Clay Shirky: “The Post is Basically Screwed”…so…Homicide Watch…
Thinkfluencer Clay Shirky has a response in the Columbia Journalism Review to Ryan Chittum’s story from a few weeks ago on the Washington Post Co.’s self-cannibalization through pointless stock buybacks and high dividends.
Chittum shouldn’t complain that the Post is blowing its money instead of investing in its businesses, because, Shirky writes, the Post in its current situation “is basically screwed.” Instead, the paper should do more format-busting similar to DC’s Homicide Watch:
To adapt to the current ecosystem, the Post (like all papers) will have to alter the way it works, not just the way it makes money….
Homicide Watch provides far broader crime coverage than the Post, coverage of clear value to the community, and does so in a way that makes that value cumulative, rather than just spinning out updates on the hamster wheel. In comparison with the Post, though, the most important thing about Homicide Watch is that they do all this with two employees…
Shirky is working from a pretty tortured false dichotomy here. The Post shouldn’t invest in its business because it’s screwed, he says, but it should create new models for business, which he seems to think wouldn’t be helped with investment money. Instead, the Post should emulate a site that was also built on outside money (in this case, Chris Amico’s salary from NPR), that didn’t pay its editor anything in its first year, and whose business model is essentially built on its uniqueness.
From the February Washingtonian (emphasis added):
Laura has been working on Homicide Watch full-time for more than a year without pay; the couple lives off Chris’s salary from NPR, where he now works. Their business model calls for marketing Homicide Watch to news organizations.
Homicide Watch and the Amicos do great work, and the Post should always be trying new stuff, but it’s not clear why Shirky thinks that whole innovative process wouldn’t be helped with some cash that the Post is otherwise throwing away.
Now that I think about it, the Post already is trying new things with WaPo Labs. Yes, to varying degrees of success, but they’re trying. What is Shirky talking about?