The New York Times lost a generation of readers in the last decade, according to Gothamist editor Jake Dobkin. How? By producing too much original content. He writes:
Five years ago The Times could have bought the best local blogs in New York for a song-- instead, they decided they could do it better in-house, and completely surrendered the 20-40 year old demographic to sites like ours ...
But in the paper's slavish devotion to originality and old-fashioned reporting, they've lost their most important civic role, which is being the master curator which tells people in the city what's important each day.
"Slavish devotion to originality" is a weird way for a blog to talk about the reporting -- the nourishment -- it needs to survive. Blogs play an important role in journalism by stir frying the news, but it's a derivative role. Good bloggers are like talented collage artists, clipping words and images and assembling them in a way that illuminates something original, for both the author and the audience. But in order to clip, and embellish, and illuminate, and collage, we need ... you know, the news.
If the New York Times simply bought all the best Big Apple blogs, it would cease to be the New York Times. It would simply turn into a gigantic Gothamist, or a Huffington Post for Manhattan -- a blog hub that remixes the news with a pinch of original reporting. That's fun to read and cheap to produce, because for most people, it doesn't require leaving your desk. The Times costs a lot of money (and loses a lot of money) because reporting from the four corners of the world and the five boroughs of New York is expensive stuff.
It seems obvious that a world without original reporting would be a world without blog posts that analyze original reporting, right? Dobkin rebuts:
I've been asked a bunch of times whether I'm worried Gothamist won't have anything left to curate once the Times goes out of business. But I'm not-- first of all, new billionaires seem to roll up every year with their vanity media products, dumping tons of new content at our doorstep.
Stop right there. It sounds like Dobkin concedes that the survival of large major news organizations might eventually rely on eccentric billionaires to finance it. In other words, there is no financial model for original reporting, only the distant hope of charity. If charity is the alternative to no New York Times or Wall Street Journal, then I'll take the eccentric billionaires. But you can't support a small army of original reporters on a pinch of stir-fried words.