If I tweet at you, will you come?
A man speaks on his mobile phone across from The New York Times headquarters building April 21, 2011 in New York City.
Indulge me for a second here, while I digress, would you? (I know, I haven't really said anything to digress from, but let's not get hung up on the details, shall we?) There's a fistful of business and/or economic stories I could touch on right now: Credit Suisse and its guilty plea, AT&T buying DirecTV, Jamie Dimon and his pay raise, GM's latest recall... and so on and so on.
But the truth is, these daily stories can be a dime a dozen. You wake up, you report something, you tell people about it. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The bigger issue for me this week, honestly, has been systemic.
Largely lost in the news of Jill Abramson being fired from the top job at the New York Times was the leaking of a long and sophisticated report (by a team led by A.G. Sulzberger, the son of the man who fired Abramson, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger) on the Times' digital future. Companies, both inside and oustide journalism, come out with "Our Digital Future" memos all the time.
But the Times being the Times, this one's going to resonate. As it should. It's well researched, clearly written, and insightful. I want to pull out two related but separate points:
1. "Audience Development." It used to be that we'd put a story on the radio (or a newspaper would put the story in the paper), the audience would come listen or read it, and that would be it. Distribution made simple. Catch is, of course, that it's waaaaay more complicated now. We're all so distracted and pulled at and tugged on by Twitter feeds and Facebook and all the rest that we (journalists, that is) have to figure out a way to get you to pay attention. The Sulzberger report (and many many others, to be fair) calls it 'audience development.' So here's what I want to know from you guys:
How do you want to be... developed? (Courted, if you will.) If I tweet at you, will you come? Shout-outs to our website? Are you a podcast person and are we making that available enough to you?
2. Ummm... money. Here's the equation, in public media, anyway. Far and away our audience (and revenue) is tied to what goes on the radio. Which makes sense. That's what we've been doing and doing well for decades. It's not, however, where the future is. Mobile, digital, portable and personal is where we're going, yet the audience and the money aren't there yet. So how do we at least balance the scales?
How do we drive digital content that meets our standards but can't yet pay for itself?
What should we not do that we used to do? (So that we can start doing the things we have to do.)
Newspapers are trying to figure it out – all the way up to the New York Times – and so is public media, both APM (the company that owns Marketplace) and NPR. It is, honestly, kind of an existential question.
In other news, a couple of quick shoutouts from Marketplace coverage this week. First of all, the Morning Report team is in London for a special look at income inequality in the (other) global financial center. Mind the Gap, it's called – get it? Also not to be missed is a two-parter from David Weinberg about the rebirth of American craftsmanship, risk-taking, and a really cool motorcyle.