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Watch Media Revenue in Context

Recently I asked to join a watch enthusiast slack channel. My request was denied. I won't name names, but they told me I am "old media" and old media was not welcome.
New York Times newsroom, 1942
This response came as something of a surprise to me.

First, I've only been writing about the watch industry for about a year, maybe a little bit longer than that. I have received some compensation for doing so as a freelancer, but these days, almost all of my creative activity is published for free. I don't have any advertisements on my blog.

For these reasons, I was surprised that I might have a reputation as old media. The episode also brought me to consider the nature of watch media. Is there really an "old" and "new" watch media? What does that mean?

Among the watch community, there is an ongoing discussion of whether watch media are presenting the information needed by collectors and enthusiasts. There is a low rumble of displeasure with the models used by watch media to generate revenue in order to obtain sustainability.

Let's begin by discussing the possibility that watch media has departed from normal practice. I think a meme coming from the movie Casablanca can help us contextualize that issue.
Casablanca scene
Humphrey Bogart's character in the movie Casablanca runs a casino. A police officer is on the take but he has to bust the casino. He steps up to Humphrey Bogart's character and says something like, "there's gambling happening here." Humphrey Bogart says, "I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you." Of course, he's not shocked at all, there's been gambling there for a long time and everyone, including the police officer, knows it. I think the same can be said of revenue generation by watch media.

Please indulge me with one more relevant meme from the film Groundhog Day. Bill Murray's character, a TV new reporter, has to live the same day over and over again and he has to shoot the same event multiple times: the Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxatawny, PA.
Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day
This meme is meant to illustrate the fact that media, in many forms and at many points in time, is always earning money.

If watch journalism is a profession, then obviously there must be an income generating process. Media has always been that way. Longstanding outlets like New York Time and Financial Times generate income. Television stations, radio stations and even podcasters (some) earn income as well. In some ways there is a slight overreaction by the watch community to the fact that media are earning money off of what they produce. That's always been the case for media. What is different is the way in which income is earned, perhaps.

I'd like to explore two questions. The first question: is there actual evidence of harm from the fact that perhaps there is sponsored content in watch media or watch media are publishing advertisements alongside the content they produce? What's the evidence of harm in these relationships? One critique is that watch media choose to just report the facts about what the industry is doing without necessarily providing opinion about those facts or criticizing those facts. In reality, that's a very traditional form of reportage. In the middle of the 19th century, the founder of the New York Tribune, Horace Greely, decided that "fact" journalism would occupy one portion of his paper and opinion would be clearly labelled in another.
Horace Greely, 1855
In news media more generally, non-editorial reporting was very common, at least in the United States in the 1950s, where the guiding principle of journalism was that journalists just report the facts. Currently, I am unaware of examples of harm caused by sponsored content or the editorial balance of watch journalism.

The other question I'd like to explore is whether disclosure is enough. If media are upfront about compensation and sources of income, is that adequate to resolve any concerns? The Federal Trade Commission in the United States actually seems to think so.
Image from FTC guidelines for influencers
For paid or sponsored content on social media and / or YouTube the FTC specifies that you have to notify the public that this is the case. This allows the public to respond and perhaps discount an outlet's statements or go somewhere else for information. I think it is worth exploring this question in watch media and assessing if there are best practices for disclosure.

Finally, I'd like to discuss a practice that comes out of the videogame industry in which there is a role called "community manager." These are individuals hired by video game publishers who interact with the players. They'll take feedback, questions, and concerns from players and present it to the publisher. In corporate settings these are sometimes called an omnbudsperson. I've wondered if watch media could benefit from increasing venues for community interaction through the creation of a "point of contact."

In conclusion, income generating efforts by watch media have ample precedent in antecedent media. The question is whether the more innovative income generating activities, such as dealing in watches and engaging in collaboration, have created harm of some type to the community. It is a question worth ongoing consideration and investigation.


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