Internet News

By Michael Massing
The New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 13, August 13, 2009

Edited by Andy Ross

Dismal and discouraging numbers are emerging from the world of newspapers.

The New York Times executive editor Bill Keller deplored the "diminishing supply of quality journalism" at a time of "growing demand." By quality journalism, he said, he meant the kind "that involves experienced reporters going places, bearing witness, digging into records, developing sources, checking and double-checking, backed by editors who try to enforce high standards."

David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and the creator of The Wire, said the Internet "leeches ... reporting from mainstream news publications, whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary, and froth. Meanwhile, readers acquire news from the aggregators and abandon its point of origin, namely the newspapers themselves."

This image of the Internet as parasite has some foundation. But such statements seem as outdated as they are defensive. The practice of journalismis being reinvented by the Web. Unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise.

The two bloggers most commonly recognized as the medium's pioneers, Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, are still at it. Kaus, who started the blog kausfiles in 1999, is now at Slate, and Sullivan, who began The Daily Dish in 2000, now posts at The Atlantic. Both still use the style they helped popularize — short, sharp, conversational bursts of commentary and opinion built around links to articles, columns, documents, and other blogs.

For the most part, the coverage of the financial crisis in the daily press has been episodic, diluted, cloaked in qualifiers, and neutered by comments and disclaimers from businessmen and their paid spokesmen, to whom mainstream journalists feel obligated to give equal time. Bloggers who reject such reflexive attempts at "balance" make the blogosphere a lively and bracing place.

A fundamental change is taking place in the world of news. The current turbulence in the news business is like the disorder brought about by the invention of the printing press. A profound process of decentralization and democratization is under way.

Internet News 2

By Michael Massing
The New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 14, September 24, 2009

Edited by Andy Ross

The first quarter of 2009 was the worst ever for newspapers, with sales plunging $2.6 billion. Yet statistics from the Internet suggest that interest in news has rarely been greater. According to one survey, Internet users in 2008 spent 53 minutes a week reading newspapers online, up from 41 minutes in 2007. And the traffic at the top fifty news Web sites increased by 27 percent.

For publishers, the key is to find a way to maximize revenues from print and the Web. With the steady fall-off of advertising since 2006, there is growing recognition of the part that free access to the Web has played in the hemorrhaging of circulation. In the next year, many publishers are expected to erect "pay walls" around their sites.

The Financial Times allows visitors to access to a few free articles a month, but to get more they have to subscribe. This has netted the FT 117,000 subscribers paying up to $299 a year. The Wall Street Journal allows visitors to free access to all articles about general-interest topics. Only those seeking entry to business and finance reports must pay.

Introduced by The New York Times in September 2005, TimesSelect placed the paper's columnists behind a pay wall and charged online readers $49.95 a year for admission. Two years later, the Times, concerned by the fall-off in traffic, reinstated its free-for-all policy.

A restless array of entrepreneurs, innovators, and idealists has emerged, testing new ways of delivering the news.

Slate was founded in 1996 with the help of Microsoft. Since being purchased by the Washington Post Company in 2004, it has generally been profitable.

The online arm of Foreign Policy magazine, offers free access to both punchy articles from the magazine and a roster of contentious, thoughtful blogs. It also has offered some original reporting.

After not quite three years, Politico attracts on average about 3.2 million unique visitors a month. Its founders say it's in the black. Fully dependent on ad revenue, Politico gets much of it from its print edition.

Talking Points Memo has turned a profit without the aid of print or a sponsor. In nine years, Josh Marshall has built it from a one-man blog into a bustling political journal with 1.5 million unique visitors a month.

The Huffington Post has conjured up a cast of bloggers numbering in the thousands, a Washington staff of seven, an investigative unit, and local editions in Chicago and New York. Ad revenue has been growing briskly.

Global Post was launched in January with close to $10 million in start-up funds from private investors The site already has 74 part-time correspondents in 50 countries.

The image of the Times and the Post protected by huge endowments is entirely unrealistic. In the last two years, nonprofit sites have sprung up in Austin, San Diego, the Twin Cities, New Haven, Seattle, St. Louis, and Chicago. The same entrepreneurial spirit has led to a surge of interest in investigative reporting not seen since the days after Watergate. America has enthusiasm and initiative that are creating the opportunity for fresh structures to emerge.

AR The Web is the future and Sir Tim is the new Gutenberg. A viable micropayment infrastructure is needed to put the world of web news on a sound footing.