Jan 3, 2012

Go Defense! The Newspaper Playbook

“We're better. Why? Cus We Say So.”

The newspaper industry has at least one advantage over its Old Media cousin, the broadcast radio business. Whereas tower heads generally don't have a clue that the world is changing around them and their legacy operating model is crumbling, newspaper people typically do. Talk to any news hound and one can receive a pretty accurate assessment of the basic cause & effect dynamics of their current predicament. Recognition of the problem is not their shortcoming.

But owning such enlightenment is only half the battle. Not having the right strategies for dealing with those issues and megatrends is just as big a problem as being in the dark in the first place. In most cases, the newspaper sector's reaction strategies are both baffling and clueless.

The most common reaction is to get defensive and adapt a holier than thou attitude; claiming a superior moral high ground over the threatening hordes of new media heathens banging on the gates. We've all heard this spin: they are not trained in journalism schools, they don't use the the style bibles, they don't follow the standard formula for structuring paragraphs, they're too opinionated, they're foul-mouthed, they don't use editors or spell checks, they don't have news rooms, they don't know how to monetize.....like we do. On and on it goes. Meanwhile, the numbers talk as the eyeballs walk.

We agree that some examples of net-based journalism are, in fact, not worth the megabyte or two they are taking up. A good portion of this sample is shovelware – the SOS (same old shit) blather of the daily newspapers' output, simply re-positioned into a web format. Plus, there are a lot of idiots and sociopaths out there suddenly feeling empowered to share their limited world perspectives. Just Google such phrases as Fed conspiracy, 9/11 truth, New World Order or Obama birth certificate and you'll meet a few of them. But, please: don't point to this crowd as being the yang to the ying.

Fact is, there's also a whole lot of output out there that offers a whole lot more of the long form / deep analysis type of writing that the print media is entirely clueless (or dis-interested) in publishing. And a lot of it is well written, researched and composed. But, doing the same would cost your typical hometown daily big money – in the form of subject matter experts and deep thinkers who actually have a background sense of the community in question and its place on the globe. That's an investment they won't make, given both ugly balance sheets and this general philosophy of continuing on the well-worn righteous path.

They remain content in the reporting of the most mundane aspects of community activity: government meetings, traffic wrecks, lawbreaking, and so on. But such information is available for consumption everywhere, so they continue to tie the hanging-cord around their own necks – albeit with a skeleton staff.

Meanwhile, we await the emergence of a new form of local community information sharing. We don't see it yet. But it's coming. Markets often work wonderfully in just such situations. Hopefully it will do so here.


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