What is happening in San Diego right now is representative of newspaper battles happening all over the world. We have a once dominating, now faltering, traitional newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, pitted against a Web-only venture that shares its ad revenues with the writers and a non-profit leaning heavily on contributors for basic supplies.
This battle for readers’ attention, introduced this month in a Forbes article, is something the newspaper industry needs to keep a close eye on.
The for-profit Web model, the San Diego News Network (SDNN), is especially interesting. Reporters whose stories generate the most traffic get a cut of the advertising. It’s a big incentive, considering the ad income will comprise 80 percent of their salaries.
But what does this mean for journalism? It can’t be good.
If journalists are more interested in tracking down the stories that draw Web clicks (i.e., sex, scandals and celebrities), who will be monitoring the events that really matter and impact peoples’ lives (i.e. destruction of the environment, school board races, etc.)?
In theory, this strategy would also encourage the reporters to get more stories published in a shorter period of time. If this is the case, shoddy reporting and inaccuracies are bound to come up.
Still, I like the notion of reporters having a stake in their stories and the interest they generate. I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what becomes of this start-up.