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Would You Investigate The Watergate Cover-up?

Not to belabor the obvious, but newspapers appear to be hopelessly doomed.  Here is their revenue:

Source: Neiman Labs (

Here is my theory for what is going on:

Now there are all of these meta-newspapers such as Drudge, HuffPo, Delicious, Yahoo Home Page, Google Finance, etc.  They do not generally product a lot of their own content, but they point to content.  If a newspaper writes a good article, back in the day you would buy that paper and subsidize all the other content.  Furthermore, it made every advertiser in the newspaper happy, not just the advertisers adjacent to that one good article.  Now, people hop in and hop out, using their meta-newspaper to find good content on many sites, ignore the bad content, and deal with information overload.  What is sad is that not every article resonates with large audiences – and it is hard to know in advance if there is something there.  So generating content is a risky business.  Much like Hollywood, you have to weigh the odds that the investment pays off every time you invest upfront in value creation.  Journalism as a hits business.  Will this individual article generate enough revenue to cover its costs?  That is a lot harder.

It goes without saying that people read meta-newspapers now and not real news web sites.  HuffPo just blew past the Washington Post:

So now that no one reads real newspaper web sites, using meta-sites to get pointed to moments of goodness by real reporters, what happens?

Watergate began June 17, 1972 with the break-in.  Watergate ended August 24, 1974 with Richard Nixon’s resignation.  In between are two years of steady investigation by Woodward and Bernstein that resulted in a resignation by a sitting President.  If you were the editor of an online magazine, would you have told your two best reporters to go off into a hole for months and months and months working on a story that may or may not have a positive outcome?  Maybe they will find out they were barking up the wrong tree.  Maybe they will find out that there isn’t much there.  Maybe it turns out that the President isn’t involved in this break-in and it is an interesting, albeit not too interesting story.  This is a really, really risky story.  Would you write a $100k check to maybe get a great story?  $200k?  $500k?

What will become of real investigative journalism?  Who will keep politicians honest if, in a world of TMZ and Perez Hilton, doing real investigative work does not pay the bills.

I fear for the safety of our global community in a world where investigative journalism does not have a viable economic model.  Who will keep politicians honest?  Remember, the direct result of Watergate was not just Nixon’s resignation: It was FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act.  It was the Ethics in Government Act.  Politicians didn’t publish their tax returns before.    All of this new visibility is because journalists proved it was necessary to keep us safe from our politician caretakers.  What does the future hold?

One Response to “Would You Investigate The Watergate Cover-up?”

  1. Cogblog » Blog Archive » Journalism Is Not Bad Because It Is Occasionally Wrong Says:

    […] is falling apart!  Bloomberg and Reuters do very little long term investigative journalism and, as we discussed, the others do none […]