Journalism's Primary Duty Is To Its Readers, Not Advertisers

"Henry Luce, a co-founder of TIME, disdained the notion of giveaway publications that relied solely on ad revenue. He called that formula "morally abhorrent" and also "economically self-defeating." That was because he believed that good journalism required that a publication's primary duty be to its readers, not to its advertisers. In an advertising-only revenue model, the incentive is perverse. It is also self-defeating, because eventually you will weaken your bond with your readers if you do not feel directly dependent on them for your revenue."
Time, "How To Save Your Newspaper", 2009 

I keep thinking about this quote but forgetting where I first saw it, so I'm parking it here. It's a good thought; probably applies to a lot of web and mobile apps, too.

Will Daily Deals Turn Newspapers Around?

"Groupon is Hastening the Demise of the Newspaper Industry," wrote a daily deals trade pub in April.

It could be the other way around.

The technological barriers to the deals space are pretty low;  Shoutback and Nimble Commerce  and many other companies are offering consulting and white-label systems to power deal mechanisms. And newspapers have other things many other Groupon clones don't -- large local audiences that are still used to turning to newspapers for coupons,  and a sales force with established local relationships.

The Boston Globe is offering its own Boston Deals (promoted on the home page, no less) after trying a partnership with BuyWithMe last year (and SCVNGR, also last year) as it moves to separate its online content from a potentially more lucrative e-commerce business.  Boston Phoenix offers deals,  Star Tribune in the Twin Cities offers STeals.

It's interesting how newspapers today struggle to make money on content -- putting up paywalls, repackaging it into single-device apps -- instead of going for an easier buck.   It seems like the newspapers should be able do a lot with the two things they already have -- local audiences and local sales relationships.  They could  do daily deals, for example, like The Globe, Phoenix and Star Tribune. Or they could aggregate local deals from Groupon and its numerous clones, Yipit-style. (Maybe they could also print some of these deals in Sunday circulars, for fun.)  Or maybe they could try getting some of the classifieds back from Craigslist -- has any newspaper really tried?

But even content -- what if they took their massive and rich content they have accumulated and repackaged it for a different, non-news market?  For almost everything a large newspaper touches there's a start-up that is likely doing for more money.  School ratings in the Globe? There's School Digger and Great Schools. "Hyper-local news"?  Neighborhood Scout.

A lot of tech start-ups are going to great lengths to produce content to attract people to sell their services to. With newspapers, it almost feels like they half-heartedly bolt on random third-party services (job search by Monster, auto listings by  to attract people to read content off which the newspapers then struggle to make money.

It's easy to be an armchair strategist so I'll shut up, but I like newspapers and hope that maybe the Globe's and other publications' experiments with daily deals will mark the beginning of things turning around for them.