Wednesday, August 14, 2013

You Get What You Pay For, Especially In News

The sad sack who nominally runs America on Line, apologized recently for firing someone during a conference call, which is a pretty unpleasant way to act.

Tim Armstrong, AOL chief of something or other, was informing other AOL middle managers that he was considering pulling the plug on Patch. Patch is a service provided mostly by would-be writers and masochistic "editors," who search for the "hyper-local" and post stories on the Patch web site, wherever that is.

Something like that. My impression is that editors break their backs re-writing everything, posting everything, and whatever else constitutes everything. Some media outlets call Patch AOL's "media and information platform." Please.

You could have seen the story in the Wednesday, Aug. 14 New York Times, which to its diminishing credit, still pays reporters, professional reporters, some of the best, to cover stories and then edit and print the stories on newsprint.

To digress for a moment,  the Times wants to be a newspaper and a Web presence simultaneously. The problem is that short of making people pay for what's free on Google news and other places on the Internet, the Times has no good way to make money on the Web. 

People will pay to watch baseball, football, or basketball -- or to watch pornography -- but otherwise, who wants to shell out cash for some intangible electrons? Even well written intangible electrons. That's why the Times loses tons of money on its Web edition, which comes out of the newspaper's newspaper division.

The newspaper on paper version sells at least okay. Many people are willing to pay along $700 a year to have the Times delivered every day. Now the Times is restricting un-paying Web readers to three stories a day. After reading three stories, you'll need to come up with some electronic dollars.

 This applies even to the people who pay almost a grand a year, sadly.

There is an alternative. What you do as publisher is invite people who think of themselves as reporters and/or writers to replace the real reporters, who frequently use to have advanced degrees in journalism. They also had experience, and more importantly, experience in newspaper writing.

Trust me, teaching people to write like seasoned reporters is not easy. Not in the least. Might be easier to teach them Mandarin or linear algebra. 
Following that formula, you the published, get something along the lines of Patch. Or, worse yet, "the Examiner," which pays its "freelance writers" one tenth of a cent per Web hit. Kind of hair-raising.

Ultimately, it made sense for Armstrong to downplay Patch by firing and humiliating an otherwise loyal employee.

 Better to be seen as a lout than the money-hungry purveyor of maybe-news by amateurs. 

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