It’s the content, stupid

28 06 2010

Linotype Machine

Not to point out the obvious, but with the low barrier to entry for using social media it’s pretty easy for anyone to say anything to anyone about anything these days. In contrast, my dad was trained as a printer in Ireland, and spent decades here in the U.S. working the night shift to produce the newspapers we relied upon for the news each morning. Reporters hunting down the scoop by day, editors fine-tuning the story in the evening, and my dad toiling through the wee hours setting the type. I loved waking up to the news he brought home each morning in that freshly printed paper.

These mornings I roll over and grab my iPhone off the nightstand. I click one of multiple apps to see what’s happened overnight. I check in on blogs, scan my twitter feed, make sure my facebook friends aren’t having major issues – all before I lift my head from the pillow. It’s over coffee that I turn to traditional media for more news: wsj, theregister, nytimes, … While I trust my friends to offer up their views on just about everything, I want their opinions supplemented by reporters hunting down scoops, backed by intelligent and thoughtful editors working the story.

That’s why I’m so intrigued by the Atlantic’s recent article on Google’s attempt to save traditional media. User generated content is often ad hoc, and it works best for me when supported by a system of professional journalists working the systemic stories.

The Sunday paper best exemplifies the traditional journalistic business model. All that news is paid for by the huge bundle of colorful ads that sit in the center of the folded paper. But in new media, the news doesn’t arrive in one convenient bundle that advertisers can use to push their message. And that one convenient bundle represents the traditional journalistic business model. But it’s not a question of whether we still need professional journalism, it’s a question of how to change the traditional media business model to support that profession.

Google acknowledges that they need the content produced by professionals to sustain the Google business model. And those professionals need to adapt as well to these changing times. The first thing to go will be the print, as more and more journalism goes on-line. That radically changes the cost structure of the news business. The second change is news aggregators, like Google News, directing traffic through content excerpts. And finally, the news will again be supported by ads, not in a bundle this time that falls out of your Sunday paper, but in on-line ads tailored to your interests via clickstream analytics.

So my dad no longer needs to set his linotype (good thing, cuz he retired and is now happy volunteering at a local cancer center), but we do need the journalists to feed content into our news ecosystem.

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2 responses

6 07 2010
mary mayotte

First of all–cool page. Excellent blog. Love your comments and sensibility re: social and traditional media. Spot on.
Adaptation is the name of the game. Mary (Communications/Media Coach)

10 07 2010
John McArthur

Amy,

Thanks for the thoughtful post. Hearing about your father reminded me that I had a rubber-type printing press, when I was about 11 years old. It was good for very limited copy and small runs. And I still remember the smell of the ink on the mimeograph machine that we used for local newsletters and bulletins.

What I miss in the evolution of media, in particular in televised news, is thoughtful analysis and careful, investigative reporting. Editorial opinions were once reserved for the 2-minute editorial near the end of the broadcast, but are now interspersed in every story. Walter Cronkite rarely showed emotions, his reporting on the assassination of President Kennedy being one of the few exceptions in my memory, but his reporting was factual and thoughtful. I miss, also, the story-telling reporting style of Charles Kuralt, but am happy to have shows like Channel 5’s Chronicle in Boston, which preserves at least some of the art.

The printed news has avoided some, but not all of the decline into sensationalism. In printed news, editorials are editorials, and columnists are columnists, and you know where to separate fact from fiction and opinion. Printed news has always left room for rebuttals on the editorial and opinions pages, though page-count limits leave a lot of room for filtering, and I’ve often wondered what didn’t make it to the Opinion Page. The Opinion Page is also my opportunity to hear from thoughtful writers whose views may conflict violently with mine.

One of the beauties of new media is that it has the inherent capacity to be more transparent, in that everyone who makes false claims can be quickly and visibly outed and rebutted by a vigilant crowd. And, in turn, false accusers can also be rebutted. It is a wonderful cacophony that can be filtered with search engines, and, like the Sunday newspaper, gives me an opportunity to take a random walk down an unplanned path.

Keep up the great writing.

John

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