OFF THE GRID

It's Not Your Father's News

Mar 9, 09 | 9:56 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The New York Times continues to attack Newser. A few weeks ago it was in a legal letter telling Newser not to use the little Times “T” to identify the Times as an original content source; this morning it’s in a piece by its media columnist, David Carr, that says “Google, the Huffington Post, and Newser have built their audiences and brands on other people’s labors.”

Carr’s idea is that, in an effort to save newspapers, owners should get together and have every paper charge for its website so that, among other effects, aggregators won’t be able to reference the efforts of news organizations like the beleaguered Times.

What we have here is a deeply plaintive cry: Stop the world, I want to get off.

As it happens, the problems in the newspaper industry are not principally caused by reader attrition, but by the flight of advertisers. Even before the recession, auto, help-wanted, and real estate advertising, the bedrock of the newspaper business, had been migrating to the web. It’s just a technological advance: The web is a better place to unite buyer and seller.

Newspapers, not just in their print form but in their electronic versions, too, are old-fashioned things—technologically obsolete, as reasonably happens to hundred-year-old industries. Fundamentally, news organizations are about restricting access to news. That is, they want you to see their news and nobody else's. They want your loyalty at the expense of you knowing more and knowing it sooner. The central premise of the New York Times is that the Times is all you need to be a well-informed citizen and news consumer. That, of course, is not just quaint but preposterous. With the instant availability of news from a Niagara of sources and locations, why is it again that you’d merely be satisfied with the New York Times?


(AP Image)

Limited to the Times, you’re also limited to the Times’ form—articles meant to fill up column inches to surround advertising space that can no longer be sold. Carr’s article itself—wordy, disorganized, flailing about—is a good example of a form that ought to rightly be retired. There’s too much news and information to have to spend a hard-fought 10 minutes with David Carr.

This is harsh, but obvious: Google, the Huffington Post, and Newser do the job of keeping readers efficiently informed better than the Times. For one thing, we’re dishing up more stories from more sources. The Times may be diligently gathering news, but there’s now an additional and quite possibly more important job: to organize and select the best and most relevant news.

And here’s something else: At Newser we make the Times shorter. Meaning no disrespect to David Carr, the Newser version of his story is clearer and quicker than the Times version.

Newspaper people like Carr have taken to threatening aggregators by saying that when the aggregators put newspapers out of business there will be nothing to aggregate. The Times, among other traditional news organizations—disregarding an explosion of information on the web that is transforming human consciousness—continues to believe it has a special monopoly on information.

They don’t. That’s the point. Another monopoly is broken—which is always good news.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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