I went to a talk last night about blogging which, as so often with talks about blogging, ended up being about newspapers. Karl Schneider, the development director at the incredibly successful B2B publisher RBI, said something that really struck a chord.
I asked whether content aggregators were essentially parasites (as the editor of the Washington Post claimed earlier this year) and Schneider launched a tirade on the newspaper format. He said that he could not think of a single reason why all the different elements of a newspaper would hang together on the internet. “There is no earthly reason why those things have to sit together in one place online,” he said.
He is, of course, right. There is no reason whatsoever that news, comment, puzzles, sport, quizzes, gossip and all the other elements that make up a newspaper should go together online. It made sense when newspapers were only printed on “dead trees” that this rather bizarre combination of elements would be bundled into one space and delivered onto your doorstep. But that is simply no longer the case.
Why would the Mail automatically be the best place online to get puzzles when there are specific puzzle sites out there? Why would the Sun’s sports coverage be better than individual bloggers who can bring together everyone else’s blogs? I just don’t know.
The worrying part of this for journalists is that the parts that we value – the serious news, the analysis, the investigative reports – have traditionally been subsidised by the more frivolous stuff elsewhere. So much of the great foreign coverage that we have had in this country over the past century has effectively been paid for by Agony Aunts and horoscopes. If all these lighter elements of papers can be used by then what money will be left to pay for the good stuff?