'Newsonomics' Predicts The Future Of The Media

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Learn more about David Cohn's media startup:

The Internet has finally surpassed newspapers as readers' number one choice for news, yet most papers are still struggling to make money online. Former newspaperman Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape The News You Get, and media entrepreneur David Cohn weigh in on the future of the news industry.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.

That long-predicted moment when the Internet surpasses newspapers as readers' number one choice for news has arrived. TV is still number one overall, but audiences and ad revenues continue to dwindle there, as well.

But amid the gloom for old-line media, writer and blogger and former newspaperman Ken Doctor argues that golden opportunities lie ahead for those that can adapt, both for big news brands - like the New York Times - and feisty online startups. We'll explore what he calls "Twelve New Trends That Will Shape The News You Get," and we want to hear from you.

In a world where nearly all news Web sites are free, what are you willing to pay for, and how much? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, why a judge threw out all charges against Blackwater security contractors accused of killing 14 Iraqis in Baghdad. And after news today that Iran has shut down email and telephone and other electronic communications, we'll ask how they did it.

Ken Doctor, though, joins us now first, from member station KQED in San Francisco. His new book is "Newsonomics." And Ken Doctor, nice to have you with us on the program today.

Mr.�KEN DOCTOR (Author, "Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape The News You Get"): Good to be here.

CONAN: And you write in your book that we can see the blue sky of journalism renaissance, but we've got to cross, first, a chasm of pain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's a nice metaphor. How long is that - how wide is that chasm?

Mr.�DOCTOR: Yeah, the chasm is to be determined and defined, unfortunately. Yeah, there's a lot going on from San Francisco to Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, a lot of really good activity, a lot of passion, new journalism that's really high quality. And at the same time, that old world of journalism, both print and broadcast, continues to decline incredibly quickly.

So that chasm I'm talking about is really the gap, and that gap of reporting, of - and really, for the reader. The pain is for the people in the trade, the 10, 12,000 people in daily trade that have lost their jobs. And I'm as concerned about the readers, all of us, and what do we know and how we know it. And that, I think, is really a big question as we go forward making this transition from the old to the new.

CONAN: And there's also another part. You see all these old-line media -newspapers, in particular - shriveling and these new startups growing, but there's an enormous gap still in the number of people who work for them. And it's unclear that whatever emerges as new is going to be able to do the things that the newspapers and the other old-line media used to be able to do.

Mr.�DOCTOR: Absolutely. And it's really a question of volume. I remember, I used to work for Knight Ridder Newspapers, and one of the - and the Knight Ridder papers was in Philadelphia, and they actually built a balcony over the newsroom. And there you could see the majestic work of 700, 800 reporters and editors, some of them moving more quickly than others. But their whole job was to cover the Philadelphia region and tell people what they saw.

That's now reduced by about a half. And so we are seeing these startups, but they're usually about a dozen people or 18 people in a city. They're doing some great work in - and San Diego and Minneapolis, for instance. But it is that percentage. It's about an online-only operation, because the economics of it can support maybe 15 percent of what an old, established newsroom used to do.

So that's what we're talking about, is this huge chasm between a newsroom of 400, say, or 600, and a newsroom of 15 fairly less-paid, but fairly more passionate people. And that gap is there, and a lot of consternation about it, not a lot of great solutions at this point.

CONAN: Well, we'll talk about some of those as we go down the line, because your book is not merely descriptive, it is also prescriptive. And I wanted to talk about that renaissance that you see.

There are so many different organizations floundering around now, trying to adapt to this new world that we're in, the new digital world. You believe that there will be about a dozen or so that will survive to become behemoths of this industry, striding the globe - or at least the English-speaking part of the globe - and become still - and not merely survive, but thrive.

Mr.�DOCTOR: Yeah, I pointed to - I think there's this huge split now between what is really national and global media and what's local media. And you think about the way the world worked not very long ago. You know, maybe 10, 15 years ago, the daily newspaper, for most people, supplied them international news, national news, sports, business, entertainment, you name it. In any city in the country, you know, two percent, three percent of the households would get the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Now, because of the Internet, anybody can go directly, get the Journal, the Times, dozens of business sites, entertainment sites, TMZ, you name it. And so local papers are left with just local.

So these dozen companies, I call them digital dozen. You've got companies like Reuters. You've got Bloomberg, New York Times, News Corp, BBC, because the ocean doesn't mean what it used to. They all have this global possibility. And it's really 900 million English-speaking people, and the Internet is all about the economies of scale.

So if you can produce good stuff - in this case good journalism, we would hope - you can distribute it many, many, many times at a cost of practically nothing.

So that's why I think this digital dozen, simply because of the economies of scale, have a huge opportunity. Now they all have their own cost struggles. The New York Times in particular just announced it only made $19 million all of last year, and that's up from a loss in the year before.

CONAN: And that's after some pretty deep cuts, too.

Mr.�DOCTOR: Deep, deep cuts. And that's how - that's the only way the news companies have really gotten back to just marginal profitability is cuts really in the last year, between 15 and 25 percent in overall costs. And that largely has - is come out of, you know, out of newsrooms and advertising departments and circulation departments and finance departments. But I do think there are about 12,000 fewer reporters and editors in daily papers than there were three years ago. And I've calculated, kind of extrapolated that there's probably about a million fewer stories that we're getting as readers out of daily newspapers this year than we got in 2007.

CONAN: And one of the big differences is though those newspaper revenues are down, they're still 85 percent of the New York Times revenue income, and other newspapers, too. How are - the question that everybody has, and it's a question that you, you know, it's central to your book: How do you make the Web pay?

Mr.�DOCTOR: Well, the Web is simply its own system, and what newspaper publishers - and I used to work in the news trade - figured is that magically, there would be a transition. There would be a road, and yup, the old business would go down. The new business would come up, and it's kind of a New Yorker cartoon of, you know, follow the line on the presentation spreadsheet.

But, of course, the new world doesn't pay. It pays far differently. And the biggest difference there is not even just reading. It's advertising. Marketers now go direct: Honda, Best Buy, Macy's, you name it. And they're putting $66 billion a year - this is according to some research I did with OutSell, a company I do work with - $66 billion a year U.S. companies are putting into their own marketing through digital means: their own Web sites and own outreach.

This is coming out of advertising. Another $23 billion is going to online advertising, and no more than 10 percent of that's going to traditional news media.

So this association that we always saw - and we always thought it was God-given. Those of us in the trade and readers just kind of accepted it: Advertising will pay for the news. Advertising paid 80 percent of the cost for news. And that was pre-prints on Sunday, the circulars, the classifieds and all. But the whole advertising and marketing trades are changing, largely because of the Internet, because it's more efficient. And so you don't need news organizations to assemble audience for you if you are a marketer, and therefore, the whole business model is broken.

What we're talking about, then, is what the new business model will be and how that can be built up rather than some kind of toggling a switch over from the old to the new. It just won't work that way.

CONAN: All right. We're talking with Ken Doctor, the author of "Newsonomics," and we want to hear from our listeners today. Given that almost every news Web site is free, what would you be willing to pay for, and how much? 800-989-8255. Email: And Matt's on the line from Fort Myers.

MATT (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MATT: To answer your question, no, I really wouldn't pay anything for it because I don't feel that it's very fair. I mean we - there's a wealth of information with the Internet, the Internet superhighway, and as - I forgot to mention I'm a student, and I need access to lots of information, like for research projects, stuff like that. I need access to that information, and I don't exactly have cash readily available. So that would severely inhibit my ability to get information.

CONAN: So if the New York Times, as it promises to do, I think in 2011, starts charging money for access to its Web site, you would say I can go somewhere else?

MATT: I suppose so, yeah. I would probably just check CNN or BBC.

CONAN: Matt, and that's kind of the problem. When we've had Web sites try to charge for access to their products in the past, people have just said, okay, never mind, then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MATT: Yeah. I do understand that's a problem, but, I mean, as somebody who doesn't really have money readily available, I have no other alternative to get information.

CONAN: Well, Ken Doctor, even those with money available have reached that same conclusion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�DOCTOR: That's right. Basically, I mean, our surveys, a lot of surveys have shown if you ask people abstractly, you know, 10 percent of them say, yeah, maybe I'll pay for something. I'll pay for some news. And what's fascinating to me is that we're all used to paying it, and he just used the word access. And we're used to paying for access. We pay hundreds of dollars a month in cable bills and in phone bills, cell phone bills. And that's for access.

We have, as a society, we've gotten used to paying for access, but we think news is free. In fact, news is always paid for by advertisers, but as we've talked about, that model is changing.

So I wonder how much change we need on the readers' side. There are membership plans that some Web sites are doing, making it voluntarily, very much an NPR-like model, in Minneapolis and Boston. And - but the idea of putting a wall in front of content simply won't work because there's so much basically good enough content around.

CONAN: Here are some emails we've gotten, this from April in Minneapolis: I rarely pay for printed news since I've discovered NPR. I occasionally buy the local paper for $.50 if I know I'm going to be sitting somewhere and need something to read. But I pay NPR $10 a month - hopefully more, once I can afford it - instead. Now, that's that membership model you were talking about.

This from Lawrence in Rochester, New York: I'd be willing to pay $100 a year for access to the New York Times online. I subscribe to The Economist print edition, and that allows me to reach The Economist online. And that's one of the competitors in the news business there.

And Valores(ph) in Baltimore writes: I'm a 23-year-old gal and only willing to pay as much as my Internet costs for my news. The BBC Web sites are free for my international news, and I can get local news online, as well. Of course, there's my usual NPR pledge, as well. And she's got one of those little smiley icons there, and we thank her for that - that from Valores in Baltimore.

So how much are you willing to pay for news, as - if it's available largely for free? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: Coming up, more "Newsonomics" with Ken Doctor. We'll also talk with the founder of a new news experiment called Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking with Ken Doctor this hour about his book, "Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape The News You Get." And you may know the term Pro-Am from the world of golf, but now it applies to journalism, as well. You can read about the intersection of professional and amateur journalism in an excerpt from "Newsonomics" on our Web site. That's at

We want to hear from you. In a world where nearly all news Web sites are free, what are you willing to pay for? How much? 800-989-8255. Email: You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Well, on one Web site, readers get together and they fund investigative journalism. It's a Web site called, and joining us now, also at member station KQED, is founder David Cohn. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr.�DAVID COHN (Founder, Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And how does it work? Readers get together and fund investigative journalism?

Mr.�COHN: Yeah. Essentially, we have independent journalists or freelancers who create pitches. One, for example, on our site right now is looking into the UC regents. And we distribute the cost of hiring that reporter across a lot of different people. So, you know, 50 or 100 people giving $10 or $20 each is enough to do that investigation.

CONAN: So once that - once you reach critical mass, as it were, then you tell the reporter: You're on, kid. Go ahead, dig out that story.

Mr.�COHN: More or less, yeah. The reporter often gets started right away, which is a little bit of a leap of faith. But other reporters will wait and will let them sort of decide whether or not we've raised enough for them to go ahead and tackle the story.

CONAN: And where does that story appear?

Mr.�COHN: It'll either appear on our site, but we also work with, you know, partnering news organizations. So for that UC regents story, for example, we're working with a few alternative weeklies across California. And often, we'll give our content away to local news organizations to run for free.

CONAN: And are there editors for these investigative stories?

Mr.�COHN: There are. Again, we'll either partner with a news organization who will contribute their editorial talent, so to speak, or editorial time. And if we don't have a partnering news organization, then we'll find what we call a peer review editor.

Its a little different from maybe the traditional editing, you know, arrangement. But we want to make sure that there is some oversight and they have a voice to - someone to speak with and bat the story back and forth and prove it.

CONAN: And you've talked about some of your stories appearing in alternative weeklies there in California. As I understand it, some of your partners also include the New York Times.

Mr.�COHN: Yes. We've had a story published in the New York Times when we raised money to send a reporter to the Pacific Garbage Patch, which is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the New York Times edited that story and ran it.

CONAN: So what - when they pay - presumably they paid for the story, right?

Mr.�COHN: When - the news organization?

CONAN: Yeah. When they run it, did they pay for it?

Mr.�COHN: They did pay a little bit. We raised money for the travel costs for that. It was obviously expensive to get to the middle of the ocean, and that was something that the New York Times didn't want to do. But they did pay the freelancer some money.

CONAN: So eventually, the freelancer got money from the contributors and from the New York Times, as well, and that's how this all goes on.

Mr.�COHN: Exactly. It's a switch on the marketplace, essentially.

CONAN: And how many stories, how much journalism can you generate with this contribution model?

Mr.�COHN: You know, it's - we're not sure just yet. We're about a year old, and we're just in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and we're going to be launching our new design in about two weeks and hopefully expanding from there.

I don't think right now we're in a position where we can say we're going to replace the - I think Ken said a million stories are left on the table. We obviously can't do that, but we're, you know, adding drops in the bucket at a time when every drop helps, and hopefully we'll be able to expand and grow.

It's not that different, in some respects, from NPR's member, you know, pledge drives, except we sort of let, you know, donors pick and choose where their money goes. There's a sense of transparency and control.

CONAN: They're funding future stories, in a sense. NPR people are funding what they've heard in the past. Anyway, it's very similar. Anyway, but you've also said there are some kinds of investigative journalism that this might not be appropriate for. If you're going to investigate the mafia, you may not want to announce that on your Web site.

Mr.�COHN: Yes, agreed. This model doesn't work for stories where you need stealth, like investigating the mafia, and it also doesn't work for breaking news. You're obviously not going to say hey, there's a fire across the street. We should all raise money so I'll cover it. That just doesn't work.

CONAN: It might be a little late. The building might have burned down by the time you get there. Ken Doctor, this is one of the kinds of innovative approaches that you write about in your book.

Mr.�DOCTOR: That's right, and it's interesting. Investigative reporting is being funded largely on a national level now by foundations. And foundations have really figured out - led by the Knight Foundation in Miami, which deserves a lot of credit for figuring out that there's simply not enough money to pay for investigative reporting, which is the most expensive.

It takes time. In a lot of ways, you know, what David's doing and what a lot of people are trying to figure out is a very simple question. It costs money to pay reporters to spend the time to find out stuff for all of us. And who's going to pay?

The advertisers used to pay, and there used to be enough of them that they -most times, they didn't have that much influence.

So now we have this question of who's going to pay and what kind of influence they're going to try to exert. So we've got foundations. We have the membership model. We have angels in various cities. And all together, they are producing, I'd say, a couple of dozen very interesting projects and some high-quality journalism, but that's the delta between that - those couple of dozen organizations and those million stories that we're not getting and the lack of knowledge that we have, and we especially see it locally.

I'm actually more bullish on national investigative reporting because there's some great organizations doing stuff on both coasts. Local, where most of the newspapers are - there's only three national newspapers in the U.S., and the rest are all regional and national - that's where the carnage has been in terms of jobs and in terms of advertising. And that's where our lack of knowledge is most profound, and when people ask me what's in those stories, you know, we don't know.

And that's the problem. We don't know what we don't know, but if you talk to people - and I wonder from your listeners - you know, I always hear from people in San Jose, where I live, you know, there's no longer a reporter coming to my meeting. They're not at our agency. They're not at our arts group, and we're no longer in the paper. And I think that civic virtue and that part that daily newspapers played is what is ebbing very quickly.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have from T.J.: Almost all of the reportage I hear regarding the newspaper industry concerns the big papers in big markets. If you look at the smaller markets, especially where several papers are run as groups, where press, sales and creative functions are combined in a single unit to serve several newspapers, the story is quite different. It's still bad, but it's nowhere near terminal.

And Ken Doctor, you make a distinction between some of the regional papers, which are in dire straits, and some local papers, which are doing okay.

Mr.�DOCTOR: That's true. There is a degree of difference, and it is those regional papers that were really all things to all people in Dallas, L.A., Seattle, you name it. But even the smaller papers - and this idea of clustering, which the listener's talking about, of putting together all kinds of operations, being more efficient - media news has been the major proponent of that with, I think, 55 dailies. They just declared bankruptcy two weeks ago.

So this is a problem that affects every kind of newspaper. The smallest weekly newspaper is going to do better because it probably doesn't have competition, but the small dailies are not doing very well, either. They're just doing a little less worse than those big regionals.

CONAN: David Cohn, these are your potential customers, so you must be concerned about them.

Mr.�COHN: Certainly. I mean, I'm concerned about them both because I want them to use, but also because, you know, Ken is right that I think there will be, you know, a certain number of companies at the national and international level that come out really strong. But what we really are threatened to lose is the papers at the local level, and the fact is is democracy still happens at a local level. And that's what we're really threatened with. So I'm concerned both for, but also for how our cities and local democracies function.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in. This is Leanne(ph), Leanne calling from Wheatland in Wyoming.

LEANNE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, go ahead.

LEANNE: I used to live in the Washington area, and if I could get the Washington Post out here, I would read it every day, especially Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I can't get it. All that comes out here, if you subscribe to it, is a summary sort of thing, and I don't enjoy that much, and it doesn't have a lot of the sections that I really, really enjoyed. It doesn't have the books. It doesn't have the Weekender. And even though I'm not there to enjoy this stuff, the weekend things, I like knowing what's going on. And there's also something about just sitting down with a newspaper and a cup of coffee in the morning and reading.

CONAN: There's a couple of things in that. First, Leanne, you might not recognize the weekend Washington Post. There is no separate book section anymore, for example. But...

LEANNE: Oh, no.

CONAN: No, it's folded into Outlook. Ken Doctor, after the latest round of retrenchments at the Washington Post - in fact, the editor was quoted as saying: We no longer consider ourselves a national newspaper.

LEANNE: Oh, how...

Mr.�DOCTOR: Right. And that's been a long-term trend after, basically after Watergate, that they decided that they wanted to really concentrate on the Washington metropolitan area, and they've done a very good job of it - one of the best newspaper Web sites in the country. But they are - even though a lot of people do rely on their national reporting, they do not consider themselves a national newspaper, and that's because in terms of the money, in terms of the subscribers - although they'd love to deliver a paper out to Wyoming and Montana, it is not cost-effective.

So in terms of the old business, the money is all - the advertising money's all in the Washington Metro Area. You could, of course, all of their stuff online, but that's very much still personal, generational and in the throes of change, where the experience of reading a newspaper online, I think, is very much what Silicon Valley would call 1.0...


Mr. DOCTOR: ...and that's what the excitement about the tablet is, for instance, that, you know, is there a longer form news reading experience that the tablet, the iPad or others, can make possible? Because right now, even the site like The Post, one of the best in the country, gets maybe 15 minutes a month from its average user.

So, we're using the Web for news reading but only in quick form, but this is going to change. The problem amid all this change, we can still have so much lost of journalism. So when we get to the other side, that chasm of pain I talked about, it's not clear how much actual journalism is going to be created and how much was going to be created by journalists who do it, you know, without fear or favor as we have long said, and how many do it at the behest of marketing companies.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Leanne.

LEANNE: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Oh, I should mention, they do have a great crossword puzzle in the Sunday Post.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But anyway, that's neither here nor there. Let's go to Troy(ph), Troy with us from San Jose, California.

TROY (Caller): Hi. I'm a person who sells trade advertising and for publication and online. And I think that small businesses around here who listen to everything moving online advertising is misleading to them, because I've had some customers who have gone - left print, gone all online and see their customers - volume drop.

And then, when they turn around to come back to paper into a combination of print and online, it - they get more than customers than they can deal with. And one of the other problems is, when you have a business, say, like a spa or a luxurious business like that that no one is thinking about, oh, I want to get spa treatment today, you really have to market and convince people to get a spa treatment or just get their treatment.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

TROY: Doing that online is very challenging to do when compare is to, say, a magazine or something when people are relaxed and reading through a magazine.

CONAN: And also, you can pick your magazine. If you're selling something expensive, you put an ad in The New Yorker, for example, with the right demographics, little down markets, you've got other choices. But that's one of the things you call the boutiquefication(ph), Ken Doctor, of the Web. People are figuring that out and figured out their niches.

Mr. DOCTOR: That's right. I have a chapter and they're called "Itch the Niche." And it's all about, you know, if you want health, if you want travel, if you want spas, you go specifically there and you find what you want. And the reader also brings up this interesting question of what we use to call serendipity, the idea that you could open up The Washington Post or the Mercury News in San Jose. And you'd find stuff that you weren't even looking for. And...

TROY: Right.

Mr. DOCTOR: ...editors decried that. Now, what's going on, I find this amazing, is that through Facebook, through Twitter, through even email inbox messages we all get, we're all becoming each other's editors. We're touting and we're saying, you can't miss this story. You can't miss TALK OF THE NATION from, you know, yesterday and here's the link.

So that now the gatekeeper effect that the newspaper had, whether it was finding a story or saying hey, even in an ad, hey, you think about a spa experience, we are sharing that with each other.


Mr. DOCTOR: So we're right in the middle of that revolution, but I think that's an important revolution. And you're right, it's where in this hybrid time and is partly print, is partly digital, but I think it's a one-way road to digital given the cost and profits involved.

CONAN: Or perdition, depending on who you're listening to. Troy, thanks very much. We appreciate the phone call. We're talking with Ken Doctor, his new book is called "Newsonomics," also with David Cohn, the director and founder of Spot Us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, David, I wanted to ask you, how do you attract viewers to your Web site in the first place to say, would you like to find investigative journalism?

Mr. COHN: Right now, a lot of that is through social media, the serendipity that Ken just mentioned, you know, Twitter and Facebook and things like that, a lot of it is also, you know, we kind of run these a little bit like campaigns, right? We are, you know, sort of espousing from the beginning that certain topics that we are interested in and we're finding other people that are passionate and interested in those topics as well. They, sort of, join our team.

CONAN: Let me ask you also, Ken Doctor, what are some of the big success stories that you're seeing? You're talking about this new startups and, obviously, Spot Us is just a year old, we'll see how that goes, but there are some you tout as successes.

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, it's interesting. You look at something like I was an editor and that's one city for 12 years. Men post has been operating there for a couple of years. They are now, and they start with foundation money, some angel money, actually started by Joel Kramer who had been editor and publisher of the Star Tribune, the big daily that I competed against.

Well, they have 1,500 members that are paying. They've got foundations. They've got sponsors. And importantly, they're producing dozens of stories every week that are making a difference in public policy and public life in the twin cities. So that model, while it is only two years and old, and employs, I think it's 16, 18 people, it is a successful model. The question is how you scale it.

Out here in Bay Area, California Watch is a new project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. 12 journalists, really good journalists, they just placed a story in newspapers, public radio and commercial TV last week and got two million readers on that story. This is an organization that didn't exist six months ago - high-quality journalism. Global Post in Boston is creating international journalism, has about 60 correspondents around the world, paying them stipends of about $10,000 each. So these models are working and again, it's pretty clear, you just got to get some money to professional journalists to do their job. The question is, how we're going get more of that money to them.

I tried to cover these kinds of projects and initiatives and successes on - I didn't write in the book. And then is out at the - basically shine a light on these kinds of projects that are working. We're seeing, I think, now as I said, probably a couple of dozen. And I think by the end of the year, we will see three or four dozen. They just need millions of dollars, not thousands.

CONAN: We're talking with Ken Doctor. His new book is called "Newsonomics." That is about 12 new trends that will shape the news you get. And among the digital dozen, we should confess that, he says, among those that could be positioned to find themselves in that digital dozen that survived and thrived, he includes National Public Radio. So it's an interesting - that's an interesting idea.

Anyway, here's an email, finally, from Steve(ph) in Glen Ellen, California. The Internet is not free, he writes. I pay $40 a month for my connection on top of $35 a month for my TV cable. Newspapers should be charging the Internet providers for content. Im tapped out. And, well, that's another model that we'll have to think about in other times. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today.

Mr. DOCTOR: Thank you.

Mr. COHN: Thank you.

CONAN: Ken Doctor and David Cohn, who's the director and founder of Spot.Us, joined us today from the studios of our member station in San Francisco, KQED.

Coming up: at the end of last year, a federal judge threw out charges against five Blackwater security contractors accused of killing civilians in Iraq. We'll find out why the case blew up and why Iran is shutting down its electronic communications today. Stay with us. This is NPR News.

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Excerpt: 'Newsonomics"


When Jonathan Weber moved to Montana, he could literally see the mountains and the river when he was working. His start-up news enterprise, though, outgrew his home office. Now, out his office window, the view is less grand, but he's still in the idyllic college town of Missoula, not far from the Bitterroot Mountains. Missoula is the place John Updike dubbed the "Paris of the 90's."

Ten years ago, Weber's view was less expansive, as he worked in the crowded cubicle atmosphere of a hot Internet bubble magazine, the Industry Standard. Twenty years ago, he had an office hidden deep in the bowels of the sprawling L.A. Times complex in downtown Los Angeles, far from any view.

Weber's got a view now, though, and a new perch. He can see the future every day.

He is one of dozens of pioneers, leading new journalism start-ups. In five years, he's taken his New West site and company into profitability, created networks, attracted 150,000 readers a month, won accolades for his impressive journalism and created a model that many may soon adopt.

New West cranks out an ambitious schedule of 20 stories a day – reporting-intensive stories that "connect the dots" on the issues that define life of the Rocky Mountain States.

Characteristic of our times, Weber's done it on a shoestring, but a shoestring with long ties. The full-time staff, including Weber who is both CEO and a writer, is about a half dozen. Another five to six part-timers — and dozens of community bloggers and contributors.

He can describe the four-level pyramid — full-time staff, paid contributors, contributing columnists and the largest, group, unpaid contributors of posts and stories on subjects far and wide. His pyramid is a journalistic prototype, one that others will study and test.

Weber is one of the new journalism's leading proponents of Pro-Am journalism. We know the term Pro-Am from the world of golf. You know, amateurs like actor Bill Murray and lesser-known duffers pairing off with golf pros, in places like Pebble Beach.

Pro-Am in journalism is a newer term, but it's gaining high-profile currency, under a number of different names. It's a product of the interactive age. I still like New York University professor Jay Rosen's construct of how it came to be. He early on redefined the notion of "readers" in the age of the Internet: "Those formerly known as the audience." Jay's huge and journalism-shaking point: It's no longer a "we write/you read" landscape.

Consider the big, popular forms Pro-Am journalism is taking:

Every day,, the third most popular news site on the web, gets more than 20,000 comments on its stories. Gannett — America's largest news publisher, with USA Today and 81 other dailies, has made "community conversation" a centerpiece of its new strategy, which I've explored in Chapter 3.

Most local newspaper companies now have community content strategies in place, with some of them taking what's submitted online and "reverse publishing" it to print.

CNN's iReport has seized user video contributions, putting them front and center to help fill its endless news cycles. Fox's uReport, MSNBC's FirstPerson and ABC's i-Caught all plow similar ground.

On a local broadcast level, You News, produced by Broadcast Interactive Media, is up in 82 cities. Many stations use three or four of the user-generated stories a week on air. Meanwhile, submissions are increasing more than 10% a month, and all of them, from actual news to videos of cute pets and kids, are viewable online.

NPR's new "Community Home" is its latest attempt to connect its on-air hosts and personalities, and their work, with listeners and their comments and feedback.

Not only is there an Am revolution underway but also professional journalists are seeing other Pros — like the Pew Research Center — join in "content creation." If on the Internet, anyone can be a content producer, then many organizations now can go direct to readers with their own publishing. The practice holds great promise, along with fair amount of peril.

What has spawned this revolution?

The convergence of two phenomena has catapulted "user-generated" content to incredible heights. Number one, it became possible for the first time in human history for individuals to connect with hundreds to tens of thousands of people they don't know through the Web. The Internet took letter-writing and one-to-one communication and relegated it to a corner of human interaction. Then, to propel this new communication potential, hundreds of companies sprung up to facilitate the social interaction. Products like Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad and Ning have made the creation — and sharing — of a blog possible within minutes. Millions have been created.

Number two, the economics of user-generated content are a potential godsend for media companies, big and small. Media can compare the costs of well-salaried editors, producers and reporters to those of "cheap-to-free content," eagerly offered by some pretty good writers. Now draw a line between the headcount reduction in journalism and the rise of user-generated content. It's not a straight line, of course, lots of zigs, zags and caveats, but the trendline is unmistakable.

In good business times, the trade-off is an attractive proposition. In the awful business times they've endured, user-generated content may be publishers' and broadcasters' lifeline to survival and future prosperity.

Reader comment, of course, is nothing new. Letters to the Editor have been a staple newspaper and magazine feature forever. They'd roll into newspapers, and would be carefully catalogued and vetted by the several-person editorial staff. Editors weighed writing, viewpoint, and balance ("hey, one for, one against; we're good") and used their majestic powers to "publish" the winners.

How quickly that era has ended, though publishers still spend a little expensive newsprint on "letters-to-the-editor."

Now, there is no scarcity of publishing space, little need for gatekeeping of comment and instant, unvetted communication. The Internet took what was probably a four-century practice and made it obsolescent.

No longer were editors in control. When I arrived in Saint Paul to work at the Pioneer Press in 1986, this story still regularly made the rounds: Former Saint Paul Dispatch Managing Editor Harry Burnham's famous response to a complaining reader, "Madame, if you do not cease this incessant caterwauling, I'll be forced to cancel your subscription." How times have changed and so quickly.

Importantly, citizen comment and writing has upended the relationship between the Pros – journalists being paid by Old Media — and the Ams, the rest of us. So our Law #6: Pro-Am Journalism Rules.

Am content covers a wide swath.

Pluck is one of the leading social network platform companies. That means it provides all the technology needed for media — and increasingly businesses of all sorts — to interact with their audiences.

Talk to Pluck, and they'll tell you that reader interaction usually starts with simply reacting to a story. That's commenting — the 20,000 or so comments gets every day. Think of that as letters to the editors on Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez's vitamins. Comments are, by their nature, reactive.

Move up the ladder, and readers start filling out a "profile" page, noting their interests. Then, they may participate in forums or discussion groups. Everything from political campaign groups to health support groups to sports team back-and-forth.

Then, they may "upload" photos or video, the latter of course being the fuel that feeds CNN's iReport and YouNews. While much of the public feels deficient in "writing" skills, anyone can take a picture or use a Camcorder.

At the top of the ladder are the regular contributors, mainly in print. These are people who have great expertise or passion or both — and keep up on topics of interest to their readers. Some have huge direct followings. Some are former journalists — bought out or laid off — looking to keep up their craft. Others disdain the word "journalism." Others are increasingly being — you guessed it — aggregated, as we saw in Chapter 5, by smart new middlemen.

This Pro-Am relationship is just being figured out. It's so new, the rules are being made on the fly. How prominently will user content be presented? Will it be used whole or just in excerpts? What kind of links to the user's own blog will be offered? Is there any compensation beyond exposure?

And the ethics? In the old world, editors worked next to their employees and could keep tabs on them, enforcing, for the most part, codes of ethics. In the Wild West of Ams, editors may never meet or have any idea about contributors' personal or business interests — how do editors vet? The short answer here is that they vet lightly, and that of course is why there are a lot of ticking time bombs out there. People do blog to advance business or political interests. Sometimes they disclose those; sometimes they don't. Disclosure is what is the basic rule should be, but it's an uneven practice.

CNN's iReport is a model from which the news industry is learning. It launched iReport in 2006, well ahead of the curve. It had seen the power of viewer submissions. Remember that harrowing video from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami?

From Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get by Ken Doctor. Copyright 2010. Reprinted by permission, St. Martin's Press.

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