Answering questions for a friend

One of the first interviews I did on State of the Media was with my old friend, Marty Weybret, publisher of the Lodi News Sentinel (which is one of the oldest family-owned daily newspapers left in America).  At the time, the LNS was still doing well but Marty saw the handwriting on the wall.  I've been pushing my friend to get more involved with social media and he finally got onto Facebook and is getting pretty active.  He wrote a note with 10 questions on the future on journalism and asked for my input.  I'm putting it up on his notes, but I thought it would be good for fodder here as well.

Does "free on the Internet" mean news now has no economic value?
The only reason free content is on the internet is because the people placing it there have not assigned value to it.  Case in point is the Wall Street Journal.  They still charge a subscription to see much of their content.  They got a lot of flack at the beginning of Web 2.0 for doing that, but they are still standing and doing well relative to everyone else.  The journalism industry has made it's own bed by not charging something for their online content and some are beginning to wake up.  Even EE Times is planning on launching some level of payment for their content.  In some cases it is as simple as detailed information on the reader that can be resold as marketing data to other organizations.  It will be a painful transition for some people, but content can no longer be free.  Someone has to pay and it is up the the journalism world to figure out what that price is.

Does the symbiosis between advertising and news mean it never had the value
most journalists assumed it had?
The problem with advertising is that the journalism world have been telling advertising people that advertising increases sales.  It doesn't and never has.  The discussion of issues and concerns is what drives sales and advertising provides a suggestion about how to deal with them.  Advertising only validates a decision to buy or having bought so it minimizes buyer remorse and encourages continued patronage.  That is the byproduct of advertising.  The PURPOSE of advertising is to fund the discussion.  Journalism screwed up the relationship between ads and content and they are going to have to fix it by re-establishing a the value proposition.

Will user generated content replace a great deal of journalism?
Already has.  Take a look at most trade journals and at least 50 percent is vendor-generated.  Techonline is pretty much all user generated.  And that's why most people are turning to social media because user/vendor-generated content is little more than marketing crap.  It had it's place as a counterpoint to objective coverage, but as it continues, people are losing trust in media.  Social media is becoming a replacement but only as far as it is a trusted source.  But social media will die if it doesn't find a revenue source that at least covers its cost.

Will the "mainstream media," fade away or do they stand a chance of transforming themselves and becoming valuable again?
Yes, but it has to recognize the true value and purpose of the revenue stream and not set unrealistic expectations.

Given that people are paying more and more for entertainment & communication (cable TV, cell phones, online & video games, Internet connections, etc.) and less for journalism, can journalism change to the point it earns substantial revenue and still be journalism?
When Facebook, Technorati, Twitter and all these other collapse financially, there will be an enormous vacuum that will need to be filled.  The weakness of socially driven media is already becoming apparent as people take civil action against social media organizations, so they will have to clean up their act.  But the most important lesson to learn is that the old way of earning revenue is not going to come back.  The content itself has to be directly sponsored and become the reason people contact businesses for goods and services.

Why is Internet advertising cheaper than print advertising — does it work less well or is abundance driving the price down?
It's cheaper because the journalism industry priced it cheaper.  The industry thought, "Gee we don't need paper or printing presses or layout teams. Let's price it at 10 cents on the dollar and tell the advertisers the same thing: that it will drive sales."  But they didn't consider server costs, or computer science gurus in the cost, and they didn't know that people could more easily ignore ads on the screen than they could on paper.  Online advertising is not a bad thing, but like traditional advertising, it doesn't perform as advertised.

Is the audience for TV news declining as rapidly as newspaper circulation? If not, is the bigger audience due more to the fact that TV news is free or due to its user-friendly video-audio form?
The audience isn't declining.  The availability of fee content online is driving up audiences.  More people are consuming news than ever before.  They just don't have to pay for it.  Most of the print pubs I work with are cutting print runs not because people aren't reading, but because they can't afford to print as many copies.

Newspaper circulation is declining for many reasons — free news on the 'Net, increasing immigration from countries with poor public education, anger at the bias and ethical failings of journalism, a lack of drama and a wishy-washy focus of most news writing, America's "video generation"  finds papers less user-friendly, more people are "bowling alone" & commuting more so they are less involved in community affairs. There are probably other reasons as well. In what order would you rank these causes for the decline of circulation and why?
1. Declining advertising revenue is causing cutbacks in the quality of content which causes people to not want to read certain publications.
2. Poor reading skills make podcasting a better vehicle.
3. Poor education in history and civics make news incomprehensible

Can democracy survive a contraction of the mainstream media and an expansion of politician's Web sites and amateur blogging? Can the people influence big government armed with limited journalism?

What we call journalism today has only existed for about 50-70 years.  What came before it was anything but unbiased.  Andrew Jackson, for example, oversaw the operations of the Washington Globe established to promote his administrations policies to the people.  What we see in social media today is not unlike what media once was.  I'd like to point out that democracy was in place in many cultures long before there was a print media.  What our society looks like in 20 years may  be completely different than what it is now, but whether democracy survives is not based on what our media looks like.  Democracy drives what media looks like and it is the peoples' decision on whether they want it.