How To Get Past The Generational Divide On The Future Of News


imageJim Spanfeller is president and CEO of He is also treasurer of the Online Publishers Association and chairman emeritus of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

While I certainly thought my post on paidContent two weeks ago about Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and the newspaper industry would create some discussion, I can honestly tell you I had no idea of the levels of interest, anger and ridicule it would spawn. For the record, I remain confident in my thoughts, but that is not the point of this piece.

Reading through some of the comments, I was struck by the underlying motivations. I am sure there were many and well-varied foundations for the comments, certainly what one did for a living being high on the list. (Presumably working for a content creator or Search Engine Marketing firm would suggest radically different feelings on the core topic.) That said, buried in the comments was a more fundamentally interesting and perhaps important pattern: the divide between new and old.

This notion was rolling around in my mind when, lo and behold, one final comment appeared in the comment stream — well after the original post itself had settled into the archives. Which I guess means that the conversation rages on. Fittingly, this last comment dealt in part with this quasi generational divide that I had been ruminating on. Here is an excerpt:



Old guy, no pitch fork

Maybe we should get off this mousewheel and ask another question: where is the news brand of the future?
Why brand? Because they represent the critical filter of trust, reliability, reference value and commonality. NYT, WSJ, Le Figaro, Nikkei. It's what human beings do.
I'm seeing a serious question mark over the economics of what we've done. Maybe the money is not there for journalism as represented by those brands. (Though I'm not sure. I wonder sometimes whether the problem with some is only their excessively comfortable cost base, not their ability to pay for enough good reporting.)
When Schmidt says the web is sewer I read it as the absence of reliable news brands. Opinions and the litter of individual prejudices and self interest that populates so much space is never going to substitute for the vauable journalism that may be at risk.
Finally, it is clear that what money is on the web for journalism is in subscription. Not in ads.
I'm putting my money on the old media folk who span the divide. But not on those of them that have been kidding themselves about what's journalism. (I look forward to the price Rupert will charge for an online NY Post.)

Kathryn Koegel

Since Mr Spanfeller cites the history of media in the US in respect to the current debate of the future of newspapers, I am surprised that he overlooked classifieds and retail display advertising. The development of newspapers went hand in hand with the development of classifieds — which were amongst the many magnificent things developed by Ben Franklin.

40% of a newspaper's revenue typically came from classifieds and these listings — as well as the "professional content" — are typically why people buy newspapers. Well, the Internet is simply a better medium for classifieds (I should note, kudos to newspaper sites like the NYT for developing mobile apps for real estate listings that go beyond online in functionality.)

As department stores flourished in the 19th century, so did newspapers, which typically created the ads for them before there were ad agencies. Fast forward to the 1930s, when many newspapers were killed off by radio, which is still a great medium for local retail. TV came along and radically diminished the power of the weekly and eventually killed Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post.

So now the Internet is revolutionizing retail, malls and their corresponding department store ads are a dying breed and despite all the prostitution/stalker scandals, Craigslist shows no sign of going down.

The history of US media is littered with dead "brands" that were swept into the dustbin of consumer disinterest as they did not meet current lifestyle demands. So much of the business press just doesn't work in an era of instantaneous information. We all work like traders on a stock exchange these days and while it would be wonderful to be able to sit back and read lengthy analysis, the best we can hope for is info bytes.

I believe that media brands can survive and thrive online, but there is still not enough attention to reinvigorating those brands to take advantage of the dimensionality of the medium — and to developing ad models that reinforce the value exchange and are not simply afterthoughts like banners squeezed where the editor deemed it least offensive. For info on how online display can work, this whitepaper was published last week:

Danny Sullivan

Jim, if you want the "other side" to respect you, then you have to say things that deserve respect. Making a statement that Google is earning $60 million off your brand with no proof offered didn't earn respect with me. Demanding that Google clean up the cesspool when your own publication has sold links that help create the stink didn't earn respect. I dissect more, but I already did:


ahhh, the "professional journalist" pejorative…

i was going to include this comment on your previous piece here, but seeing how nearly all the commenters (70+) were carrying pitchforks and torches, i figured i'd hold my fire.

jim, you're the prez/ceo of forbesdotcom?

i have to ask– why let the facts get in the way when it comes to a heart warming business story, right?

here's an example: i could link to it, but imagining you clicking on google and entering the term "forbes hearst argyle tv" seems more poetic.

"you guys" published a story on or around 3/25 that would lead readers to believe that when the hearst corporation offered ~$25 a share for hatv a few years back that it was "the financial markets" and "hearst corporation" that decided to withdraw the offer when IN FACT it was hatv's board that called the $23.50 offer "inadequate".

i bring this to light because it is by and large the SAME BOARD that is now calling the enhanced $4.50 per share fair.

why let the truth get in the way of the a good cya, huh?

welcome to the cesspool.

Michael D

The Internet certainly is a sewer. But the Google news platform is not.

There is no hurdle to reaching professional journalism as stated by the poster, and highlighted by Jim.

I don't compete with news content my motive is simply industry interest.

As a trial balloon, your previous piece popped.


Given that I am based in Boston, the recent events surrounding the potential shutdown of the Boston Globe is very much on my mind.

I know I'm generalizing, but I find that free, UGC-oriented News tends to be commentary or even the repurposing of original source journalism.

Traditional print and broadcast outlets and their online counterparts incorporate original and investigative reporting. Reporting entails skill and that costs money.

However, much of local newspaper pages (incl. in the Boston Globe) are filled with repurposed national and international news, in the form of AP and syndication wires, sister pub wires and the like.

Yes, there is value to true "traditional" journalism. But if you peel away the onion, why pay for traditional, local newspaper content for non-local, repurposed news that can be obtained for free?

Truf Jones

This post is too long to read or understand for anyone under 65.



Although much of the news could be gathered by laymen, given today's communication's technology, the most important information tends to be the hardest stuff to get at because there are interests trying to skew or outright hide it. The best journalists are skilled at routing that out, an important social function, but alone not a lucrative one. It is also what many news organization news brands were built on. Society values this information highly, but many people free-ride off the ramifications of a diligent media and thus paying for just the important stuff is difficult in a market-based system. Newspapers avoided this by tacking on a lot of advertising and engaging but less important functions to support circulation. Usually government steps in for these kind of conundrums, but the media is supposed to be watching them; a clear conflict of interest. I think private foundation sponsorship of narrowly focused news gathering organizations that syndicate their information to media distribution hubs makes the most sense, but that requires a desire by those with means.

Jim Spanfeller


Sorry for the offense but you might want to take this up with Eric Schmidt; the concept of the web as cesspool is his not mine…as mentioned in a previous post, it is a concept that he put forth to the Magazine Publishers of America when they visited the Google Campus a year or so ago.

diesel mcfadden

I take offense to your comment about the internet being a sewer only worth wading through to get to the output of a professional journalist. *This is arrogant beyond belief.* Different readers have different goals and values. Search technologies also allow us to sift through for the information that's meaningful to each one of us. Try to have one of your reporters write a story without using Google.

If only newspapers or magazines gave us that much utility for free in exchange for our attention.

From "Why journalists deserve low pay".

"To create economic value, journalists and news organizations historically relied on the exclusivity of their access to information and sources, and their ability to provide immediacy in conveying information. The value of those elements has been stripped away by contemporary communication developments. Today, ordinary adults can observe and report news, gather expert knowledge, determine significance, add audio, photography, and video components, and publish this content far and wide (or at least to their social network) with ease. And much of this is done for no pay.

Until journalists can redefine the value of their labor above this level, they deserve low pay. "


Great article Jim some very good points. I would like to add that it is not simple the medium of delivery that has changed, printing plants, ink barrels etc. It is also the ability to customize the user experience in that medium that is probably a more significant factor. Through links, RSS feeds, and Ajax programming a user can tailor their consumption specific to their interests in a much more efficient manner. This of course leads to a certain amount of fragmentation in the media business given the vast array of interests.


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