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Media Watch: Waxman vs. Wolff and the Decline of Old Media

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 6, 2010 at 3:06AM

It's tough times in the media business, even for online start-ups.
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's tough times in the media business, even for online start-ups.

On Sharon Waxman vs. Michael Wolff--Waxman accuses news aggregator Newser of stealing The Wrap's content without providing links and traffic-- my sympathies are with Waxman, even though The Wrap's junior writers have been known to repurpose others' reporting on occasion without links or credit, something that Waxman would not do (whenever I've brought it to her attention, she has always added the link).

In her post, Waxman's anxiety about traffic comes through loud and clear: "We're talking about survival here," she writes. But Wolff's condescending response--comparing her small-scale online trade with his large news aggregation site--isn't fair, argues the Village Voice, which covers the numbers.

Thompson on Hollywood

Point is, Wolff should not be defending these practices, he should be changing them. As an author with monthly magazine and book publishing deadlines, I wonder how close he is to the day-to-day practices of his site, which rewrites stories (much of them utter trash) without making the original links obvious; there's a "source" link over on the side. (Wolff admits he doesn't do the shortening.) In rising to his defense, Slate's Jack Shafer makes a strong case for the News Digest aspect of Newser while sliding over the Waxman point that he agrees with: burying links. I agree with Salon: Wolff's site is hastening the death of good journalism by pandering to the shortest-attention-span denominator.

I have never liked Newser, because I disapprove of their repurposing approach. Give me something clean with links to the original story (and writing and reporting), like Wopular, which updates automatically with RSS feeds. Why spend all that time and energy editing other people's copy?

These days, people don't hunt around for sites to find news; they're everywhere. It's about bringing the news into your Google Reader, Tweetdeck or email. New York Vulture and The Daily Beast are on the right track, and Waxman is learning the rules of the game, which are about building as much traffic with as little overhead and as much premium advertising as possible. On her side is the quality of her readers, if not the quantity.

Check out this November Charlie Rose interview with the ex-editor of The New York Observer, Peter Kaplan, who sees hope in the future when media goes mobile, but decries the demise of editors and quality journalism. As far as I'm concerned, Wolff is the Devil.

In magazine media, not surprisingly, a new report argues for innovation and experimentation. And the iPad is inspiring hope for news media--although others are less sanguine. Clay Shirky's argument about why complex models are doomed to fail is persuasive when applied to the media business:

Diller, Brill, and Murdoch seem be stating a simple fact—we will have to pay them—but this fact is not in fact a fact. Instead, it is a choice, one its proponents often decline to spell out in full, because, spelled out in full, it would read something like this:

“Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.”

Meanwhile, The New Yorker editor David Remnick seems to be surviving these turbulent times the same way that we all are: spending less, writing more.

This article is related to: Media


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