Few of us here at The Dallas Morning News like to admit that, occasionally, we read the Dallas Observer. But we do. And lots of folks around here are trying to figure out how the Observer seems to do so well financially while we're in a constant state of struggle. I will speculate a little bit here. I suspect readers do not necessarily flock to the Observer for their quality journalism. And even if they do, that's not what is keeping the Observer in business. Heck, it's a free newspaper. What keeps the Observer in business is advertising, and that weekly tabloid is thick with it. Online, it's hard to visit their site without being overwhelmed by all the colorful, flashing ads.He then quotes some racy, suggestive captions, joking that he didn't click on them for fear of alerting Belo Corp. human resources staff, but concludes that:
Not just any ads. If you look at the numbers posted by the Observer, you'll find some telling statistics of what's bringing in the dough. Let's see, there are 26 ads for restaurants, two for fashion/accessories, one for home furnishings/home improvement. No, I don't think those are what's paying the bills. A bit farther down the page is a category called adult entertainment, which has 13,773 ads. Hmmm, there might be a clue there.
The journalism world is misguided in pointing to the Village Voice and other publications of that ilk as models of success in a market desperately struggling to stay afloat. We are looking at all options (well, almost all options) to maintain a positive revenue stream and attract readers. No one knows what the formula for survival ultimately will be. But if it means stooping to the level of health & wellness ads, I would opt for closing our doors first. These days, it's getting harder and harder to define what journalism is. But I know what it isn't, and Backpage.com nails the "isn't" part on the head.Grits responded thusly in the comments:
Really? You'd rather see daily journalism die than pay for it by selling advertising for services that a not-insignificant portion of your readership would patronize (or at least read voyeuristically, as they do your crime coverage)? No wonder conservatives think the MSM disdains the public: You do. I don't know if it's true, as was said on GCB, that Dallas is the world's strip club capital, but it's gotta be up there: This is your readership. Own it.I wrote that a bit as a provocation, though I do think the Morning News would make a lot more money - and make their photographer corps a lot happier - if they paid for daily journalism with a behind-the-paywall porn (or, if you like, "adult entertainment") section. The exchange with Robberson, though, got me thinking. I've often felt there's a strong argument that legalizing prostitution would do more to protect underage girls from exploitation - by regulating the workplace - than does an outright ban, which clearly has not stopped a thriving, underground trade. (When brothels on Hotel Street were tolerated in Honolulu before and during World War II, local government and later military commanders were able to closely regulate the industry for abuses; see a good account [pdf] from the Hawaiian Journal of History.) Might it also be the case that legalizing prostitution could save journalism with a lucrative new ad source on par with auto dealerships or real estate? Taking a long-term perspective, it's not the "oldest profession" for nothing.
And btw, if you'll look around the newsroom at the Dallas News' depopulating ranks over the last few years, "quality journalism" isn't doing much to keep y'all in business, either. Should newspapers knowingly profit from exploitation of minors? No, and you certainly haven't demonstrated here - by a longshot - that the Dallas Observer has done so. But if y'all want to keep printing with ink on dead trees, perhaps you shouldn't be so quick to criticize a model that's clearly catering to a substantial, monied audience and employing quite a few excellent journalists at weeklies around the country.
Porn sells. Add a porn section behind the paywall and y'all could afford international bureaus and a small army of beat and investigative reporters that would rival the NYTimes and Washington Post. But no, you don't want to do that because you're too pure to give your audience what they want. IMO journalistic snootiness isn't just a political problem for conservatives, it's killing your business model.
When markets are large enough they trump laws. Whenever there is significant demand, supply will arise to fill it in a black market. A legal market, though, can be regulated. State lotteries and legalized lottos did more to wipe out numbers running by the mafia on the east coast than the FBI ever did, just as ending Prohibition effectively quashed violence related to alcohol production and distribution, and reduced deaths from bad product. We hear terrible stories in the media and certainly at the Legislature, which has passed potent sex trafficking enhancements, about coercive sex trafficking that's often compared to slavery. Would legalizing and regulating adult, consensual prostitution similarly drive out the criminal element the way a legal lottery defeated the mafia? Perhaps. If so, it would be a greater boon to exploited young girls than another criminal-penalty enhancement.
In any event, Grits would rather see newspapers make money from "adult entertainment" than treating news reporting as entertainment, which is another common route some outlets have taken to draw in more readership (though to its credit, mostly not the Morning News). I don't consider voyeurism about gory, personal crime details any more commendable than sexual voyeurism, but newspapers have profited from printing salacious crime details for years. To save the industry, newspaper editors need to get off their high horse, or else fall off, probably into the unemployment line, albeit with their self-righteousness and dignity intact.