Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Washington Post's Paul Farhi resorts to generalizations about bloggers that wouldn't make it past any good newspaper editor

I've never met The Washington Post's Paul Farhi, but now that he's waded into the debate about the future of media with his argument that newspapers should charge for online content or keep material off the web and put their emphasis on print, I've been paying a bit of attention to what he's writing.

He's obviously one smart guy. But his latest chat on raises serious questions about his judgment. One thing a good newspaper reporter doesn't do is make sweeping generalizations. So what does Farhi do? Read the following exchange from the chat to hear his view about bloggers.

Re: Bloggers: Why aren't bloggers more interested in helping newspapers make a go of it on-line? If we lose the big newspapers, what will they aggregate and/or comment on? I mean, CakeWrecks will probably still be in business, but anyone whose subject is current events will suffer greatly with no original material to work with.

Paul Farhi: I generally agree with you, although sadly, newspapers have cut back so much that they are providing less and less original material all the time. I can't imagine a world (or an internet) without the raw factual material that newspapers provide every day, but I guess the bloggers don't really care about any of that. They're mostly about themselves and their opinions, with little thought given to where they're getting their basic facts.

Come on, Paul.

Most newspaper newsrooms today are full of bloggers. And there are thousands of bloggers producing original content of value. Let's replace bloggers with the word "Democrats" and see how his thinking sounds. "I guess the Democrats don't really care about any of that. They're mostly about themselves and their opinions." Or how about Jews: "I guess the Jews don't really care about any of that. They're mostly about themselves and their opinions."

I hope I don't need to go any further to show the absurdity of Farhi's assertions about bloggers. Newspaper types aren't going to get anywhere by resorting to the very kind of writing they bemoan on the Internet.


  1. John,

    Got here via your tweet about substituting democrat/republican/jew/black for blogger in this comment and couldn't agree more. Fantastic observation.

    As Farhi reveals himself to be a "bloggist" (am I coining a new term here to describe this unfortunately too common perspective?), he is definitely in need of some introspection that the many in the newsmedia industry need to engage in.

    We all come from the very competitive media business: beating the other network affiliate in the market on the story, or the post/RMN newspaper war, was our way of life. We worried about being scooped or losing ad share and audience to our rivals.

    But we have to get used to a new paradigm where bloggers are concerned. Those bloggers are readers. Can you really win if you think of your customers as competition? Eric Schmidt spelled it out pretty simply earlier this year when he told editors and publishers that you can't "piss off your customers" and expect to stay in business.

    I'm impressed with media operations who are finally getting on board with ideas we discussed years ago, local news sites should embrace local bloggers and find ways to aggregate their content into a network of news and commentary. The link juice helps everyone.

    Where established news sites have failed to enfranchise bloggers is a big place. Dehumanizing them in the way Farhi does is one of the worst ways. But news sites have not found adequate ways to provide incentives for citizens to contribute to them. And that's the first step that needs to happed before even thinking about raising the quality and standards bar.

    On the other hand, Google pioneered a spectacular system for monetizing small content producers and helped foster an environment where anyone can try their hand. This same environment revolutionized liner advertising.

    If newspapers had thought of peer-to-peer advertising systems geared to aggregated local content networks and focused on the platform, things could be very different.

    But we both also know the culture of negative re-enforcement that is inherent in the editorial process and know that culuture had major barriers to becoming one that nurtured community. Instead, the watchdog has turned on its masters.

  2. Today, the media have become so focused on creating reams and gigabytes of content (the more, the better), and finding better ways to protect it as IP, they have lost sight of what it is they really do - deliver content. Meanwhile, new technologies -- new means of delivery -- have come along and eaten the old-media business models for lunch.

  3. "his argument that newspapers should charge for online content or keep material off the web and put their emphasis on print"

    Hey, what a great idea! Have newspapers wed themselves permanently to an incredibly expensive, inefficient distribution system that nobody wants anymore!

    I smell mega profits!

    So what should the industry do for an encore? Throwing wooden shoes at the web servers?

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