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Another One Hits the Dust: Media Deaths

Gamma, the photo agency, is too well known to need introducing. Click to read about Gamma’s downfall, a story typical of the “free everything” culture currently in vogue.

Free? For now. But we’ll pay down the road. Not with dollars or euros or any other currency. We’ll pay with our freedom, because without real knowledge based on real reporting we cannot be free.

No one wants to spend money on news, photography, writing, reliable information? The Internet, so addictive and so clearly useful — this blog, your emails, the news 24/7, videos, TV, radio, etc… — is killing the proverbial media geese that lay the golden eggs. The Internet is deflationary. It is destroying many more jobs than it can ever create. Another metaphor: the economic downturn is merely the last nail in the media coffin.

With “classic media” outlets going down by the day, there is less and less paid work for professional wire service journalists, newspaper and magazine writers, freelancer writers, researchers and photographers. At the current rate of bankruptcy, only a few pros will be left by the end of this year. Reporting and analysis will be left to “citizen reporters” and bloggers.

More on that below.

Similar financial problems are affecting book publishing, distribution and retail sales: fewer and fewer readers are actually buying new books. More and more people are buying “used” books off the Internet. Many of these are simply new review copies of books that book-review bloggers resell. Other “used” books have been read once before being put back on the marketplace via the Internet. Authors and publishers earn no royalties off used books.

Audible books and ebooks are further cutting into the numbers. The profit margin on such books is too slim to sustain book professionals. The result is, publishers have even less money than they once did to spend on nurturing authors, promoting books, and taking risks on worthy projects that might not show an immediate return.

Authors are often not paid advances these days, and they earn a fraction of what they once earned. Mid-list authors are disappearing. Only best-selling books are promoted.

Bookstores are folding faster than shrouds can wrap them. Berkeley, the great university city, once home to dozens of fine bookstores, has no independent sellers of new books.

Back to blogs and unpaid “journalism.” A word from the distinguished author and newspaper hound Mort Rosenblum, currently editor of the start-up, print magazine Dispatches:

Bill Keller, the Times’ grandpa executive editor, made the real point when Jones sneered at red ink the paper bleeds while Huffington Post rakes in ad profits.

“The last time I was in Baghdad I didn’t see a Huffington Post bureau or a Google bureau or a Drudge Report bureau there,” Keller said.

Real foreign coverage is expensive and dangerous, he said. “It’s a lot easier to sit home and riff on the work that somebody else does.”

Huffpost is a cocktail party where the famous or the most articulate, unpaid, talk the loudest. Some of it makes good reading. But to report, you’ve got to be there.>>

Dispatches is excellent. But it’s not free. Will enough readers subscribe to make it viable? I hope so.

Bloggers and citizen reporters are swell. They are not paid, and they’re often not trained. The world needs trained media professionals. We already have plenty of thin-sliced, smoked goose breast in the local hyper-market cold case. Let’s not kill and cook the remaining specimens of this endangered species.

Here’s Rosenblum again: >

The same could be said of good books, fiction and nonfiction.

Everything comes from somewhere. Nothing comes from nowhere. Culture and knowledge underlie our western notions of freedom. They must be cultivated. They must be paid for by consumers. All of us.

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One Comment

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