Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Smell The Money!

That wasn't a session at the CAF conference, but two sessions did discuss the financial crisis of the newspapers (and that of the television still to come) and the options that the New Media has for actually paying people enough to make a living, the New Media being this here Internet and all the various ways it can be used to post news and to discuss them.

Sadly, it's tough to make money that way, because advertising doesn't seem to work as well on the net as it does on slices of dead trees. Advertising works better for local news blogs, given that local advertisers can focus their efforts on those, but general blogs don't find it that easy to attract advertising dollars. This means that we have to look for some other means of funding news and analysis on the net. Don't you think it's weird in any case that hot dog or car or bra ads used to pay for all the important news?

So it's not often we smell the advertising dollars on the Internet, and when they do smell they just may smell bad. This is because advertisers want to be linked to the most clicked items on large political blogs, and those are about...boobs! Yup. Breasts, female nudity and such are the most clicked items on, say, Huffington Post.

That is weird and rather disheartening, on many levels, including the feminist ones. Does it really mean that Huffington Post would do best by simply dropping all political coverage and by focusing on all the sex (which translates into women's bodies) and scandals it can dig up? And are women on political blogs such rare readers that their clicks have no impact at all? Or are those simple click measures ignoring the real reason why readers are on the site in the first place? Perhaps they read all sorts of different articles and only click on the sex stuff for whatever reason before leaving? If that is the case then cutting the other coverage would ultimately hurt the blog.

The smell of money is important, because covering political news, investigative reporting and political analysis are all extremely important for a democracy to survive. If we rely on unpaid volunteer work in those areas we are not going to get enough coverage and the coverage we are going to get will be slanted towards the opinions of those who can afford to work for just the love of the task.

The money problem does have solutions (such as nonprofit forms of firms, public sector subsidies etc.), but we haven't really started the debate on those. The time to start talking is now. Feminist writers have lots to say on the topic, by the way, because feminist writing has had to face that marketing problem a long time ago.