In the holiday spirit, two glimmers of new media hope for print journalists depressed by the daily drip-drip of redundancies, cuts and falling readership.
The first slither of good news is that Microsoft, once the much feared beast of Redmond and now an increasingly cuddly software company, is emerging as an outspoken defender of an economically viable press in which journalists are paid for their work. Leading the defense of paid online news content, is Tom Rubin, Microsoft’s Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property Strategy. Speaking in London on November 20th to the UK Assocation of Online Publishers, Rubin battered the Internet’s idealistic “information wants to be free” movement which, he said, “not only does not work, actually it has been a disaster for almost all newspapers.” And he was no less sympathetic to Web 2.0’s “amateurs and algorithms” which, he said, are “no substitute for reporters and editors.”
Rubin spoke to me on the phone last week from his office at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington. In spite of the increasingly dire economic situation of many newspapers, Rubin remains optimistic about the future of newspapers on the Internet. The future of a viable and sustainable media ecosystem, he told me, rests on an active pursuit of the “three Cs”: copyright, competition and collaboration. And Rubin gave the examples of the online editions of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal (both representing a hybrid model of both free and paid content) which, he said, are “taking advantage of the opportunity on the Internet” and which are “ahead of the game” in terms of figuring out how to establish strong online brands.
The second glimmer of hope might be seen as both a symptom and cure for the great sickness that is now afflicting the news business, Dan Abrams, a former anchor on MSNBC, the 24-hour American television network originally founded as a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC, has launched an online business called Abrams Research. This is a digital exchange network which connects commercial companies looking for expert media insight with journalists seeking to sell their insider’s knowledge. Abrams’ social media business – which pays journalists by the hour for their expertise -- has created a storm of controversy in America with many critics accusing the former television star of purposely muddying the church-state boundary between independent journalism and public relations. Abrams is a new media pimp who is turning journalists into whores, one well-known blogger angrily told me.
A couple of weeks ago, I had tea with the most unpimp-like Abrams (see above) in his elegant Manhattan townhouse. Abrams Research, he explained, is simply a way of using social media to allow corporations to transparently buy the expertise of journalists. In Abrams’ defense, his new business is one of the few online media ventures with a clear business model for paying professional journalists. And that might be why within the first 24 hours after the launch of the online start-up last month, Abrams received 500 resumes from media people around the world eager to join his social network and monetize their expertise.