< Fred On Everything

"Duh...Huh?

Disordered Thoughts Of A New Web Journalist

I'm telling you: Journalism on the Web is crazier than six bats in a ceiling fan. It's going to pan-fry ordinary publications. I'm just now starting to figure it out.

Maybe.

Random vaporings: More and more people are getting their news from the Web instead of from truck-farms publications. (A truck-farm pub is one that has printing presses and lots of trucks, driven by illegal aliens, to carry the product to other illegal aliens to deliver to your house.) I don't subscribe to a newspaper, for example. I read the New York Times on the Web. And PC Magazine, and The CPU Report, and The Register, and WorldNetDaily, and so on. It works.

To the extent that people go to the Web for their news, every newspaper is in direct competition with the New York Times. The potential for consolidation is-scary, actually. People in Needles, Arizona can read the Times as easily as can people in Manhattan. For the first time, a national paper, dominant and monopolistic, is possible.

What will eventually happen to the others?

Interesting point: A paper like the New York Times could provide local advertising for Needles. With a little clever software, folk in Needles could subscribe with email addresses and zip codes, and the Times could send them ads specific to their part of the world. The Times would get the ads in the first place by e-mail by the local advertisers in Needles. This has already been done for weather reports.

We could see a major shakeout-probably along ideological lines.

We may be left with the Washington Post for sophomoric liberals, the New York Times for post-adolescent liberals, and the Washington Times, momentarily the nation's flagship conservative publication, for the rest of humanity.

I said "momentarily" the conservative flagship, because there are proliferating on the Web more and more Web-only publications, which compete with the truck-farm pubs. Here we come to a fundamental point about the Web.

It's cheap.

Starting a truck-farm paper costs gazillions. You need to buy about six Goss Urbanite four-color web-offset presses at $2 million each, or whatever they use now at whatever they cost. You need a building to put them in, expensive union pressmen to run them, and the trucks and the illegal aliens to carry the things around after they are printed. That's big, big money. It really isn't practical.

Starting a small Web pub, however, requires only a robust server, a few PCs, somebody who knows a tad of html-and that's it for capital investment. Bigger operations cost more, but not much more. People are doing it.

Paper-and-ink publications will languish, sez me, but Web journals will flourish.

Conventional publications face a serious trap that not all of them understand. Lemme tell you about my buddy Don Mace.

Don and I worked several million years ago for something called Federal Times, a paper for civil serpents-pay, benefits, retirement plans, that sort of thing. Federal minions subscribed to it by paying money, and got it by mail. For those days, this made sense.

Ah, but come the Web. A few years back, Don, no longer at Federal Times but still a federal journalist, stroked his chin and got a sly look. He said to himself, "You know, if I did a federal paper on the Web, I believe I could give the thing away."

He thought a little more and said, "Hooboy. Yes-indeedy. I bet that dog can hunt." (OK. Maybe those weren't his exact words.)

A rule of thumb in the newspaper racket used to be that the cost of buying the newspaper-putting the quarter in the paper box, for example-just covered production costs. The profit came from advertising. "Well," said Don to himself, "On the Web there aren't any production costs. I can just send it out for free. Yee-everlovin'-ha!"

He did. He does. It was genius. People subscribe with remarkable ease to things that are free. He didn't have to worry about having it copied, pirated, or forwarded. In fact, he encouraged it. The money comes from advertising and selling retirement manuals. And of course with electronic delivery, he can reach gummint folk in Tokyo as easily as in Washington.

This just kills truck-farmers. They can't give the paper away, because they have to pay for printing and the illegal aliens. They can't go to the Web easily because they have so much investment in hardware. If they did go to the Web, they would no longer have the crushing advantage of owning the presses and trucks. Anybody could compete with them.

Worse, start-ups can skim the advertising gravy. Note that dating services, once revenue geysers for papers, have migrated almost entirely to the web. Real estate is going the same way.

From a writer's point of view, the Web is better than moonshine and grape juice. It is god's truth that political correctness rules ink-and-paper journalism. I'm on the Web because FredOnEverything couldn't get published in newspapers-not because it's badly written but because it isn't real correct. Editors of newspapers like to think of themselves as kick-ass guys who go against the grain and let the chips fall where they may. Actually they're scared of the readers, scared of the advertisers, scared of blacks and feminists and their colleagues in the newsroom and at the press club.

So, in the truck-farm world, to get published you need to go along, write what you are supposed to write, and suck up to editors to get limited space on the op page.

On the Web, the big boys no longer control the means of production or distribution. Anyone can just publish. (The total cost of this column, beyond writing it and doing a little html, is less than $400 a year.) Promotion takes time and effort, sure. But you sink or swim according to whether people want to read what you write. You can write a lousy column forever in a newspaper, and most newspaper columnists do. On the Web, people gotta like it or you can hang it up. But if they do like it, you fly on your own.

What the Web is telling the established newspapers is, "It's democracy, sweethearts. Get used to it."