Looking forward to the future of journalism

Fake Steve Jobs misses the real point

Daniel Lyons
Daniel Lyons
Last week the New York Times ran a story about Internet companies selling imaginary things:

These so-called virtual goods, like a $1 illustration of a Champagne bottle on Facebook or the $2.50 Halloween costume in the online game Sorority Life, are no more than a collection of pixels on a Web page.

But it is quickly becoming commonplace for people to spend a few dollars on them to get ahead in an online game or to give a friend a gift on a social network.

There are several companies that sell virtual goods — one of them being Zynga. The Times story mentioned Zynga and quoted its CEO. But the story paid scant attention to recent blog posts by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, who revealed Zynga was making gobs of money from unwary people, often kids, who unwittingly subscribe to deals they don’t want.

The omission outraged Fake Steve Jobs, AKA Dan Lyons, who claimed the story is Exhibit A in the case of the dying mainstream media:

Um, New York Times? If you guys are still wondering why people are dropping their subscriptions and getting their news from blogs instead of you — this is why.

And to all those people who go around wringing their hands and saying what are we going to do when the “real newspapers” all die and we have to get our news from Gawker and HuffPo and TechCrunch? Friends, I think we’re going to be just fine.

The usual suspects such as Techdirt applauded this post. But they all missed the point.

The lament about the decline of newspapers is not really about the loss of a physical paper. It’s about the loss of institutions that pay people a full-time salary to look under rocks and share important stories with their communities.

It’s awesome TechCrunch uncovered the shenanigans at Zynga. Other blogs like the Consumerist and The Smoking Gun have produced fantastic, public-service journalism here and here.

Related: Telling stories with data: Police chases and drug smugglers on the Texas-Mexico border

But such in-depth coverage from these blogs is uncommon, even though they are among the top-ranked blogs on Technorati and actually make decent money. The vast majority of bloggers don’t enjoy the luxury of a sizable paycheck. For most bloggers, it’s a hobby. And it’s difficult, if not impossible, to do the grunt-work of journalism on a part-time basis.

I would love to hear Fake Steve Jobs explain how a blogger with a day job is going to find the time to stake out a grand jury at the courthouse, or dig up details about a crooked land deal being hatched at City Hall.

Who’s going to work on these local stories for readers in San Antonio — TechCrunch?

Newspapers, despite all their faults and foibles, are still the ones doing most of this valuable work.

Fake Steve Jobs fell for the old fallacy of newspapers vs. bloggers. I’m sure I could find plenty of stories where the Times routinely scooped TechCrunch. But this kind of tit-for-tat tally entirely misses the point. The real problem is finding new economic models that support full-time journalism. That’s why it’s interesting to watch experiments like the Texas Tribune, ProPublica and nonprofit news organizations in other parts of the country. These organizations are paying people to work full-time on important stories.

Fake Steve Jobs — that’s the real issue.

(Photo credit: Tripsspace)