Posts tagged media
Posts tagged media
David Carr delivers the best piece of media analysis I’ve seen all year. The entire column is worth a read, but I was struck by points Carr makes in the following paragraph:
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder and guiding spirit, apparently began to understand that scarcity, not ubiquity, drives coverage of events. Instead of just pulling back the blankets for all to see, he began to limit the disclosures to those who would add value through presentation, editing and additional reporting. In a sense, Mr. Assange, a former programmer, leveraged the processing power of the news media to build a story and present it in comprehensible ways. (Of course, as someone who draws a paycheck from a mainstream journalism outfit, it may be no surprise that I continue to see durable value in what we do even amid the journalistic jujitsu WikiLeaks introduces.)
Journalism outlets have flopped about in recent years, desperate to latch on to some bit of justification for their existence. Carr, without really trying, zeroes in on the one thing they need to do:
… build a story and present it comprehensible ways.
That’s it. Storytelling is and always will be a vital structure of cognition. We’re hard-wired to understand stories. We need these things.
Any content-centric organization that wants to continue to exist in five years must genuflect before storytelling. It is the gravitational center of information, and all editorial decisions, business models, and revenue streams, need to orbit around it.
“Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uninformed ad hoc reckon.”
The “paywall problem” isn’t particularly complex, either in economic or technological terms. General-interest papers struggle to make paywalls work because it’s hard to raise prices in a commodity market. That’s the problem. Everything else is a detail.
The classic description of a commodity market uses milk. If you own the only cow for 50 miles, you can charge usurious rates, because no one can undercut you. If you own only one of a hundred such cows, though, then everyone can undercut you, so you can’t charge such rates. In a competitive environment like that, milk becomes a commodity, something whose price is set by the market as a whole.
Owning a newspaper used to be like owning the only cow, especially for regional papers. Even in urban markets, there was enough segmentation–the business paper, the tabloid, the alternative weekly–and high enough costs to keep competition at bay. No longer.
Why is it so hard for general news outlets — newspapers, broadcast, websites, etc. — to get this? Is it hubris? Ignorance? Desperation? The insanity and inanity of this is why I’ve had to limit my exposure to future of news / future of journalism discussions. I’m at the point now where I believe the whole news industry needs to be ripped down and rebooted. The folks in control are too far gone. There’s nothing to save.
God bless you, Hamilton Nolan:
At a certain point, once arguments have gone around in circles for a number of years, it’s best to just agree that all the contrasting points have been made, and move on. Because re-making these points again and again does nothing more than reveal the speaker as (at best) a cliche-spouting bore, or (at worst) a crank. Does anyone want to read transcripts of talk radio arguments between Red Sox and Yankees fans over whose team is the fawkin best? No, and likewise, nobody wants to read a transcript of a speech from the editor of a famous newspaper spouting platitudes about the evil of (some) blogs. Not even me, although I have to, for work.
Web-based shows might actually take off this time because producers are looking at the web as its own medium. It’s not “TV lite” anymore. That’s such an important shift.
There are still plenty of newsroom jobs that can be eliminated
It pains me to write those words. I don’t like to see fellow journalists lose their jobs, and I want my students to find gainful employment after they graduate. But the truth is that newspapers experienced an unprecedented rise in prosperity between 1960 and 2005, as former Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll pointed out in an interview with National Public Radio. During that golden age, newspaper companies were awash in so much money that they couldn’t help but invest some of it in journalism. For instance, Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said following a round of cuts earlier this year that her paper still employed some 800 full-time journalists – more than double the number that worked at the Post during the Watergate glory days of the 1970s. Thus, when a large regional paper such as the Boston Globe concentrates on its local mission and eliminates nearly all of its staff-produced international and national reporting, it is merely returning to the model that prevailed before the 1960s and 1970s. It’s hardly an admission of defeat if most of the Globe’s non-local stories (it still maintains a robust Washington bureau) are from the Associated Press, Reuters, the NYT and other news services.
The size issue is something I’ve been mulling lately. I don’t think large media organizations — newspapers and broadcast most notably — are going to disappear altogether. They’re going to be smaller though. A lot smaller. The nichefication of content is not limited to the Web. Niches are, by their nature, not all-encompassing. There’s no need for massive overhead and large staffs. Moreover, it’s quite possible the total number of journalism jobs will increase once all the nonsense of ‘08 and ‘09 sorts out. But those jobs will be spread out over a lot of different outlets.
Put another way: Content is everything. Container is irrelevant.
“When I say I’ll be an editor in chief, it won’t be that you’re an editor in chief of a magazine or a Web site,” she explains, almost exasperated by the question. “It’ll be, you’re the editor in chief of this title. And under the title lives this point of view, this sound, this excitement. The definition of magazine will change. Now it’s 100 pages of pretty paper. In the future, your magazine will be that paper, but also digital content that has the same voice, the video component. It will be more.” [Emphasis included in original post.]
From the article:
Old media expatriates looking for a life after layoffs and buyouts are flooding schools looking for work.But can these people teach a new wave of journalists the skills needed in a drastically different environment? J students who think they’ll land an entry-level gig at a newspaper and work their way up the editorial ladder are fooling themselves, so their professors — the people who are supposed to guide them into their careers — need to understand what these students are in for.
I appreciate the effort, but any move to “save” a newspaper is misguided because old-school media enterprises simply won’t work in this new age. They’re too big, have too many outdated contracts (lifetime appointments?), and they rely on massive margins that are no longer realistic. What needs to happen is a complete acceptance of the interplay between distributed content, small audiences, targeted advertising and products with natural scarcity. Unless you’re the New York Times — which shouldn’t be used as an example because it’s absolutely unique — a physical container lined with news and advertising will not work on a massive scale.