How eBooks Can Save Journalism

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At the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), Michelle Bachmann said a lot of things that weren’t true. She said she got the information from a self-published book, Presidential Perks Gone Royal. It’s written by a Republican lobbyist.

Bachmann trusted a book’s facts. Nothing wrong with that. However, with the filters for publication down, lies and truth are indiscernible. Promotional muscle is all one needs to propagate self-published propaganda.

Journalism used to show us the truth. That happened in this case. But for how much longer? How long are people going to keep paying for something as boring as facts?

Traditional Journalism is Dead

There’s a thin, almost sulfuric taste of obsolescence in the air when people talk about journalism. Besides the fact that we’re all just stealing content nowadays and there are fewer than 40,000 full-time journalists in the country, the average age of TV news network viewers is as follows:

  • Fox News: 65 years old
  • MSNBC:  59 years old
  • CNN: 63 years old
  • CNBC: 52 years old

This is bad. No one even wants to watch reporting anymore. As tablet computers take over, luring older consumers away, news networks are going to suffer even more.

Yet one study showed that news consumption is booming thanks to digital devices. 

But people aren’t really reading news, they’re “getting” it from people and sources that have a similar agenda.

News organizations have to sheer context from articles just to keep impatient digital readers engaged and compete for clicks. This makes a lot of news articles identical to the spittle of curated news sites, injected with sensationalism and bias like athletes on steroids. At the risk of ever-shrinking context and investigative pieces.

Finding Alternative Energy for News Revenue

The difficulty is revenue.

With dwindling subscriber numbers and people frothing at the mouth to keep reading The New York Times for free, news organizations can’t really keep paying journalists to do long-form journalism no one wants to read.

At the end of the day, who’s there to cross-check Michelle Bachmann’s referral to the book other than journalists? Amazon isn’t going to do it. Last I looked, Presidential Perks Gone Wild was high up on the list of “Nonfiction.”

selfpublishaccuracy

In self-publishing, authors self-select what’s fiction and what’s nonfiction. Even authors who fill a book with fake facts.

 Without journalists, who’s going to investigate… authors?

So, if the reporting muscle of America continues to atrophy, we’re in serious trouble. People will keep digging for more and more stuff that already caters to their opinions. They will keep stubbornly not paying for longer news stories when they can see headlines for free.

But here’s the thing: eBooks can be used for good, too. They’re just not being used very well yet. At all.

Honestly, why is dishonesty always more innovative than honesty?

I work in internet marketing. We have a very simple formula for success: a short, sensational blog post leads to an eBook with longer content in it. Hell, I did this myself.

The New York Times is kind of doing this already… but they plan to publish 10-12 eBooks this year. That’s not enough eBooks. They have hundreds of years of articles.

Why can’t they hire some unemployed millennials to do this for them?

Imagine:

1. A new article comes out about Afghanistan.

2. At the bottom of the article, there’s a 50-page eBook, a collection of the best reporting from Afghanistan since 2001.

3. It’s $1. Maybe free for “platinum” subscribers or something.

This can be done in a day and actually improve journalism at the same time, further drawing away reliance on ad revenue.

I would buy eBooks that offer more context to articles in a way that makes sense. It would be great to not have to stomach the cardboard taste of Wikipedia’s “History of Afghanistan” just to figure out why the Taliban is the way it is.

I would love a little more education about the things I’m already clicking, but there doesn’t seem to be any attempt at offering this context short of annoying and unhelpful links.

The longer news organizations take to adapt to the digital age, the further ahead the fictional nonfiction will get.

What do you think, would you pay $1 to read more about how journalism has been dying since the 90s? 

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2 Responses to How eBooks Can Save Journalism

  1. EPH says:

    Good idea – but is it really a matter of charging a few bucks for an story? Or is there something deeper about content, and content theft, going on. Is reposting or summarizing your work stealing it? What if I summarize 90%? Copyright was such a tiny part of our legal history (compared to say, criminal justice) but now, copyright should be the predominant focus of the courts.

    The problem seems to me to be that internet is a giant echo chamber. At each echo, the sound is modified slightly, compacted or biased or warped, in some giant geometric driver of lamarckian evolution. Now, the problem is that, as you could just listen to the echo for free, why pay to listen to the original source? But then, further along, the consequences of ignoring the fons et origo come into play – eventually the sphere, which used to be open to receive outside noise, will begin to close, and the original sounds will become quieter and quieter, and the echoes louder and louder, drowning it out, until eventually the last hole in the hull is sealed off and the ersatz echoes are free to bounce around forever. There is a difference between information and simulacra, and if we do not recognize it now, we will do irreparable damage to our culture.

    • Blaise Lucey says:

      I think both things are true: yes, it is a matter of charging a few dollars for long-form content after readers are intrigued by a news story. And yes, copyright is getting destroyed and the integrity of content is being turned apparitional at best.

      Both things are going to happen, and have been happening since the advent of mass media: sensation sells to the majority and information to the minority. This is going to keep happening, but I think the chasm will probably open up wider than ever before. It takes a conscious effort not to succumb to the “simulacra” of the echo chamber, a very definitive sense of what you want from “content” in the first place.

      Likewise, during the Age of the Optional Purchase, we are going to have to depend on this minority to keep funding real journalism, real literature, real music, etc. as it becomes more easily replicated.

      I would argue that the culture you’re talking about is already totaled. It was destroyed by the constant, feverish catering to the lowest common denominator.

      What we’re seeing now is the culture of the intellectual is being put at risk, because it simply can’t compete with more fun, more accessible replications. The culture will be destroyed when self-fashioned intellectuals stop paying for the real stuff… everyone else already has.

      To quote Gandalf… Tell me, old friend… do YOU pay for the New York Times?

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