Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Thinking the Unthinkable

Posted on | December 2, 2008 | No Comments

Each day brings more dire news about the state of the traditional media. If you look at big city dailies and their corporate parents, you see a literal free fall. If you take a moment on that chart–play around with it in Google Finance–you’ll see that media stocks have underperformed the Dow Jones for 21 years. Pretty damn astonishing isn’t it?
Advertising is tanking across the board. Jack Myers reported this fall that overall advertising will drop 4 percent in 2009 on top of 1.3 percent in declines this year. Leading the charge: newspapers (expected to be down 16 and consumer magazines down 13 %).
Blood on the tracks
For the longest time, I welcome the carnage in mainstream media publishing. Old, changing industries need to be slapped upside the head to bring fresh perspective. But now I’m at the point where the doomsday scenario is entirely possible and I’m worried spitless. (Sure I’ve been writing about it for years, but it gets worse every day).
A vibrant independent press that amalgamates community audiences is teetering on extinction. And nothing–TV, social networking, user-generated content, Twitter, mobile text alerts–can replace its function in a democratic society. Some of those may be fine channels, but at the end of the day you have to have a business model in which organizations make money by reporting information fairly and objectively. Newspapers may have their slants, but reporters put food on the table by trying to get both sides of a story. U-gen content ain’t that.
Vendors as publishers
My job today, in part, is to help companies become their own publishers. It’s a valid approach, especially in deeply technical arenas where often the experts are within companies and not the media. But companies are inherently self-interested and are the first to admit it. Even they fear the passing of independent media.
The cacophony of our political discourse in recent years is brought about largely by television news coverage. TV is a medium of images, not thought. We see great images and get little information, despite wall-to-wall political coverage. Yes, that means you Chris Mathews, Fox commentators et al. You’re entertainers, not informers.
The line we’ve been fed about audiences having shorter attention spans comes to us from media companies trying to concatenate their coverage to cram in more ads in to the same amount of time.
Failed promise
Online has yet to (and may never) live up to its promise of the democratization of news. TV is bad in its own way, but information online creates infinite fiefdoms of information, most of which you have to look for. Ok, so Web 3.0 will about the semantic Web and how everything is automatically tied to everything relevant. Yeah, maybe. It’s hard to create a community conversation when everybody is talking to themselves.
Bottom line: There are 24 hours in a day. If you’re lucky, a third of that is spent with your head on the pillow, eyes closed, blissfully oblivious to the chaotic world around you. Eight hours (if you’re lucky) are spent at work. How much of the remaining eight are we going to spend being informed citizens? Will we be forced to hunt for our informational grits? And, yeah, RSS feeds are great once you FIND them and SET THEM UP, but someone has to pay the men and women creating the content at the front of those pipelines. And they need to be compensated based on the fairness and accuracy of their information. Cobblers and carpenters aren’t charities. Why should information gatherers be any different?
Free ain’t free. Freedom ain’t free either.

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No Responses to “Thinking the Unthinkable”

  1. Abbie
    December 2nd, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

    I kinda figured that Rupert Murdoch would satisfy all of our informational needs. Isn’t that his plan?

  2. Loring Wirbel
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 8:25 am

    Media just wants to be like every other sector! Let’s see, the financial services industry already has melted down, the end result of the Michigan mess will be that there is no manufacturing left in North America, the retail and services industries will be hollowed out as all spending stops, so media just takes its turn at the wheel. And a Joe Sixpack and Jane Q. Public become disinterested in being informed as they fall back down the “hierarchy of needs” and spend most of their time seeking food and shelter.

  3. lou Covey
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 3:19 pm

    It’s still a cycle, B. Though it hasn’t been in a recession for 15 years, the economy has been limping with mild flurries of activities this entire time. People still want information, but the media has done what PT Barnum said was impossible. They’ve underestimated the intelligence of the public. They thought they could tell people what was important, without ever stopping to ask if the public really thought it was important.
    We’ve had decades of media telling us that the political discourse in this country was appalling but they are the once that are encouraging it. MTV shoves trends down our throats and we are now ignoring the Baby Boomers who make up 50 percent of the buying market, then wonder why the market is shrinking.

    Media is not dying, it’s just taken a walkabout from the rest of society. Once the pundits figure that out, we might see a turnaround.

  4. dark_faust
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

    Thx, Brian, for keeping the torch lit (or is it a candle now?) over the death throws of the Fourth Estate of Government. Fundamental changes are taking place and not for the better. Even in our little world of technology trade publications, big changes are happening. Being a physicist (mathematician, really) at heart, I understand the meaning of inflection points. Not quite as fatal as an event horizon, but still a path from which there is little hope of turning. I mourn the passing of the independent and object editor/journalist, not so much for the individuals involved as for the society. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t hope Loring finds a good job quickly. Drop me a line, Loring. I might be able to help in the interm.)

    But the hour is late and my thoughts are dark. Maybe the future will look brighter in the morning. Nite, all.

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