Accuracy in reporting – it’s a business problem, not an editorial one

drdenny has an insightful take on the accuracy problem facing the news industry here. To which I have this to say:
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Ah yes, a money problem masquerading as an ethical/professional one. As you say, spend more money, hire more reporters and editors, which is what you have to do to get it right. In doing so we find ourselves faced with an ROI dilemma (that’s “Return On Investment” for you non-bizzies out there).

It goes like this. I own a string of papers. These are businesses from which I extract profit. Let’s be conservative and say that I’m taking 30% clean each year. Cool.

I can do this because I have trimmed staff and pay the ones that are left slave wages. However, this leads to the problem you describe – running too lean leads directly to a product that is, among other things, prone to factual errors.

So how is this an ROI issue? Well, factual lapses erode credibility. Eroding cred leads to lower circulation numbers. Lower circ means declining ad revenues. Which means I take a hit on my 30%.

So what do I do? Well, if I’m your average persistently vegetative news CEO, I initiate another round of firings, taking enough cost out of the op so that my profit creeps back up to 30%.

And in doing so, I lock myself even further into the death spiral. I guarantee more errors, more erosion of cred, etc., all leading to further staffing cuts, and the cycle starts all over again.

If I only had a brain, and maybe a sense that I needed to innovate my way out of the death spiral, I might respond with a longer view that says let’s take a 5% hit on the profit margin for five years, get our operation back up to par, and see what effect this has on the credibility/circulation cycle. And since I’m hiring all these wanks to market me out of the hole I’ve dug, what if I give them a real competitive differentiator to work with – we’re a better news organization! (Even bad marketers can give you more bang if they have something substantive to push.)

My certainty that I could help news agencies solve some of these problems is exceeded only by my certainty that they’d never let me within a mile of their offices….

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One comment

  1. Wonder how many readers realize part of the problem is that overworked reporters cannot do the same level of editing and reporting that people with a more sane work load could do? Probably not enough — or some of those “we’re canceling our subscription” messages could include “because you’re too damn cheap to do this thing properly.”
    But when was the Constitution rewritten to guarantee the right to 30 percent profit every year…?

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