Googled or Dished?

Did Andrew Sullivan stumble on a way to keep the Fourth Estate alive?

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Social scientists studying the rise and fall (and, perhaps, rise again) of American journalism and new media forms may have just found a new term as a companion to the phrase "Googled" that sits at the center of what used to be the Fourth Estate. The new term may be called "Dished."

Andrew Sullivan is moving his wildly popular, aggregated blogosphere, The Daily Dish, away from his home at The Daily Beast to a standalone site, and asked his loyal following of more than a million readers to move with him. But that isn't the news for social scientists studying how forms of journalism are going to survive in an era where Google News essentially ended most journalism business models.

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No, the news is it seems to have worked!

When he announced he was moving in cyberspace, Sullivan asked his online readers to pay $19.99 a year to support the site – which rounds up what the curators there believe to be the most interesting, salient news pieces of the day across a broad spectrum of politics, policy, science, health and other fields – and support it independently.

The result? The Daily Dish raised more than $300,000 in 24 hours, and is well on its way towards its goal to raise $1 million to support the small editorial/curator staff. In typical Dish fashion, Sullivan made it all transparent and interactive -- complete with trending charts, raging comments about whether $19.99 was a deceptive way to ask for $20, and comments from critics of the move.

Also in typical Dish fashion, Sullivan prominently featured criticism on the economics of the new business model from a fellow blogger and critic, Noah Millman, who took off on the new Daily Dish aggregation business model at The American Conservative.

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In the Internet era, "the delivery mechanism and editorial function have been disaggregated from content-production," Millman wrote. "You get access to the Internet from a utility company like Verizon that does not own and is not responsible for providing content. And you find what you want using an advertising-supported search engine like Google that similarly does not own and is not responsible for producing content -- or through a reliable aggregator like Andrew Sullivan, who also does not own or pay for most of the content he steers people towards. These business models depend on content-generation for their own viability, but they aren't primarily responsible for content-generation."

All true. But it is also not the point, which is why social scientists and American journalism school students may look back at this moment and time and decide that "Dished" replaced "Googled" as a way for the American public to support sites that focus on news.

The point is Google isn't making massive amounts of revenue from this venture – Andrew Sullivan and his small editorial team are. As a result, The Daily Dish business model for news aggregation may, possibly, serve as a road map for any and all forms of new media journalism to follow in its wake.

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Deans of journalism schools and newspaper publishers have been arguing for some time now that a new business model had to emerge for journalism to survive. If one doesn't, they argue, we're all in a lot of trouble. For a democracy to function, its citizens must have access to an objective set of facts in order to properly make decisions about leadership, national priorities and governance.

The problem, to put it bluntly, is this: even as the business models for old, traditional media were being radically changed, destroyed or lost, there was nothing new emerging in the creation of media that can take its place as a proper Fourth Estate.

"Old" media (newspapers, magazines, radio, television and book publishing) have struggled with the explosion of free content on the Internet for nearly two decades. Old business models for media that rely on advertising revenue have largely been replaced with a mixture of printed and online ad revenues combined with cost cuts and buyouts.

The question has been whether American journalism needed to reconsider what it means to cover and write about the news – and for businesses to dramatically rethink the way in which consumers want to receive their news. Because it's quite clear the "new" media titans, like Google, are immense creations and wreck havoc of the old way of presenting information.

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But they are not the Fourth Estate. Google is many things – but a card-carrying member of the long tradition of American journalism isn't one of them. In fact Google started out as something completely different than media or journalism. It got its first $1 million from the National Science Foundation. Google has always had the public's support from the get-go because it's incredibly useful, but also because it began as a public investment in science.

That's why Andrew Sullivan's experiment at The Daily Dish is so interesting – it's an instance where a handful of dedicated pros have taken on the Google business model and, for now, have pulled it off. They're in business and offering up daily news, and competing in the same arena as Google.

When Ken Auletta first coined the phrase "Googled" as the title of his best-selling book, he clearly showed why Google has become a nearly singular focus for leaders in the old media. Google's ability to aggregate content, and then make considerable amounts of money from users who view ads alongside that content, clearly changed the way people receive their news.

The question for the "old" media has always been: Is Google the enemy, or merely the vanguard of the inevitable in an Internet age? The truth is likely somewhere in between.

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But it's long past time to move on from the old versus new media discussion – and The Daily Dish experiment will prove a useful point of inflection for lots of folks following this battle closely. Google was always just one of many wolves at the door for American journalism. The old ways of communicating and receiving information were inevitably going to change. Now, perhaps, The Daily Dish will help others see that, yes, there is at least some sort of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

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