Auletta on the Newspaper Death Watch

Ken Auletta makes some sharp comments on the perilous state of the news industry in a Q&A with The Boston Phoenix.

Q. What about the broader question of paying for news?

A. I have two views. One is, the people who run newspapers have to start with the assumption that they’ve got to change, and that an online newspaper is different from a print newspaper. You gotta go in with an attitude, not of “I’m going to protect my turf,” but of “I’m going to change my turf to conform to this new medium that demands interactivity, which I’m not used to.” If they don’t do that—if they don’t say, “What are we doing wrong? How do we change?”—I think they’ll be in trouble.

But then the question is, are there things that the web culture has to get? The problem is, when you put stuff out on the web for free, and you can link to it, yes, it grants you more exposure for your stories. Many more people will see it, and maybe you can sell some advertising off it. But then there’s a basic question: if many more people are seeing it—as Jeff Jarvis for instance argues in his new book, What Would Google Do—and you can monetize it by selling ads off it, are the ads you’re going to sell going to make a profound difference?

I think that’s right. The give-news-away-free model just is not going to get newspapers through the next ten years. And he makes some excellent points here:

The question for newspapers is, is there some way—be it micropayments, subscriptions, or something else—to make money from your content? I mean, I write a book, I’m not going to give it out. That’s how I live! Jeff Jarvis, who believes in free, got paid in advance for his book. Content people should be paid. They’re not going to work for nothing. A musician’s not going to work for nothing.

And if you say, “We’ll do it all through advertising”—well, what if advertising doesn’t cover the cost? Does Facebook make money? Does YouTube make money? Neither of them makes money. They have a great audience, great traffic, but don’t make money. You can build it, and they may not come; in this case, the money may not come. Now, maybe they will: they’re unbelievable sites, and they provide a great service to people. But they’re not making money. And they’re businesses.

(hat tip: Romenesko)

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.