no fortune in fishwrap 01.26.2005, 7:05 PM
posted by ben vershbow
This link to a New York Times article about maddening service disruptions on the New York City subway will self-destruct in 30 days. All right, so that's not literally true, but click in a month's time and you'll be whisked to a virtual tollbooth - a pay-per-item archive service that no one under any normal circumstances would use. It's just one of those nuisances of the web, a hyperlink hiccup slamming you into a brick wall. You wince slightly and move on.
This is by and large the experience of searching for all but newly minted news on the web. The older stuff, the stuff that goes in the recycling bin in real life, is slapped with a price tag. Most of us don't stop to wonder at this strange inversion of value. We've grown accustomed to the way things are, that newspapers are pre-digital dinosaurs - vital, but very cranky and paranoid when it comes to the web. They have set up citadels where most have built cycloramas.
"Papers like the New York Times have decided that their archives -- which were previously viewed as fishwrap, as in "today it's news, tomorrow it's fishwrap" -- are their premium product, the thing that you have to pay to access; while their current articles from the past thirty days are free."
He links to a fascinating and important piece on Dan Gillmor's blog, Newspapers: Open Up Your Archives. Gillmor wonders how newspapers will stay relevant if they don't unclench - move with the web rather than against it. He writes:
"One of these days, a newspaper currently charging a premium for access to its article archives will do something bold: It will open the archives to the public -- free of charge but with keyword-based advertising at the margins.
"I predict that the result will pleasantly surprise the bean-counters. There'll be a huge increase in traffic at first, once people realize they can read their local history without paying a fee. Eventually, though not instantly, the revenues will greatly exceed what the paper had been earning under the old system. Meanwhile, the expenses to run it will drop.
"And, perhaps most important, the newspaper will have boosted its long-term place in the community. It will be seen, more than ever, as the authoritative place to go for some kinds of news and information -- because it will have become an information bedrock in this too-transient culture."
It's really worth reading this post, and following Gillmor's blog in general. What is the future of the news if newspapers don't learn the language of hyperlinking?
In that spirit, I refer you to another worthwhile rumination on this subject, The Importance of Being Permanent by Simon Waldman, Director of Digital Publishing at The Guardian (one of those few newspapers that seems to "get" the web), also linked on Gillmor's post. From Waldman:
"It is the current policy of most American newspapers to be anti-Web in the key matters of linking out and permitting deep-linked content through stable and reliable url's. This policy is, in my view, wrong-headed. It was done to get revenues from the archive. There was a business reason. No one was trying to be anti-Web. They just ended up that way by trying to collect revenues from a "closed" archive.
"But being closed cannot be the way forward for journalists, and so they have to involve themselves in the business of linking."
I'll rest there for now, though it would be interesting to discuss this further. Newspapers, all news media, are already in the grip of crisis - both a general crisis of confidence, and crisis arising from the extreme pressure exerted by new technologies. Over the next decade or so we'll see how this plays out. But no matter how upset I am right now with the state of the mainstream media, I would be still more distraught if it were to disintegrate. Blogs and the rise of grassroots journalism are necessary revolutions, but they function best as counterpoint/collaborator/corrective to the the professional fourth estate. A kind of fifth estate?
I'll end with a few links (perpetual, I hope) to some recent news about the indelible expansion of Google, to whose every footfall newspapers should pay heed. Google:
Posted by ben vershbow on January 26, 2005 7:05 PM
tags: Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press
Dan Visel on January 26, 2005 7:24 PM:
Tangentially: you might note http://nytimes.blogspace.com, which generates non-decaying links to New York Times articles for use in blogs. It seems like an end-run around the problem.
dave munger on January 27, 2005 7:58 AM:
Do those links really not expire? I'd like to see an example of one.
I've heard somewhere (can't remember where) that the New York Times may be moving to a paid subscription model for its online content. Unfortunately, sort of the reverse of the trend Ben is hoping for.
dave munger on January 27, 2005 8:12 AM:
FYI, The Seattle Times has always had free archive search, and continues to (but you must register to access the archives).
ben vershbow on January 27, 2005 10:24 AM:
Yes, and the San Francisco Chronicle has always had free archive access. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Dan, thanks for pointing out that back door to the Times archives - I'd heard about that recently but forgot to mention it.
G Zombie on January 29, 2005 12:22 AM:
Here's a NY Times link from August 2003, generated by the Blogspace site:
"Sweet, Sentimental and Punk"