Dept. of Misapprehended Hyperbole | Letters | Chicago Reader

Dept. of Misapprehended Hyperbole 

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Dear editor,

I picked up the current

issue and went straight to the comics section. Then I read something much funnier: Michael Lenehan's hate piece on the online community ["A Year Without Journalism," December 30].

While it is getting tiresome to hear print journalists bemoan the popularity of the Internet, it can be very amusing to see how little of it they understand. As a public service, I'm going to outline how some of this works in a business sense so that we can, perhaps, have a more informed discussion in future issues.

The bloggers Mr. Lenehan seems to hate so much are link aggregaters--they collect links to information relevant to the topic of their blog's subject and present them to the audience. Often they have a quick summary of the piece and some commentary on the content, but they almost always contain a link. This is sometimes referred to as an "infomediary" or even "disinfomediary," but the general idea is that you have someone or something that finds and filters information to give you a "best of" list of information and links.

Bloggers help people find articles. And then they link to those articles. Do you know what that makes bloggers, Mr. Lenehan? That makes them free advertising for the publications putting those articles online.

Of course, this puts the onus of generating revenue on the publications that put their material online. Let's take the Chicago Tribune, for example. CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) for banners ads on the Tribune's Web site ranges from $12 to $33, based on how specific you are on where you want your ad to appear (per the Trib's advertising media kit).

So let's say the Wonkette, one of the Web sites with hate piled upon it in the article, ran some commentary and a link to an article in the Tribune. I don't have any hard data on how many visits a link from Wonkette would generate, so let's say 1,000 people left the site to visit this Tribune article. (I suspect that number is low.) On the low end of things, that would represent $12 of ad revenue for the Tribune. On the high end, $33. Free money, generated because Wonkette linked to a Tribune piece. But wait, the Trib usually has two ads on a page, so we're talking more like $20-$50 of free money because one of those darn bloggers was talking about a Tribune article. More if some of these people decide to look at something else at the Tribune's Web site. (The technical jargon for people sticking around a site and looking at something else is "stickiness," FYI.)

So bloggers are hurting the papers? Not nearly as drastically as some would have us believe. On the other hand, I have been passing around the PDF link for the Reader's special comic section. It will be popular in comics and cartooning circles, and the only ad revenue there is if there's an arrangement with the holders of the print advertising on the page of ads included in the block to shell out a little extra based on downloads. In this case, yes, the Web would not be making any money for the Reader.

Now past the issue of whether bloggers prevent money from flowing to the print media or actually help it, there's the issue of whether online journalists can do anything besides link to print sources (and help the revenues of the print sources who have an online revenue model). Is there original journalistic content online? Of course. Check out Chicagoist.com. While they link to some print-originated material, they do plenty of original work in areas print publications gloss over. Chicagodailynews.org should be up and running before too long and will be specializing in original material. You can hardly be online for half an hour without accidentally tripping over political commentary. Liberal, conservative--whatever--the commentary is out there. Print columnists expanding their output online, people who are online only. The value of the political commentator is determined by the individual reader, not the editor, and certainly not by whether the commentator's words are on paper or a screen. It is freedom of what you want to read.

Newspapers and magazines have revenue models that are based primarily on advertising. Alternative weeklies like the Reader are based exclusively on advertising. Web pages are based primarily on advertising, with a few entering into the realm of subscription and another set reaping the benefits of selling merchandise that complements their product and/or topic area. The product is not so different; the medium the product is distributed in is a little different. The Internet is also a much more inclusive and robust distribution system.

I hope Mr. Lenehan can quit wailing like an infant with soiled diapers and learn about the different types of ways to distribute a news story and to get a check for it. The model is changing, and you can either adapt or go have a drink with those nice young men from the buggy-whip factory.

Todd Allen

Adjunct professor of e-business

Columbia College

Michael Lenehan replies:

Over here at the Buggy Whip Gazette we are very grateful to Professor Allen for so patiently sharing his e-business expertise, particularly in the area of advertising, a subject we know very little about. I fear, however, that my humble attempt at humor has eluded him in a variety of ways, of which I'd like to address just one: With capital letters and a great deal of condescension, Mr. Allen informs us that blogs provide FREE ADVERTISING for newspapers and generate traffic for their Web sites.

In his eagerness to deliver a lecture, he seems to have completely missed my point about the Wonkette item in question, which was precisely that it did neither. Forgive me for repeating myself, but Wonkette linked to Sploid, a sibling blog, and to a page on Yahoo News. The item made no mention of the Houston Chronicle, which originated the story, or the AP, which delivered it to Yahoo.

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