Saturday, March 14, 2009

Requiem for a Business Section

Online, halfway down the More News section the headline is "Post Modifies Its Print Editions"
The Washington Post, taking another step toward trimming the size of its newspaper, is folding its stand-alone Business section into the A section six days a week and drastically reducing the publication of stock tables...Columnists such as Steven Pearlstein and Joe Davidson will be moved..."What we're doing is eliminating things that readers can easily get elsewhere, where we don't necessarily bring value," Brauchli said.
While the New York Times reports:
But in a change from previous downturns, CNBC is now a place for politics, to borrow a phrase from its sister channel MSNBC. The network’s journalists have been encouraged to speak their minds, making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times.
Leading Nancy from Texas to opine:
"Get rid of the entertainment aspect and give us the news. Opinions and banter make me turn off the TV."
Nancy is lying. I keep going back to Stewart Brand:
Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient.
While the value may truly be immeasurable:
There’s also the not-inconsiderable question of capitalism’s ability to decide, if not on the value of a commodity, at least on some sort of price for the damn thing.
Content is ubiquitous, commands almost no price, but nonetheless has a cost. To increase their returns the traditional media are shifting to context - bringing value in the words of the WaPo. But they are fighting the last war; context is also nearly ubiquitous, and since little of it is clever the price will bifurcate. To high-end prostitution:
Unlike most industries, escorts can charge higher prices when they are in greater supply. This is because price is one of the few metrics sex suppliers can use to convey quality. (In this way it is not unlike the hedge-fund industry.) The customer demographic is also wealthier, and a higher price deters customers from bargaining, which is considered poor taste.

The traditional media will never be able to compete on cachet and thus will have to be increasingly shrill and polarized to attract even a non-paying niche. On the high-end side a succession of saviors will continue to bilk the rich, both the new and the inbred. And all of this sound and fury will accomplish nothing, as Megan McArdle reminds us anyone who has:

"a good way to make money above and beyond broad, boring strategies like stock indices or bond funds, will not tell you about it."

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