25 February 2009

Erecting the Great (Pay) Wall for Newspapers

(From RealClearPolitics - Media Watch)

Let's face it, pay-per-view will be returning to newspaper web sites with a vengeance in the near future. If not by the second half of this year, definitely 2010. Ad revenue is way down - for both print and online - and the recession isn't going anywhere soon.

By now, everyone's shared their own ideas about how to rescue the business. But lately, it's become apparent that we've run out of new thoughts. Most everyone has returned to some variation of a pay scheme.

No one except the Christian Science Monitor dares to do the obvious, which is to shut down the print edition altogether. Newspapers are still too afraid to embrace the new world by leaving the "paper" part of their legacy behind. Since that's the case, a paywall seems to be the only thing that might keep more newspapers from going out of business, for now.

But if we must erect a paywall, let's not make it just any wall. Let's build a Great (pay) Wall that's strong enough to keep the barbarians at bay.

Let's start by creating a cooperative, managed by the NAA (Newspaper Association of America). Every paper that's part of the NAA may participate in this cooperative, which will serve as the clearinghouse for the new great paywall.

Then, with ample warning to the readers, put up the wall on September 1. Why September 1? Because the summer is over, kids are back in school and adults are back at their computer terminals. But more important, it's the dawn of the football season, when web traffic typically spikes for news sites.

Once the wall is up, every newspaper web site is accessible only to paid subscribers. Each paper may decide to allow some free content daily, but it must be extremely limited. The index page for every paper's site should be so full of teasers on the good stuff that a reader just can't help himself but to pay to see what he's missing.

So how do you subscribe? There would be two kinds of subscribers. Anyone who subscribes to the print edition of any paper would be granted a complimentary online subscription. If you don't want to subscribe to your local paper - or any paper, for that matter - you may become an online-only subscriber, at say, $50 a year for the privilege.

Your unique username and password would allow you access to every newspaper site that's part of this cooperative. But here's one catch - you could only access it from one computer at a time (like how an AOL account works) so you won't be so inclined to share your account with dozens of your buddies. Educational institutions and large companies may purchase corporate accounts so that individuals using school or company terminals will be able to bypass the wall.

So how would the money be distributed? Papers get to keep all of the print subscriber money, so it makes sense for individual papers to work to drive up circulation. As for the online-only subscribers, half of the money would be equally divided among all members (socialism), the other half would be distributed according to web site traffic (capitalism), so papers would have an incentive to drive in more traffic to their own sites.

Let's do a little, and very crude, math. According to the NAA, its 2,000 member sites average about 75 million unique visitors. About 25 million already subscribe to a paper, so leave them out. If we may extract 50 bucks out of the rest of the 50 million heretofore freeloaders, that's $2.5 billion. Counting conservatively, at $1 billion, that means under the 50-50 scheme, the smallest of the papers would make about $250,000 annually. The New York Times, on the other hand, would make about $90 million, Wall Street Journal $33.5 million, San Francisco Chronicle, $38 million.

This model may tide the papers over the tough times until they figure out just what needs to be done for long-term survival. And there are challenges to implement this scheme: The Justice Department may have to sign off on the cooperative. There may be fierce pushback initially by the consumers. An independent auditor would be required to referee disputes.

And finally, the newspaper business has to be ready for the potential that this concept may be more like the Berlin Wall than the Great Wall of China - merely a flawed stop-gap rather than something that brings about stability and longevity. At some point in the future, the papers must accept the new reality and act accordingly.

That starts with stopping the presses.

24 February 2009

Top 10 Newspapers in Trouble

(From RealClearPolitics - Media Watch)

The Atlantic stirred the pot two months ago with a sensational "End Times" piece that questioned the continued existence of the New York Times. While the Grey Lady has stayed in the news with all her financial woes, other papers are suffering silently, with certain death just around the corner for some.

The Christian Science Monitor announced that it was abandoning its print edition back in October last year, and then the avalanche came. The Tribune Co. was the first to file for bankruptcy protection, and then the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Journal Register and Philadelphia Newspapers followed suit. In the meantime, Gannett and Media News announced unpaid furlough programs, and the Los Angeles Times was but one of many to announce yet another round of massive newsroom cuts.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Rocky Mountain News and Tucson Citizen all might not see April Fools Day. Then yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle hinted that it could be going away soon as well. Even the Washington Post, one of the most stable papers, reported a 77% drop in earnings in the fourth quarter of 2008. In todays gloomy newspaper landscape, no one is safe.

With that in mind, we present you with the top 10 major metro newspapers in trouble.

No. 10 New York Daily News

23 February 2009

Most Important Presidential Visits

(From RealClearWorld)

It was 37 years ago this week, President Nixon made the audacious visit to the People's Republic of China, paving the way for a new bilateral relationship with the world's most populous nation. The momentous trip gives rise to the expression of "Nixon Goes to China" and underscores the importance of certain presidential visits - how they shape the foreign policy of the United States and in some cases, alter the course of history.

Last Thursday, Barack Obama made his first foreign visit as American president with a seven-hour journey to Canada. While it is certain that President Obama will be taking more overseas trips to visit America's allies and competitors, there's no guarantee that any of them will have substantial impact on the future of American foreign policy. Sometimes, history dictates the terms: President Clinton made 54 overseas trips during his presidency, and none appeared on our list. In contrast, President Truman made just four, but one of which is No. 3 on our list and one that set the stage to end one global conflict, but also to beget another.

We considered the trips taken by 19 different presidents covering just over 100 years, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt's journey to the Panama Canal Zone in 1906. We considered the lasting impact of these trips and came up with these 10:

No. 10 Teddy Roosevelt

13 February 2009

Bar Rafaeli: Draft Dodger, IDF Recruiter

(From RealClearWorld)

Sports Illustrated's vaunted swimsuit issue came out this week. Typically, it's greeted with mild protest, something about exploitation of women who make about eight figures. But this year, SI could not have picked a more politically controversial figure to grace its cover.

(In case your mailman swiped your copy)

The 2009 cover girl is Bar Rafaeli, an Israeli Jewish supermodel also known for her courtship with Leonardo DiCaprio. But Rafaeli got to where she is today by cunningly dodging the draft in Israel and now, serving as a recruiter for the IDF to atone for it.

Rafaeli arranged a sham marriage to evade conscription (mandatory for almost everyone in Israel when one turns 18, male or female) and made no apologies for it:

I really wanted to serve in the IDF, but I don’t regret not enlisting, because it paid off big time. That’s just the way it is, celebrities have other needs. I hope my case has influenced the army.

Israel or Uganda, what difference does it make? It makes no difference to me. Why is it good to die for our country? What, isn’t it better to live in New York? Why should 18-year-old kids have to die? It’s dumb that people have to die so that I can live in Israel.

It seems capitalism caught up with Rafaeli before the IDF did. After signing a $300,000 deal with the Fox clothing chain, she became a target of enraged Israeli parents who lost children serving their country. Under pressure, Fox made an arrangement so that Rafaeli would "voluntarily" visit injured Israeli soldiers and encourage others to enlist.

Seems fair. You can live like Gilad Schalit or Bar Rafaeli. You know, celebrities have other needs.

09 February 2009

Most Important Elections of 2009

As the final voting results from last week's provincial elections in Iraq are finally tallied and analyzed, critics and pundits alike have been busy evaluating the impact these regional contests have had, and will continue to have, on the region for the foreseeable future.

In December, RealClearWorld presented you with our own list of the most significant elections of 2008. And with last week's polls in Iraq as the opening act of what should be an eventful year of elections and power shifts around the world, RCW now gives you our list of the Most Important Elections of 2009.

These five races - spread across Asia and Europe, and affecting the lives and freedoms of millions - could have policy implications, both domestic and abroad, for decades to come. What path will Germany and Japan - two major global economies - take in 2009? How will elections in Afghanistan affect the leadership makeup in Kabul, and will they be as friendly to NATO and the west as the current regime?

Israel and Iran - two nations feared to be on an inevitable collision course - will both hold elections this year. Would a new executive in Iran alter Tehran's frigid relationship with the United States? What will new leadership in Jerusalem mean for the Mideast peace process, or the still smoldering conflict in the Gaza Strip? The polls in Israel open in less than 24 hours (RCW will be covering the election live Monday night into Tuesday afternoon), and with that, the course of an entire region may change.

These questions and conjectures will only be fully answered in time, but all five of these elections may provide the world with an idea of how global affairs will unfold in the weeks, months and even years to come.

No. 5 Afghanistan