fries and those other racketeers than to see blogs that tell the truth silenced. Murdoch thought he could get away with using The Daily to spread his right wing lies, but enough people saw through that scam and it’s gone. John has been there for us. We need to be there for him. Even just a dollar to Paypal helps John keep the flame of truth lit!

  • josephebacon

    Newspeak was on a downward glide path ever since it embraced Reagan in 1980. It stopped being a reporter of fact and became an organ of corporate propaganda. The American Corporate Controlled Conservative Press has lied too many times for me to believe anything they say on TV, utter on radio, or write in a paper. Millions of Americans agree with me and we know that the CCCP lies to us in the USA just as Pravda/Izvestia/TASS lied in the USSR.

  • UncleBucky

    The big thing was that EVERYBODY wanted to charge full boat for online content, including the advertising execs. There might have been a way to charge either incrementally or with an overall subscription that worked for all.

    Another thing was that the content in magazines and newspapers got thinner and thinner, with more and more invasive ads. I remember the editorial section of the Chicago Sun Times around 2002-2003. It was good, not overly long, not too short and with an artist that did new work every week. AND THEN IT WAS GONE. Was I gonna pay money for 2 cm of ads and a millimeter of content after that?

    Naw.

    And so the same thing is happening to online content. Greed has led to a devastation of the channel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.sommers Joel Sommers

    John, what are your feelings about news reader apps that convey information from sites like yours via RSS news feeds? I use Google Reader and I still see ads at the bottom of each item. I’m just wondering whether you believe that Readers drive traffic to your site, or rob it of visits. Or maybe some mixture of both. This was a really interesting read, btw.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Very like—-the truth. Sad, this future of ours.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I think in general species don’t go extinct due to evolution — by definition, they evolve because of mutations that give them a better chance of survival. species that go extinct are the ones that don’t evolve to adapt to, or are not equipped for, change in environmental factors.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    blogs might be your primary source of news but they’re not a primary news source — by and large all the real reporting was done by someone else, usually working for the MSM.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I think that’s kind of what happens when you buy that local newspaper — you’re paying for an amalgamation of news from various reporters, organizations and syndicates, all bundled together for one price.

  • hoary_nodens

    Memo to Newsweek and every other corporate “news” source – if you hadn’t regurgitated the Bush administration’s pathetic lies after 911, and if you had held the recently re-elected dear leader’s feet to the fire – you know, like real journalists are allegedly supposed to do – then intelligent people like myself wouldn’t be looking for anvils to throw your way in your hour of need.

    Only fools pay for the NYT online, its quite easy to periodically remove their cookies and read their corporate propaganda for free, if that’s what you want to read.

    Good Riddance

  • MyrddinWilt

    The Arab Spring was something of an exceptional situation. Nobody had good sources on the ground in Libya and Tunisia was over before the major outfits had woken up to what was going on.

    Getting footage of a demonstration from one side is easy, getting an objective third party view rather harder. And getting someone to go down to the local city hall and report on the planning committee next to impossible.

    Getting good foreign news coverage right now is pretty difficult. There are organizations like Stratfor but they have something of a Walter Mitty complex playing spy and they are actually better at telling the foreign policy story as the Washington beltway sees it than as it is.

    I am still waiting for one of the mainstream outfits to point out that the reason the country is going to go over the fiscal cliff is that the GOP house members don’t actually want what they have to ask for so as to avoid having Sheldon Adleson spew cash onto a primary challenger. Being forced into a humiliating climbdown really does not bother them half as much as $5 million dumped onto a Tea Partier.

  • Statler N Waldorf

    John,

    The free market and a livable wage do not go hand in hand. If the free market were equitable, then employees of the most highly successful companies would be highly paid, as the profits would trickle all the way down, with the success shared by all those who contributed to that success in accordance with the level fo their contribution. Thus, Wal-Mart (the most highly successful company in the world) would pay it’s associates (the employees who do the bulk of the work) extremely high wages.

    Capitalism is a racket. The free market is a scam. The treason why we keep falling for this shell-game is because of articles like this.

    Do you bemoan the loss of three-quarters of your income in a single year? I bemoan the fact that I’ve just graduated with a master’s degree and cannot find a job, in spite of having studied hard to maintain a 3.5 GPA and having avoided trouble my whole life. At least you had your moment in the sun. My generation never will.

    I’m sorry that you lost all that money and now have to figure out how people like me survive. But I am glad that with the advent of free internet news, it’s possible for me to access up to date information on just how the corrupt system of exploitation your generation set up is collapsing. For free.

    And as I swallow my pride while filling out this application for food stamp benefits, using the frame my diploma is held by as a hard surface to write upon, maybe you will join me at the local benefits office.There’s a place in line right behind me and my classmates. I’m sure we’d all just love to hear how rough it is that you can’t afford vacations in Paris anymore.

    Signed,

    The Living Wage Slaves of Americablog

  • tamarz

    I’ve been wondering about this since I read Markos’ diary about the drop in advertising revenues. The problem is that we’re all spoiled (in a good way) because we’re used to multiple sources of news. Back in the dark ages when I was growing up, you subscribed to your own city’s newspaper and occasionally put a quarter into a machine for a paper from another city. But that’s no longer the case. If every news site and political analysis site charged, we’d be paying 10-20 subscription fees because we no longer get all our news from one place. Paying multiple subscriptions is not affordable.

    I keep wondering if there isn’t some way to put together groups of news sources — so you’d pay one subscription fee for a combination of many news sources, and they’d get paid based on readership of their articles. I’m not sure that would work but I think we do have to come up with new models for how the news we get is paid for.

  • http://americablog.com magster

    BTW: Disqus is catching up quickly and I’m jumping in more often into comments on this and other disqus blogs.

  • http://americablog.com magster

    The loss of trust is a huge part of this. My use of blogs as a primary source of news came about because I trust Kos and TPM and John and D-day, among others to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Another big problem of the MSM is their online presence sucks. The commenting software Kos uses with auto-updated outline format comments compared to my hometown paper (the Denver Post) is like night and day. Had the MSM invested more in reinventing themselves from the get-go before people became attached to their favorite blogs, maybe things would be different.

    In the sports realm SBNation and its commenting software is even better than Kos’ and is a reason (along with building from your favorite team’s site outward to its national presence) why their readership is taking off.

  • Indigo

    Oh. I don’t believe in the myth of continual progress. Things are not, imho, turning out for the better. They are becoming more coarse. But the Second Elizabethan Period is winding down and the creative impulse, along with mannerly behavior, is fading away. There’s an interregnum coming up with Charles as the English king until William takes the throne. (Being a retired literature prof, I see history in terms of the doings of the English monarchy.) I don’t expect to live to see the Bright Tomorrow of the mid-21st century. Maybe you will but don’t expect it rest on our certainties and our tastes. Imagine a well-behaved progressive Victorian trying to decode our 1980s and you’ll see the dilemma I’m trying to identify.

  • hola

    The fact of on-line news was, IMHO, inevitable. The very first time I accessed Yahoo (waaay back in the early 90′s) there was news: maybe not as sophisticated or as pervasive as it is today, but it was still there. Personally, I like getting my news from the same sources as the purveyors of same (UPI, Reuters, etc.) – I can make my mind up as to what I think about the story, unfiltered by whatever slant the media puts on it. I am also willing to donate/subscribe to those filtering sources I find most insightful, friendly, or closely aligned to my own biases. If the choice is between on-line news, and Fox, I know exactly what my choice is.

  • Sweetie

    “The free market and a livable wage can and should go hand in hand.”

    There is no free market and there is no free speech. There are only approximations of both. Unfortunately, business is all about establishing monopoly, government protection/favoritism (e.g. “too big to fail”, lobbying against the minimum wage in Haiti, no-bid contracts, retroactive immunity, etc.), and integration with government (buying politicians). Actual small businesses are different and as your site even covered, only represent around half of “small business” income in the US.

    Globalization, especially global finance, makes everything a race to the bottom—especially labor/wages. The problem is, of course, that in order to maintain a high standard of living, the true cost of things has to be pushed onto someone else. The rich get rich by exploitation and our consumption-based lifestyle exploits the environment, not just people.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    It’s funny that you mention the need for primary sources. During the Arab Spring uprising when everyone could observe reporting in real time via Twitter some bloggers — Andrew Sullivan for one, if I remember right — were predicting the death of ‘old media’ in favor of microblogging as a primary news source. It’s still possible they’re right but what an awful thing that would be, for several reasons. The entire world of news will be reduced to a “4 blind guys describe an elephant” joke.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I think what you’re seeing in online ad rates is indeed market correction — advertisers less willing to pay for an ad medium that’s progressively less effective (banner ads). Presumably you use Google because other networks that pay higher rates can’t fill all your potential views. Advertisers are putting their money where it’s most effective. Banner ads probably aren’t it; we develop blind spots for them. Find innovative ways of engagement, charge more to run ads. (Sounds simple!)

  • MyrddinWilt

    I could never understand why the newspapers decided to go online for free in the first place. Back in 1995 the NYT could easily have charged a $50/yr online subscription and most people would have paid up without question. In fact the ISPs would have started bundling it the same way they bundle HBO in cable.

    Online subscriptions should not cost as much as a print subscription because the marginal production and distribution costs are close to zero. Going online has a large up front capital cost but every additional subscriber is almost entirely pure profit.

    I tried to get the content providers interested in micropayment schemes. But collecting small increments of $0.05 an article didn’t interest them even if collection could be made cost effective by aggregating charges. They were just not interested.

    It was the same story with online shopping. I missed out on making money on the early dotcom retail plays because I knew that catalog mail order and supermarkets were really low margin businesses and could not see how a freshly minted startup was going to survive. Amazon had already grabbed the book business and there were several players selling computer components. The idea that Pets.com or HomeRuns were going to be massively profitable was utter nonsense.

    Problem is that the best interests of a company are not the same as the best interests of management. The early Internet strategies that were clueless in a business sense paid out handsomely for the various execs. The four big dotcoms that survived were Google, Amazon, Yahoo and VeriSign (Facebook came along much later). What all four had in common was that they were all cash flow positive on an operating basis. Some of them did borrow money or sell shares to expand rapidly but the underlying businesses were always bringing in money.

    Problem with the NYTimes going online for free was that it forced every other paper to follow that model. And that then left far too many papers chasing too little online advertising revenue.

    But there is another dimension to the collapse of the US media: they lost the trust of the readers during the Bush administration. People under 45 mostly avoid the establishment media because they don’t trust it to tell the truth. They were lied to during the Iraq war fiasco when the media simply rolled over and published administration lies as facts and called anyone who challenged them a treasonous commie lover.

    I don’t think that the establishment media has got worse though. It is probably rather more accurate than it was thirty years ago and that includes the Murdoch empire. What I think has changed is that the Web makes it much easier to expose the lies and the lies of omission.

    Something has to be done though. Without a business model for primary reporting there is going to be a lack of primary sources for bloggers to comment on.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    True, I still wonder whether this is just a part of growth and evolution. Still, I worry that sometimes things don’t turn out for the better. Look at evolution and species that go extinct. Not sure that’s always a “turned out for the better” kind of thing.

  • Indigo

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. A lot of brilliant miniaturists were out of work after Gutenberg started the fad of moveable print. Perhaps this is just an expression of the Galactic Alignment noted in the Mayan Apocalypse slowly manifesting in the actual world. Redefining ourselves at every level is an inherent part of the process of any Paradigm Shift. I feel strongly that the concerns arise from a hesitation to embrace the Paradigm Shift. There’s much more to it than the bourgeois idea that a Paradigm Shift is just like getting a new Chevrolet. The world turns, whether we turn with it or not. No fear.

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