Tuesday, December 02, 2008

News media in permanent decline?

“The publishing sector has continued to be squeezed as readers and advertisers increasingly migrate to the Internet.” E&P

I grew up, one way and another, in the print media sector. I was also an early adopter of the transition to print media electronics, hardly a good move twenty years ago. I’d moved from stringer for one regional newspaper to advertorial writer for another.

The first, the smaller of the two actually initiated the prototype electronic newspaper production which included remote transmission of stories by ‘acoustic coupler’ like the one picture except with a keyboard. Like my first modem these were a lightning fast 2400 bits (baud rate).

For the bigger paper I’d write at home on my trusty Mac LCII, then take floppies to the newsroom after hours and copy and paste onto one of the papers dumb terminals. When I suggested uploading from home of a night the supplement editor suggested I was talking fanciful science fiction and wouldn’t consider it.

Eventually I went to the IT manager and organised a trial, which was obviously successful, but the editor never really accepted that I didn’t just sneak in of a night – clear proof was still too far out there to be acceptable. The media have remained reluctant or incredulous towards the potential of electronic delivery.

The media squeeze

That is perhaps a long illustration of how the media have consistently missed the boat on technology developments. Between a steady diminution of the value of news as news and not entertainment, television he undermined the raison d'etre of newspapers and print news.

The internet is a great delivery medium, but the promise hasn’t been realised. Sure it is de rigueur to have an online version of a newspaper, but that seems more about ‘me tooism’ then developing effective strategies. There have been no effective approach to generating a dedicated internet delivery, at least by the major media.

Now with a major economic crisis and reduced advertising revenues it might be too late for some, electronic or print. While allied communications sectors have created and driven new approaches the once dominant print sector has remained stuck in the past, an easy prey for the alternatives.

For a news junkie the developments, or lack of them, are being monitored with a real sense of dread. The death of the newspaper probably began when accountants and financiers began to take over the industry. Advertising was a license to print money, but they ignored the basic reason news media existed, the reason people subjected themselves to advertising.

With money people running the show the problems are being further compounded by the apparent disregard for readers. Certainly newspapers need to make achieve ROI, however papers aren’t going to sell because they feature ads and gossip, their core business should be delivering news.

In Holiday Season, Some Papers Show Contempt For Readers
Leafing through the season's (slightly) thicker newspapers sends a clear message to readers: You don't matter enough to get "premium positions."

Sadly the newspaper genre seems to be in terminal decline, even sadder so is news delivery. The much heralded citizen journalism is not a bad thing, as part of a proper mix. The problem is that is could become, by default, the new media. It is cheap, enthusiastic, but lacks the industry training and discipline, particularly in style, objectivity and dare I say ethics.

Computers and the internet have the capacity to make everyone designers and writers, as a consequence we are simply seeing more bad design and writing than ever before. Having the capacity does not guarantee ability, as the barely surviving print media are already showing.


D.K. Raed said...

This is excellent. The news media is truly undergoing change at such a phenomenal rate, who knows in what form it will survive? I just hope it can survive without all the ads. I can skip through them on TV or online.

I enjoyed your description of sneaking floppies into your paper at night. Your editor must've been Ted Stevens (he of the "internet tubes")!

And forget "bauds", I remember thinking the TELEX was magic! I especially liked the sound it made ticking away at the speed of, what, turtles skipping?

Cart said...

Bit slow here DK, sorry...
I do recall those telex machines. The best part was the ease of creating passable mock ups to get at colleagues. Worked better with radio news where the reader didn't have much time to verify a fake story.