The Changing Face of Journalism or Fixing BusinessWeek

I have been a huge fan of BusinessWeek since I can remember.  I am also a big fan because of the likes of Stephen Baker who I have been reading in the blogosphere for quite some time as well.  I found Stephen’s post related to How to Fix BusinessWeek at his The Numerati blog and I was sad when I read it.  It was done in a manner that made me thing that fixing or saving journalism is a simple task but nearly impossible to execute.  I don’t think the likes of newspapers and other periodicals will be saved as they cannot be saved.  The numbers will make it insurmountable.   This opening from Stephen was very telling:

Monday I learned that BusinessWeek, where I’ve worked for 22 years, is on the block. It may be sold, or stay in McGraw-Hill (where it’s been for 80 years). But the business is losing money (I don’t know how much). Whoever ends up with it is going to have to figure out quickly how to turn a business news operation built primarily as a weekly magazine into a profitable franchise for the age of near ubiquitous and real-time information.

Losing money–that seems to be an understatement when you think of the offices and the infrastructure that is all the things that BusinessWeek has.  Huge buildings, rent, equipment, well the list goes without saying.  They have a huge budget to cover to bring us the news and the information or content we consume for free on the Internet.  Stephen follows that post with After The Madison Avenue Bubble.  This post hammers home another point that seems to be putting a nail in the coffin of the likes of BusinessWeek:

I just got up from my desk and took a stroll through these Midtown offices of BusinessWeek. In a matter of months, if someone buys the magazine, we’ll be gone. It’s terrific real estate. Down by the top editors’ offices, the big windows look across the Hudson. The eastern view looks across Rockefeller Center and toward the Chysler Building. These are expensive digs.

It took me a while to get used to working for a magazine that spent money like this.

That seems to be the biggest issue that will seal the fate of the likes of old media.  Spending money like they do and still producing what I can get for free elsewhere.  I am not a mogul in the business world but it seems to me that might be a problem.  It appears from what Stephen ended this latest post with was almost an acceptance stage of grief when he states:

But in the end, my initial  read turned out to be correct. The rich model for a weekly magazine was not sustainable. Those who want to be foreign correspondents today will be lucky to get what I expected: modest pay to work out of their apartments. It will attract mostly young people, which isn’t a bad thing. (They might ask more unschooled questions, but they’re more likely to move to the action and take chances.)  It turns out we rode something of a Madison Ave bubble for a few decades, and now it has popped.

Like Jeff Jarvis however, this seems to me to be quite an asset and something that could and should be fixed or in another word–saved.

Well, now, BusinessWeek is for sale and whoever gets it – it is a valuable franchise with a very valuable and wise crowd – will need to reinvent it. I was going to suggest that the magazine do for itself what we were thinking of doing for GM. But Steve beat me to it.

How do I fix BusinessWeek?  Easy, in a manner of speaking, I would level the playing field.  I have said many times at conferences, at business meetings, and over coffee with colleagues, if the journalists figure out new media, we are all out of a job.  Level the playing field is not as easy as it sounds.  But if we were to put journalists that have been reporting, writing and selling and have been on top of their game into the positions now being held by new media types at the places like TechCrunch, or other blogging networks, we would see the real cream of the crop.

BusinessWeek is taking their overhead, basically a champagne budget, and putting it up against the likes of Joe and Mary Blogger, publishing from free applications downloaded from the Internet from the comfort of their own home.  Joe and Mary’s overhead is nominal at best but they are being compared on the same plane now with those on Madison Avenue.  How do you compete with that?  Well certainly BusinessWeek has better access and better connections than does Joe and Mary, but that is beginning to change as well as bloggers gain access to back rooms and walled gardens that were usually only for "special people."  The scales were always tipped in favor of the "journalist" as they had the access, the diploma, the expense account and the social capital.  The latter of which has shifted in favor of those with the most voice, those with the most eyeballs, perhaps those with the most Twitter followers these days.  That seems to be the competition now, but that is another post.  Getting scooped by the guy in the building over from yours on Madison Avenue was expected, getting scooped from Joe or Mary the Pajama wearing citizen journalist is something entirely different.

Media costs are not even close to level.  You must level them to compete.  That means no more overhead.  Stephen mentions his 5% as being what BusinessWeek has, and Jeff Jarvis said it was what makes BusinessWeek better.  The other 95% has to compete in their eyes, and that can only be done by making the remaining 95% carry the same costs as paying the rent on the corner office, not on Madison Avenue, but on West Elm street in the corner of the kitchen.

Not anyone can write well. I know that there is no possible way I could compete with the likes of Stephen Baker in covering the latest in business news and writing and reporting.  The only way for me to compete is to provide the story hope someone sees it and that gets me recognized.  The only thing I have going for me is I am not being paid a six figure salary and paying $100,000 per month in rent for an office building and paying for the infrastructure that goes with that empire.  When Stephen starts working out of his home like I do and doing the same thing, I don’t stand a chance.  How do they fix BusinessWeek?  Just download WordPress have Stephen work from the corner of his kitchen and do what he has been doing.  No way does their competition compete.  Now, the remaining problem, how do you charge the companies wanting to advertise for that model?  Welcome to the game BusinessWeek.

photo via BusinessWeek

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Comments

  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Nice post. I worked with Steve Baker at BusinessWeek 10 of those years and can tell you it’s a top notch staff and publication. It’s interesting to think about unleashing editorial talent like this to compete with the TechCrunch’s of the world–if it’s pure editorial, the journalists win. But of course we know it’s a lot more than that. More importantly, if and when BW goes down (and any good pub), you lose more then the individual writers–you lose the whole system. That includes the editorial checks and balances, financial resources to go after time consuming tough stories and much more (see my recent post: Why BusinessWeek Matters). The reality is that we no longer have the luxury and (ad supported) funding for all of this, so here we are pondering all these other options for BW- almost all of which, sadly, will almost certainly mean a drastically scaled down publication at best (online and/or print, if print even survives). As the late Walter Cronkite would say, “that’s the way it is. July 30, 2009.”

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