Friday, June 05, 2009

Can you still trust me?

Now that I have offered newspaper publishers a potential solution to building revenues and improving their strategic position in the interactive age, some commentators have raised the legitimate question of whether this blog can be trusted.

Sidestepping the obvious issue of whether anyone should have trusted me in the first place, my response is this: Once you know where I am coming from, you can decide how much to credit anything I say in the future.

I wholeheartedly stipulate that my interest in working with newspaper publishers on a possible commercial project exposes me to potential conflicts of interest. But I felt I had no other choice.

Just as a news photographer should drop his camera to rescue a child from a burning building if no one else is around, I felt obliged to contribute what I believe is a constructive solution to the revenue crisis that threatens the future of journalism.

If my idea works, I might make some money. I am not allergic to that. And I won’t apologize for trying.

Now that I have moved from observer to participant in some of the discussions that may shape the future of the media business, I reserve the right to offer my thinking – like other businessmen who write op-ed pieces from time to time – on how to solve the devilish problem of charging for valuable content after giving it away for free for the last 15 years.

One thing I will never do, however, is to reveal the private conversations I have with publishers or other partners. Their business activities are not mine to discuss.

When I write about something in the future, you will get the best of all possible worlds. In addition to already knowing what my biases are and where my interests lie, you will benefit from the insights (but not the proprietary information) that I gain in my work.

This standard of transparency ought to be common in the media, in the business world, in government and in other elements of our society. You may not always find it there. But that’s what you’ll get here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether or not we trust you is probably immaterial. What you need to worry about is whether the US Justice Department pulls you in to an investigation of Big Newspaper's collusion to fix prices.

Walter Abbott

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Robert MacMillan said...

Sounds reasonable, no?

7:56 AM  
Anonymous John Robinson said...

Transparency and full disclosure. You have nothing to fret over.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous D.S. said...

Something tells me the Justice Department is going to be a bit lenient when it comes to newspapers coming up with a system to charge for content.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Mark Phillips said...

Conflict of interest? The term really doesn't exist outside newspaper journalism anyway... Who cares!

Alan - go for it.. If it works, it works...

More power to ya...

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

When you wrote less than a month ago about the tax break newspapers in Washington state received, you said, "Publishers and editors undoubtedly will promise to be as vigilant and impartial as ever. And that may be true.

"But thoughtful readers will be left wondering. And that can’t be good for business."

So, it's OK for you to want to make money, because you've now admitted that you want to make money. But it's somehow bad business for newspapers to do the same, even though everyone knows papers operate as for-profit businesses? Hmmm.

Your argument is that papers shouldn't seek tax favors from government (even though such favors have long existed, with no ad sale taxation and postal rate benefits) because papers cover government. (And I suppose NPR has been in the federal government's pocket for nearly 40 years.)

I take no issue with you writing about media issues and also wanting to make a buck from the media biz. Shouldn't the media biz be afforded the same?

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just more whistling past the graveyard.
What a sad use of anyone's time/life.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Howard said...

Do you not see how insufferably arrogant and indulgent this seems?

Only Alan could rescue the children from the fires of change, so he stepped up out of obligation to do so.

Sorry; this does effect my level of trust and respect.

P.S. Hope you really come up with something better than a re-heated Yahoo plan.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Mark Lucherini said...

Other than your comparison of saving a life to what you're currently doing, there doesn't seem to be an issue. You're admitting it, not trying to hide it, so what issue would there be?

9:17 AM  
Anonymous John Mecklin said...

I frankly don't get this post, except as a failed exercise in self-importance. A media consultant consults for media companies. He also blogs about the media.

So what?

9:30 AM  
Blogger lkramer said...

You're on the right track. You just need to maintain as much flexibility in revenue streams as possible, particularly since the consumer facing distribution is in such a state of flux. You just need to build in a strong flow of market research and data about consumer buying habits from the outset. That way the industry can better adapt to what is working.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know of a private corporation that publishes, among other things, around a couple dozen web versions of our print newspapers. Within the last year, very nearly every one of them has been switched to open and free, to membership and free, with a small number being for-pay only.

We don't collect much demographic information yet, what we do gather is optional.

Here's what I'm thinking about ViewPass:

1 - Having a professionally operated subscription service like that makes much more sense than throwing yet another layer of responsibilities on a paper's IT folks, even if you manage to do it in such a way that it covers a regional cluster rather than a single publication.

2 - Your statement "But the system’s greatest value would be the data it assembled on each individual consumer" is both intriguing and chilling. It's chilling because the next step would easily be to merge consumer activity as monitored by Visa, say, with the demographic information gathered by ViewPass. For the negative implications of that scenario, I'll refer you to Terry Gross' interview with Adam Levitin on Fresh Air

Just as the invasion of privacy he describes could put an end to information gathering, it could also give our industry a black eye.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

yes and no..

Yes, because I look at everything that is self edited and published as suspect. You never purported to be doing journalism..

No, because you failed to disclose the conflict while you were pontificating the issues will permanently have me wondering if you are hiding other special interests. You've lost my trust. in that regard and will likely not get it back.

However in the end you've damaged youself and your reputation to those that looked at the newsosaur blog as something different.

Transparency and full disclosure after the fact is only self-serving and more suspect. A mea-culpa that may soothe your own conscience only.

Several of the others have mentioned that you could be pulled into an investigation.. and I would agree that you have created that risk to yourself.


4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question for everyone out there - Why is it we never hear from the IT teams at newspaper companies offering up comments about having to work with antiquated content management systems? I've worked at magazine, book, newsletter, newspaper, and wire service publishers and most didn't/don't have adequate content management systems to allow them to "plug-and-play" with the digital content ecosystem. Why do you think companies like Amazon (Kindle) won't return your calls? They know you're not easy to work with and will only go out of their way to work with the largest of brands in an assumption that work they do with those brands will be worth their time, energy and money. I think we've all heard enough about business models and theories about why our industry is dying, but the obvious is being forgotten. I would recommend that that we invest in our content management systems and plug-in to the global content economy. Find new platforms, new markets, new delivery models and test the waters. You might be surprised at what you find when you try.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if there were no conflict of interest in fact, there certainly is the perception of one, and perception is reality for most people. Your strength and appeal were your experience, insight, and your arms-length independence. Your hair has been cut, Samson. Don't know if it'll grow back, or if it does how many of your current readers will be around to see it.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would have preferred that you not have an ax to grind. But, as long as you share with your readers what that ax is, we can take it into account.

You are as entitled to your opinion as anyone else. You weren’t really breaking any news here. But you were providing a valuable service whether you realized it or not.

It may even have been as valuable as ViewPass becomes someday (although it wasn’t bringing you any $$). And that was providing a thoughtful, free-wheeling and unbiased discussion of what ails the newspaper industry.

By jumping into the hurricane with the rest of us, you’ve taken the edge off your blog somewhat, but I will continue to visit to see what you have to say.

Bruce Wood

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally, I think now I can trust you as a total media expert! Relax, you and the group that brainstormed in Chicago are fine.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, I can trust you in the same manner as I have since subscribing. Nothing's changed in any substantive way. Your point of view is what drew me here. As for those whose regard for your observations has been shaken, would they prefer to have been kept in the dark about your pitch to the publishers?

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bottom line--your idea seems to present no new thoughts on generating significant income for newspaper publishers on-line. They already attract the eyeballs.Now come up with a way they can offer hundreds of advertisers a platform to run their ads. For someone who has been hellbent on destroying newspapers' credibility these past 24 months, I find it curious you now feel qualified to help cure the industry's ills.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You've not violated a trust, merely devalued your column. Up to your readers, individually, to decide by how much.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For anonymous @7:54 PM: You don't hear from the IT teams at newspaper companies partly because any coming changes that we have knowledge of are confidential.

The current systems are antiquated, yes. But they are still reliably powering the platforms that pay the bills. Until the suits have fully costed out how any new ideas will bring in revenue, they won't open their wallets for the new, still unproven, technology to support those ideas.

Also, the antiquated systems are at least our own. When they break, we know how to fix them, fast. The problem I see with ViewPass and other subscription ideas from an IT point of view is that you no longer control in-house the system supporting a vital business function. Firms that rely on Gmail learned during their recent service outage what the downside of outsourcing can be.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish there was enough boldness in the industry to ignore the reader surveys and just start charging -- particularly if it were Gannett or the New York Times. Newspaper executives are lemming-like enough in nature. You don't need to hold these industry meetings, which could likely arouse claims of price-fixing, to get the job done and for the entire industry to shift to a pay model. The audience that reads the New York Times would most likely pay for it if necessary (including myself). Gannett has such an incredible market share, every local newspaper grasping for a solution would likely try to follow in its footsteps. There would probably be financial ramifications initially, but what is there really to lose for companies that are inches from bankruptcy, with worthless stock, and that are constantly laying off employees as it is?

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the real issue does the public trust the news sources, and isn't that answer no? Once you've lost the trust, ven if it's only half of the audience, the cvancer grows ... it's good by time and something enw will take it's place.

I simply won't pay for 'news'.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really see any conflict of interest as long as the involvement is disclosed. The blog offers opinions, not an investment prospectus.

For my part, I'll make a few visits to Capitol Hill to help legislators see just how bad an idea it is to let publishers collude like this.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous RickWaghorn said...

Have to say, same thought has crossed my mind too... now we've got up and running out of Berkeley does simply become a sales and marketing device...?

Or an 'open' experiment in which nothing is hidden; success, failure or otherwise?

I tend to the latter; a Shirky-esque stance; 'Nothing works, but everything might...' so let's give this a go and talk about it as we go...

So, as long as you keep talking, I'll keep listening and - hopefully - someone, somewhere will keep learning.

Better to have fought and lost, then never to have fought at all, etc, etc...

All the best,


2:40 AM  
Anonymous Dhyana Sansoucie said...

I think blogs have a more transparent system of trust. You get to know the person individually over time. You get a fairly clear picture of who is behind the talk. It's personality-based, not institution-based.

So your perception is not likely to swing wildly because of promoting one system.

Knowing that, though, helps you discount their future writing on competitor approaches. And this will be discounted greatly in this case.

That is what Mr. Mutter gave up. He must have decided his solution is worth it. At least to him.

5:59 AM  
Blogger davidp said...


9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see any problem here. Being invited to give your ideas doesn't jeopardize your position, and I am happy someone -- anyone -- is looking for the magic bullet that will pull the industry out of its death spiral. I frankly don't think you have it yet, but all ideas are certainly welcome.

11:33 AM  

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