Opinionification = Commodification:

That's my take, anyway. Michael Kinsley looks at the business and editorial model of the new Newsweek. Characteristically amusing piece in TNR.

Kinsley walks through the many problems of the new, revamped Newsweek. How much of it looks like the old Newsweek, to start with.

But the essence of the critique is one that bedevils these kinds of magazines, as well as newspapers. Gathering news that consists of facts that are (a) facts someone wants badly enough to be willing, in principle, to pay for; and (b) facts that are sufficiently current and new that they have not already been priced into the information and so discounted in pricing power is expensive. And figuring out these days if there any hard facts that someone is willing to pay for, even if it does involve people getting out of the internet echo chamber and doing some hard research that might involve shoe leather - that's risky and expensive. About the only facts that fit those categories these days are in the areas of business and finance and economics, where people have money at stake.

So media organizations try to do two things at once.

First, they gravitate away from the high risk fact gathering activities - activities that are costly on the front end, and move toward the cheap business of writing opinion. It involves the exquisitely self-indulgent belief that professional journalists are good writers and that people will therefore want to read them over blogs and stuff like that. The business model problem with this is that opinion is cheap to produce - but it's widely available, easily produced, and frankly there are a lot of people out there who, if someone else supplies the facts, can produce pretty decent insights and prose, and will do it for free, at least if their day job is ... lawyer. Which is to say: opinionification = commodification. And commodity pricing will not pay the rent in Manhattan or DC or, these days apparently, LA, Seattle, Denver, or a lot of other places.

However one reads Jon Meachum's justifications for his strategy - Newsweek will be the Economist, it will be TNR, it will be the NYRB, etc. - at bottom it comes down to opinionification = commodification.

Second, then, if you are a newspaper or newsmagazine, you understand the commodity pricing problem, and if you think you can get away with it, you depend upon your past reputation and social capital, and assert that your opinions are not actually opinions, but facts - and then you will try to price them accordingly. We lapsed Mormons call this "chutzpah-pricing." And the way you do this is by putting them on the front page. You turn the newspaper into a magazine, but you try to price the opinions as facts and charge the fact-premium. This is the basic explanation of the front page of the New York Times, as it has gravitated to magazine-style analysis. (And so putting it in deep competition with its own Sunday Magazine, something that would annoy the heck out of me if I were Magazine editor Gerry Marzorati.)

But the NYT is one of a very small handful of papers that can play that game with a straight face; maybe the WP can, but not the LA Times, though it tried, and certainly not a newsmagazine. It can't try to premium price as facts, not when it is only appearing on a weekly basis anyway. Meachum appears to understand this, which is why he has pretty much given up on facts altogether and gone for the hyper-charged, hyperpuissant opinion model. He has to compete with newspapers as magazines, magazines as magazines, the internet as magazines, and without even the pretense of a budget by which to gather anything that can be premium priced. (I plan to put up the occasional post on media economics and business models. Sometimes about the US, and sometimes about media economics in the developing world, where I do a lot of pro bono work.):