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Lesbian Lord of the Rings Programmers Creating Open Source Star Wars Apps, or, Can Nonprofit Status Make Newspapers Any Less Lame?

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Hey! Newspapers are still good for something.

Journalist Bill Wyman—who is not, repeat not, the age-of-consent refusenik bassist for the Rolling Stones—lists a baker's handful of reasons why the fad for nonprofit status will not cure the (hopefully) terminal illness afflicting traditional journalistic enterprises.

Wyman's objections range from the pithy ("A nonprofit company is a timid company") to the back-of-the-envelope ("The costs-to-potential-income ratio is vastly, fatally, lopsided") to the more elaborate:

Newspapers earn their money by selling ads on newsprint and delivering them, via a societal convention cum monopoly, to people's doorsteps' each morning. The value of that monopoly subsidized the news gathering.

Unfortunately, the monopoly is seeing its value plunge precipitously.

The point is this: Any plan to make money doing journalism that doesn't contain a revenue source involving magic money on this scale isn't going to work.

[…]

At Salon.com, which I think is a fair example to give, in that it balanced serious and investigative journalism with, uh, lots of articles about sex and TV, we all saw how few people read the articles that took the most time and money and effort to produce… [These were usually] dwarfed by anything about "Survivor," or Lord of the Rings, or certain sexual proclivities, or, in the tech world, the open-source darling of the time.

(Let me tell you, an article about a Star Wars/Lord of the Rings trivia contest between lesbian Linux programmers would have caused an internet meltdown.)

I think Wyman's economic argument is right, and the fact that they are reproducing golden-age $600,000 editor-in-chief salaries makes it highly likely Pro Publica and similar new organizations will end in tears. Publications with a distinct readership appeal and a narrow focus—including Mother Jones and, ahem, Reason—can thrive in the nonprofit universe. Publications that are trying to reproduce the purview and cushy lifestyle of a daily paper, not so much.

Mr. Zell, tear down this building -- preferably when all the employees are still inside.

It's even less likely that nonprofit status of the sort promoted in Sen. Benjamin Cardin's (D-Maryland) "Newspaper Revitalization Act" will help out bloated news organizations like The New York Times (which long after papers' fiscal crisis was clear spent $640 million on a gigantic Renzo Piano headquarters, half of which it has since had to sell at a massive loss) and the Los Angeles Times (which still keeps more than 500 editorial employees at salaries well above the industry average, and also maintains dozens of national and international bureaus and an in-house "test kitchen," all to put out a paper that rarely runs more than 100 pages in its weekday editions).

When I was covering the Cardin bill a while back, the striking thing was how little interest anybody in the newspaper business had in it. I couldn't even get people at the 60,000-circulation Peoria Journal Star, a frequently named candidate for nonprofit status, to stand up and cheer for the idea.

Wyman's former colleague Scott Rosenberg (the Keith Richards of Salon) notes that Salon has always been a for-profit enterprise yet has also lost money hand over fist. I don't follow Salon's current financial situation, but traditionally it has survived by finding investors who share the site's vision. Nonprofit believers forget that favorable tax treatment doesn't change the laws of nature. You still need to bring in more than you spend, or eventually you won't be around.

NEXT: Reason.tv: Sweden's March Toward Capitalism

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  1. If you read a sentence written by Nikolai Gogol, you know Gogol and only Gogol could’ve written it.

    The same can be said of Tim Cavanaugh.

    1. Can I quit kissing his ass now?

  2. “LA Times which still keeps more than 500 editorial employees at salaries well above the industry average, and also maintains dozens of national and international bureaus and an in-house “test kitchen,” all to put out a paper that rarely runs more than 100 pages in its weekday editions”

    Hey Matt. It takes a lot of people to effectively ignore the Villaraigosa and John Edwards sex scandals as well as any other story that doesn’t fit the narrative and might actually be interesting enough to cause someone to buy a paper.

    1. Just for the record, I don’t remember the LA Times ignoring that stuff.

      1. Further for the record, the author of the post was not named “Matt.”

        (And the LAT famously did not cover the Edwards story until everyone else had to.)

        1. My typo, but the point about the LA Times still stands. Thanks.

          1. “I meant to say, ‘Honey please pass the salt’, but it came out ‘You ruined my life you fuckin bitch!'”

          2. John, you’re 0/2 this AM. Bravo.

            1. Really? I missed matt’s name and what else?

              1. You missed Bailey calling the auctioning rationing.

        2. Less famously, opinion web editor Tim Cavanaugh and then-intern Amina Khan got in hot water just for posting a blog item mentioning that the Edwards story was being discussed in other media — which then had to be taken down (ostensibly because we didn’t want to step on our own paper’s investigation, which of course continued not to happen).

          1. Doesn’t this belong on the conspiracy theory post? Certainly something like this could never happen in real life. Journalistic integrity, and all.

          2. Your tinfoil is showing.

          3. Tim,

            I have a rule about being a good employee: If you’re not in hot water with your bosses at least once every six months, you’re not playing hard enough.

      2. The LA Times got scooped on the Villaraigosa story by a local daily. They sat on the story and wouldn’t run it for fear of offending Hispanics.

        And the National Inquirer scooped the entire MSM on the Edwards story, but especially the LA Times since it was going on in their city.

        1. I’m not familiar with that one occasion specifically, but I’m not sure I’m getting the complaint here.

          They didn’t want to seem like they were going after the mayor on a personal issue because they didn’t want to offend the people who buy their paper, and that’s a bad thing? That’s the complaint?

          McDonalds uses recycled materials for the same reasons–they don’t want to offend a vocal group of people some of their customers care about. It probably costs them a little extra–so what?

          Costs like that aren’t gonna drive ’em out of business, and it’s the same thing with the LA Times too. The problems big city papers like that are facing aren’t about getting scooped on a story–it’s suddenly having to compete with a zillion online news sites…

          I read the Washington Post for Redskins and Caps coverage. I read the New York Times for movie reviews. Everything else I get from somewhere else. That’s the LA Times problem–not getting scooped on the mayor.

          1. The two most interesting stories that have happened on their watch and could have sold the most papers they ignored for really what amounts to ideological reasons. When your political biases are more important than your bottom line, you have no one but yourself to blame when you go broke.

          2. it’s suddenly having to compete with a zillion online news sites…

            … that scoop them on stories.

            The big papers can’t help but get scooped, they need to make it up with in-depth follow-up that the online sites can’t do well. If they won’t do that, it’s self-inflicted injury.

            1. Point taken.

              I hope the point’s getting across that more scoops isn’t about to save the buggy whip factory.

          3. They didn’t want to seem like they were going after the mayor on a personal issue because they didn’t want to offend the people who buy their paper, and that’s a bad thing? That’s the complaint?

            If you’re in the business of selling “news” and won’t put out any news which might offend people, then yeah, that’s a fucking problem.

            I just quit the daily paper where I last worked (I have no idea what I’ll do next, but I know I’ll never get anywhere if I’d stayed where I was), and I abandoned any hope the paper might really make it when the owner gave an interview to another media outlet and said something like “Our focus is cheerful, positive community news.”

            Sigh. Some local news is cheerful and positive, yes — Lord knows I’ve done my share of stories on the themes “Wholesome high-school kids put on a play” or “Cute toddlers do cute things at town Fourth-of-July festival” — but if your entire focus is on highlighting the cheerful and positive, you are NOT giving people the news — you’re doing public relations.

            What’s more, the readers know it. And keeping advertisers happy won’t matter if they have no readers to advertise to.

            1. I’m sorry to hear that you’re in that spot again.

              I remember someone, I think it was around here, linking to a YouTube video of a entrepreneur taking over a paper, and when he was telling the reporters the kind of news they were planning to cover, one of the reporters spoke up and said something to the effect of, “What the people want to read?! What the people want to read is storied about puppies!”

              To which the new owner replied, something to the effect of “Blah, blah, blah…fuck you.”

              I’m going to say this because I’ve known you for a long time, and I’ve read a lot of your work, and I know you’re really talented and your writing–as well as the things you write about–are really interesting and you’re tough…

              But if you were my favorite punk rock band, back in the early eighties, I’d tell you the same thing… If the major labels only want to sign hair bands that they’ll put on MTV, and you don’t want to be a hair band, then maybe you should stop trying to sign to a major label.

              I don’t know if that’s self-publishing, which is like the DIY punk rock approach, I guess, or something else. But I know even the traditional alt daily is hurting just like the big guys are hurting too…

              Look at Cavanaugh. I don’t know if he thought the LA Times would be interested in him way back when Hit & Run was a gleam in Suck.com’s eye, but even after they hired the right guys–the guys who definitely could have made the LA Times Online sing! …they didn’t know what to do with them.

              Find another way. If the alt daly isn’t it either, then look for something somewhere you can be the queen of. If there isn’t anyone out there looking for writing talent that’s into the stuff that you’re into–which is hard to imagine–then do something yourself. Write what you’d want to read.

              I read sites about street art from around the world. There’s a market for people to write just about that, and if the industry hasn’t figured out how to profit from you yet, that’s their problem. And don’t feel like if you have to do something that isn’t what you want to do to make money for a while that you’re not what you want to be. I’ve had to do some ridiculous stuff to make ends meet that I never thought I’d be doing.

              I heard Exene Cervenka teaches as a substitute teacher. That doesn’t make her a substitute teacher–she’s still an artist, a rock star! My ex-girlfriend knew a guy that worked in something like a Blockbuster store, but that didn’t make him a video rental clerk. He wrote scripts in his spare time–and now he’s rich and famous. He was never a store clerk, he was always what he was great at so long as he was doing it.

              I’m sorry the stars didn’t line up for you this time, but our careers and our lives aren’t about where we are at any one point along the way.

              You’re still an awesome and interesting writer–no newspaper can ever take that away from you.

              1. Oh, I’m not complaining, Ken — I’ve actually had a couple of incredibly lucky breaks these past few months (you know what I’m talking about, though I don’t care to discuss it here) — I’m just saying that if local news wants to get back on its financial feet again, it really needs to abandon the motto “Government cock will not suck itself — that’s what a free and independent media is for.”

                And I don’t believe readers want only stories about puppies and rainbows. There’s no shortage of complaints out there from readers who (for example) criticize CNN for putting celebrity gossip on its front page whilst ignoring things like the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

                1. I’m just saying that if local news wants to get back on its financial feet again, it really needs to abandon the motto “Government cock will not suck itself — that’s what a free and independent media is for.”

                  A +1million is sooo inadequate, here.

                  My God, woman, you have got a beautiful mouth on you, and I haven’t even seen a picture.

                  Even though I am married, for the moment, the above quote has made me fall in love with you. Do you have any interest in highly opinionated under achievers?

                  1. I see a highly opinionated underachiever every time I look in the mirror, Marshall.

            2. “I just quit the daily paper where I last worked (I have no idea what I’ll do next, but I know I’ll never get anywhere if I’d stayed where I was)”

              Never throw out dirty water until you have clean.

              – Sheila Levine is Dead and Living In New York

              http://www.amazon.com/Sheila-L…..amp;sr=8-1

              1. I have a copy of that book, Pip. It’s a magnificent piece of satire but a hideous how-to manual for life.

                And dirty water spreads cholera same way kissing ass spreads cold sores, and I have no intention of coming down with either one.

                1. I was being snarky. It’s fun! And I loved that book, BTW. Read it when I was about 14.

          4. After this no more inside baseball: The Times got beat fair and square on the Mirthala Salinas story, but not because they weren’t pursuing it. That Tony Villar (and by the way, why didn’t Mrs. Villaraigosa get exculsive rights to the name in the divorce settlement?) was stepping out again had already appeared on some sites, including Luke Ford’s. What nobody had was the name of the woman. The Daily News reporter had the bright idea of going to the mayor’s mother-in-law, who knew the story, was upset enough to talk about it, and didn’t speak a word of English. So the Times got beat fair and square, but this was because the News had a more enterprising reporter, not because the Times was sitting on it.

            That having been said, Ken Schultz is right. The paper’s going down (I hope) because the world has changed in ways it can neither comprehend nor control (not that it tries very hard). When a wildfire or something like that happens, the L.A. Times can still apply enough brute force to dominate the coverage.

            1. Thanks Tim. But doesn’t the fact that Daily News had the more enterprising and better reporter, despite the Times having a thousand times more resources, say really bad things about the Times?

              Just a guess but could it maybe be that the Daily News reporter was so enterprising because that reporter was just looking for a good story no matter whose ox it gored while the Time reporter really wasn’t really that keen on looking for dirt no matter how good on a local Hispanic politician?

              1. Well when it’s time to say really bad things about the L.A. Times, I’m your man. Certainly they’ve never covered Villaraigosa in any interesting way, though he is (or more precisely, was) one of the more fascinating stories in U.S. politics. Fascinating in the car-wreck sense, that is.

                1. If it bleeds it leads. Car wrecks always sell Tim. If it wasn’t for sex, money and blood, there wouldn’t be a news industry.

            2. The reason Newspapers are failing is because they publish letters to the editor submitted by my dog. From the Boston Globe to the LA Times (yeah, I’m looking at you, Cavenaugh). And not a one of them (save for the ST. Paul Pioneer Press) EVER called to verify the writer of the letters or if they had been sent to other papers.

              Why? Because my dog wrote what the editors wanted to hear.

  3. Newspapers earn their money by selling ads on newsprint and delivering them, via a societal convention cum monopoly, to people’s doorsteps’ each morning. The value of that monopoly subsidized the news gathering.

    Unfortunately, the monopoly is seeing its value plunge precipitously.

    Target couldn’t care less if your newspaper survives. They are perfectly happy to have you go on line and peruse their weekly sales circular. And it’s getting more difficult every day to point to some disadvantaged slob who *can’t* get on line.

  4. “Unfortunately, the monopoly is seeing its value plunge precipitously.”

    I can buy the New York Times in an awful lot of convenience stores. Shoot, even one off liquor stores away from the tourist and travel areas sell the New York Times now. They might not have the distribution monopoly power they once had, but they can compete nation wide now too.

    And I think GCI’s model makes sense. One paper with hundreds of mastheads? I bet the local paper’s still a lot more important in Peoria than it is in LA too. ’cause the NYT isn’t about to cover the local high school and college teams–not even if the star forward gets busted for a DWI. And people want to talk about that online–and you can’t do that at the New York Times website. Nobody there even knows what you’re talking about.

    1. If they allowed people to comment at the NYTimes website, they might learn nobody considers them to be as awesome as they consider themselves.

      1. ?
        The NYTimes website has comments
        http://community.nytimes.com/c…..itain.html

        The commentariat is just a hair better than Youtube, but it exists.

      2. No, a lot of people do still consider them as awesome as they consider themselves.

  5. Here I was thinking that newspapers were nonprofits and reporters were volunteers. Boy, am I embarrassed!

    1. Why are you so hateful?

      1. I was abused by a newspaper once.

        1. HERE’S YOUR PAPER! HERE’S YOUR PAPER!

          1. Two dollars!

          2. That kid gets no tip.

  6. I don’t follow Salon’s current financial situation, but traditionally it has survived by finding investors who share the site’s vision.

    Without some credible plan for running profit and giving a return on that “investment”, those “investors” are basically making non-cash-deductible contributions to Salon.

    If your business plan requires a steady inflow of contributions, then you should be a non-profit, because contributions are much easier to raise if the contributor can deduct them from their taxes.

  7. the fact that they are reproducing golden-age $600,000 editor-in-chief salaries

    So who is the Goldman Sachs of journalism? The NYT probably.

  8. This will end up with gubmint bailouts and we will awake to the day when Obama owns all big media.

    1. From each according to his ability . . . .

    2. we will awake to the day when Obama owns all big media

      How will we be able to tell?

      1. The headlines will no longer read “president fares poorly in polls” but rather “ignorant citizens still an unfortunate majority”.

        1. Don’t be ridiculous. Instead of “president fares poorly in polls,” the headlines will say “president’s approval rating is at historic high.”

  9. No way dude that is just too cool!

    Lou
    http://www.anonymous-posting.us.tc

  10. No way dude that is just too cool!

    Lou
    http://www.anon-posting.tk

    1. Yeah, we already knew you only read titles.

  11. I’ve successfully avoided all Lord of the Rings-related stuff for my whole life so far, but I’m pretty sure a lesbo-Unix trivia contest about it would feature less names I don’t know or associate with anything than this bunch of stories does. (I got Renzo Piano and the Rolling Stones.)

    “Media” reporting always reads like a novelization of somebody’s Facebook page. A glimpse of the big FAIL in the room is there, and it’s not about money.

  12. I will take issue with one thing Wyman wrote:

    “Now, the papers could have used the money they were making to, in essence, buy the future of communications.”

    The FCC had a lot to do in preventing that. A few visionaries were able to get in before the FCC woke up, but the FCC (perhaps at the request of some of the early adopters) prevented the newspapers from getting into new communications businesses.

    Marshall Field comes to mind. Owned a department store, owned a newspaper to push ads for the store, then started a TV station which the FCC basically forced him to jettison (while the FCC left the Tribune Company alone – guess not owning a department store was part of the FCC’s thinking).

    1. DOJ did the same thing to Hollywood. The studios used to own the theaters until DOJ got the courts to declare it a monopoly and make them sell them off. It really makes no sense. Why shouldn’t studios own theaters? Or why not let music labels own radio stations so they know they can get their music played?

      1. Come on, that’s like asking why car dealers can’t sell you cars directly or own dealerships.

        1. Because it would limit politicians’ ability to steal? I always forget that.

  13. AFAIK Salon was nearly doomed back in 2001, its stock was a penny, etc. It was set to join Pets.com in the internet boneyard. Surely if Salon is still losing money nearly a decade later, Salon doesn’t have investors, it has donors. I have to think they are turning at least a little bit of profit by now.

  14. Shouldn’t that read “teh hawt lesbian Linux programmers…”? Any random sampling of typical lesbians will include a fair number of really ugly ones.

  15. Anyone read the 2nd Mandy Smith article? Where she admits to having sex with an adult at age 14 but now loves God and thinks the age of consent should be raised to 18, “maybe higher” for other girls? These goddamn hippies, getting to have all the fun and wanting to stop any others from making their same mistakes.

  16. You still need to bring in more than you spend, or eventually you won’t be around.

    If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times: Non-profit does not mean not profitable.

    All successful non-profits must have a profitable enterprise or they’re doomed.

  17. “Publications with a distinct readership appeal and a narrow focus — including Mother Jones and, ahem, Reason”

    “Distinct” – I like that – its soooo much better than stupid misogynist, fat, ugly, lazy, tinfoil hat wearing bizarro, pajama wearing basement dwelling Reason reader.
    yeah, from now on I am distinct Reason reader. Ohh! – the prestige.

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