Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why quality journalism costs a lot of money

We all love those long-form magazine articles, the meat-and-potatoes pieces that address the big issues.

When you're not in a rush, reading such a lengthy article -- it can be anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000 words, believe it or not -- can be a revelation.

"I didn't know that," you might say to yourself.

With such length, you might suspect that the article took a lot of time to produce. That's probably true.

What you might not know is how much it cost.

Gerald Marzorati, assistant managing editor at The New York Times and editor of The Times Magazine, recently answered reader questions about the inner workings of the magazine he produces.

Some of his answers might surprise you.

Addressing a question about the viability of long-form journalism in an era of rapidly narrowing attention spans, Marzorati explains that the price of a cover story for the Times magazine costs more than twice the price of the average American home:

Long-form journalism is expensive: The Magazine is publishing a 13,000-word piece on Sunday (it will be up online earlier) that we did in partnership with ProPublica, the independent, not-for-profit newsroom. One of ProPublica's editors and I did a back-of-the-envelop calculation yesterday of what the total cost of the piece actually was, figuring in several years of reporting and nearly a year of editing. Estimate: $400,000.

That piece, "The Deadly Choices at Memorial," is about the poor healthcare decisions that arose in the Hurricane Katrina crisis in Louisiana in 2006.

Jon Stahl highlights the important points of Marzorati's Q&A session:

  • A cover story can cost several hundred thousand dollars;
  • A cover story can take years to produce;
  • Long-form journalism actually get more pageviews online than their shorter counterparts.

Most people probably have no idea of the costs of such articles. And the debate rages on -- even within the journalism community -- about whether articles of such length can be effective online.

But next time you read that article in a magazine -- followed by another one, and another one, until you get to the back cover -- think about the $5 it cost you on the newsstand.


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Every single thing costs an effort. Quality need staff but nowadays mosts newspapers prefer to achieve public not trhrough quality but through politicians

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Quality need staff but nowadays mosts newspapers prefer to achieve public.