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

Media, heal thyself

Posted on | October 1, 2009 | 5 Comments

Leave it to someone with the pen name “detonater” to speak truth to power. “Detonater” weighed in on a San Francisco Chronicle story this morning reporting on a “future of media” summit in Berkeley. Author James Temple’s take was this:

Rapidly advancing technology may be to blame for the news industry’s present predicament, but the same digital tools promise a bright future if the sector can harness them to deliver customers the content they want in the manner they prefer.

The “manner they prefer” has been the boat anchor that’s dragged the media down under in the past decade. The “manner they prefer” has been defined as the “manner in which the media can profit,” and there’s the disconnect.

“Detonater” wrote:

The concept in this article, using technology to figure out what consumers want to read, is way off course. Instead of doing what journalists specialize in – going out and getting the freakin’ news – why are media companies trying to cater to my needs. Just write the freakin’ news like you’ve always done and leave me out of the equation. If I want to read the story, I’ll read it, but don’t try to figure out what I want to read.

The print media has an abysmal record when it comes to innovating how news is delivered, even the little things. Fifteen years after the advent of the commercial Internet publications like the Chronicle still don’t add links to their stories to make it convenient for readers to broaden the story on their own.

So here are some suggestions:

  • Stick an armed guard at the newsroom to keep the consultants and sales folks out
  • Return the newsroom to something approximating a guild where its denizens practice an ancient ritual of finding, cultivating and using sources all day, every day
  • Turn those relationships into reports that dive deeply into the subject matter
  • Let the copy desk innovate on distribution and packaging. It’s what it’s good at.

Sometimes the answers are simple, as readers like “Detonater” so plainly suggest.

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5 Responses to “Media, heal thyself”

  1. Lou Covey
    October 1st, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    Could not agree more … now can we convince management to let that happen?

  2. Mark Gogolewski
    October 1st, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    Totally agree. The biggest challenge as a reader is finding content worth reading.

  3. Mike Azzara
    October 3rd, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    I respectfully disagree.

    I’m not sure this is your intent, but what you’ve described – and your commenters agreed to – is a situation in which reporters insulate themselves from readers. Do you seriously believe that reporters in any field or beat should pursue the news they think important – or they think their readers think is important – without ever consulting the readers?

    I’ve been a professional journalist all my life until the last couple years of forced independence. In all those years, including the last two in which I’ve primarily worked to produce “thought leadership” (a.k.a. “content marketing” or custom publishing) for paying customers, I have always found that the readers (who sometimes are also “customers”) know best. Not every single one, of course, but when a good reporter talks to enough of them the winning, or right, or most valuable, patterns always emerge.

    So while you three may wish for a return to the sheltered newsroom of the 1960s-1990s, the new tools of modern journalism empower reporters like me to do what we’ve always done, but far faster and more efficiently.

    OTOH, Brian, you’ve hit the nail on the head with regard to media’s biggest problem -its aging and reactionary leadership. I just don’t think armed guards insulating reporters from reality is the solution.


  4. Brian
    October 5th, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    Mike, good points. I didn’t articulate my point clearly enough, I fear. What reporters are doing today, almost 10 years after reacting almost a decade too late to the digital revolution, is reacting, rather than reporting. They’re reacting to TV coverage, to blogging, to political consultants and PR people whispering in their ear. Too little original reporting and questioning. Of course this has always been the way, but I think it’s worse in an age in which “churning out stories” takes on a new meaning for the digital factory.
    At a good publication, there is a healthy balance between “reporter knows best” and “reader knows best.” A good publication tells its readers what “they didn’t know they didn’t know.”
    I’m not suggesting they be sheltered from reality. I’m suggesting they get back to doing what they do best. Going out, talking to people and writing stories that put the live-streaming tidbits of today’s daily grind into context (or help create new live-streaming topics).

  5. Mike Azzara
    October 6th, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    That, my friend, I can agree with. Or, er, that is something with which I can agree.

    But there’s still a painful problem – what business model will support such endeavors?

    So it goes.

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