Monday, June 8, 2009

Recession Chronicles: Help Save Newspapers - The Morton Plan

Recession Chronicles: Help Save Newspapers - The Morton Plan
I have had the honor of working with Peter Tobia for several weeks in Pakistan. During that tour we have had countless conversations about photojournalism, world politics, and assorted subjects. During the years we have stayed in touch, and once in a while we have tried to make sense of the changes in our industry. This blog is a product of those conversations and how we can try to illicit positive dialogue that can shed light on our industry's current crisis.

Please join the conversation, check out the plan, and let us get the word out.

Newspapers are not dinosaurs. If you don't believe me, check out the circulation numbers after 9/11, presidential elections and the inauguration, just to mention a few examples. Newspapers are still vibrant and growing in ethnic communities in the U.S., Europe and parts of Latin America. Please leave your comments and ideas and engage in being part of the solution.

Carl Juste, Founder of Iris PhotoCollective

This blog was established to inform journalists of The Morton Plan: the proposal that newspapers charge for the content they produce. It is also a place to stimulate discussion, voice opinions and take an active role in determining the future of newspapers.

The disappearance of ad revenue, a troubled economy, the decline in newspaper circulation, as people move online to get their news, and heavy production and distribution cost of newspapers have put their existence in jeopardy.

Newspapers are not the enemy. Rather they are the source of most of the content that appears on the Web. The “crossing-their-fingers” advertising gamble newspapers hoped would work by giving their content away for free has been a disaster. Search engines along with news websites have turned profits through advertising at the expense of newspapers.

Newspapers publishers have dealt with their financial crisis by closing newspapers, reducing their work force through layoffs and buyouts, losing seasoned journalists who are knowledgeable and who strived for journalism excellence. This approach is like throwing the baby out with the bath water, making newspapers less compelling, less effective and less important to the people who read them.

Now is the time for newspapers to re-evaluate what they are doing and take a lead in determining their future, not only financially but in the concept of a strong press equals a strong democracy.

It goes without saying that newspapers, as we know them, are destined for change, whether they move completely online or adjust in other ways. But in the meantime, the content that is produced by hard work, creative vision, passion and commitment should not be given away for free.

There is power in numbers which can be a catalyst for action that can bring about change.

Communicate John Morton’s Plan to your newsrooms and establish an individual committee to push for your paper to begin charging for content, with July 4th being the target date.

Look for the logo and get behind the plan.


  1. traveling the world you get a better perspective of your self and your values.the politics is both local and personal. not just CNN or talk radio. the person with the most power, with the guns rules the world. it is always striking to me that when we are shown video of a police officer beating an unarmed man. we are asked to hold judgement because .....we have some how missed the entire content of the officer's actions.
    the realism of capturing conflicts, war, starvation....... photo
    journalists, all journalists need to tell these stories. the courage, the daring can be risky. that is why we must pray and support jailed journalists in north korea and elsewhere ....

  2. I don't think charging for content is the answer. That's like trying to put the pin back into the grenade after it's blown your hand off. Really, who are going to charge, the reader? I'm not paying. I'm not paying. I'm not paying. Information is free in the 21st Century, and I'm used to it. I'll stream NPR, or search, or Google it. But I'm not paying.

    So then who pays, the search engine? Maybe, but there's a fair use issue to get around, as well as the fact that without the search engine, newspapers are a destination that people won't find. Why not just pull the pin on another grenade? Use your teeth since you already blew one of your hands off.

    Search engines haven't profited at the expense of newspapers. Newspapers have failed to profit from the readers that search engines bring them. The news aggregator on my Google homepage kicks my newspaper's ass every single day. I can customize it, and it shows me headlines, the first sentence in the lead, and a link to ????? The newspaper!! And when I click on that link, I go to the newspapers site, where I see their ads, which are customized to me, because I can't read past the jump without registering, and once I'm registered they can track everything I read and click on while I'm there. They can serve me articles that are relevant to my interests. Which leads to even more targeted ads. This is my "personalized news experience". It's here and it's now. It's just late.

    I agree, newspapers aren't dinosaurs. The people who've run them are. They spent valuable time dumbing down their product to appeal to the lowest common denominator, when they should have been embracing their strengths. Newspapers can provide insightful, explanatory news coverage with depth, and relevance to their readers. Public radio did just that, and experienced growth while newspapers shriveled. Darwinian indeed.

    These algorithms for tracking a reader's interests aren't new. Google has been using them for years to auction off ads every time you search. And they've made a grip of money doing it. Imagine, ads targeted specifically to a reader's interests and tastes as determined by everything they've clicked on, read or searched for. That's not worth a premium? Newspapers have failed to see the market.

    Their business models are based on them being the big fish in the pond, but the internet has flooded the pond and washed them out to sea. They can and will survive, but they have to radically change the way they do business. There's still plenty of money to be made, but the old paradigm does not exist. Operating in that paradigm, as newspapers have been, will continue to lead to tears. Old ideas do not work in the New Reality.

  3. John Naughton, Retired President of Poytner Institute 1996 -2003June 12, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    Interesting approach. I've come to believe the future for serious mainstream news publications is a version of the Kindle or the Plastic Logic ereader. But it needs work. It needs color. It needs to be able to display, crisply and cleanly, the current organization of a newspaper -- page one and beyond. It needs to enable the user to click on any part -- image, story, and especially advertising -- to get more detail. In the case of ads, it needs to facilitate clicking through to the advertiser's website for ecommerce (and credit in cash for clickthroughs). If this can be done in the next 18 to 24 months, it'll save the industry.

  4. You are right..and it will sort itself out in the long run. I think there will be need of more writers and photographers for news organizations..
    I hope it isn't TOO far in the long run...

  5. I agree with the Morton plan. Giving away the content was a devastating error. Can we recover at this point? Possibly. At least the leadership of our slow-moving industry is starting to think seriously about charging for content. Unfortunately, in recent years many papers have diminished the value of their content that it's not worth much.

    I watched with interest the supposedly secret meeting in Chicago at which industry leaders -- where have they been all these years? -- got briefed on various paid-content schemes. Anything that can be done to encourage this exploration (which may or may not be too late) is to the good

    John S. Carroll served in the top editor’s role at the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and the Lexington Herald Leader.