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I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.

Entries in Journalism (15)

Wednesday
Dec092009

Newspapers as Niche News Providers

This post by Jim Horton at Online Public Relations Thoughts makes an interesting follow-on to my last post on the decline of newspapers.

The story Mr. Horton references adds even more evidence of the print implosion going on. But his point that "newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium" is the one that hits home: (This is the full text of his post.)

"This is interesting. Newspapers have finally recognized that they are no longer mass media and are cutting back to a core of readers willing to pay for the paper daily. In other words, newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium, no longer powerful but catering to what is probably an older crowd. This means, of course, that newsrooms will continue to shrink and coverage as well until a balance between cost and revenue is achieved. The hard task for newspapers is not to cut too much. The New York Times, for example, is in the middle of newsroom buyouts and lost some of its well-known business reporters in the last few days. Who will replace them? No one.

In PR, we have seen this coming for a couple of years and as practitioners we have been shifting away from newspapers for some time. The problem is that in some areas like business news, there is nowhere else to go. There are no independent blog sites for business news that have become prominent like Politico for political news. Business news blog sites are associated with the same mainstream media that are cutting back. It is a challenge for corporate PR that will only become larger."

There is a shortage of reliable and trustworthy social media alternatives for business news and analysis. Yes, there are dozens of financial and market-watching blogs, online newsletters for the investment industry, and an assortment of kvetchers, but as far as I know no credible news alternatives to the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times of London or the New York Times business pages (at least for the time being).

Until that gap is filled, it will be difficult to convince some organizations of the value of social media-driven communications strategies, although as Mr. Horton points out there may be little choice if business reporters become extinct.

Monday
Nov302009

Print Backsliding - Cause for Worry?

It's maybe time to close the book on the reality of the decline in newspapers and get on with the argument about the hole it leaves, or doesn't. The latest is summarized in a blog post on Reflections of a Newsosaur aptly called "Carnage continued in Q3 newspaper sales"

"Continuing 14 straight quarters of mostly accelerating declines, total print advertising in the third period fell a bit less than 29% to $5.8 billion. Interactive advertising sales, which the industry once hoped would be its salvation, dropped nearly 17% in the third quarter to $623 million, marking the sixth quarter in a row of declines in this crucial category."

This is stark evidence that in spite of industry claims to the contrary the legacy media infrastructure is, like Marx's hope for the State, simply withering away, and the end point of the decline isn't yet in sight.

It is what it is and there is likely no going back, even if I share the angst the diminution occasions. The important discussion now is what should be saved and how. In spite of the stupidity of much of today's 'entertainews' , we still need columnists like the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson who keeps the current Canadian governing party in his sights and calls it out for every mendacious and insensitive word and act, which keeps him busy.  Democracy ought to have a vigorous fourth estate. Or, at least, it cant do without wise, critical, often cantankerous, always careful sentinels.

But let's be clear about a few things:

  1. The disappearance of print vehicles isn't the same thing as a flight from the consumption of news and information. People today are consuming more information and news than they ever have in the past. A lot of it is junk like TMZ.com and Perez Hilton's blog. (Then again, there have always been gossip, scandal, heartbreak and blood-first news books.) But it can't be denied that the rate of taking in news, facts and opinion is, in fact, going up.
  2. People are finding niche and important-to-them information, arguing with it, deep diving into it when it concerns them or affects their lives, and forming into groups when the news or chicanery requires action. There may be, to quote the 'Internationale' (there is a theme here you can tell) "a better world in birth."

I am in the camp which thinks the new substructure already exists for a strong new 'estate' of inventive, articulate (even if their metier is the image), critical guardians of democracy and its breeches. All the cream hasn't yet risen to the top as it has in print and television commentary. But there are beachheads, in Canada anyway, with the likes of David Eaves or some of the writers at the online newspaper The Tyee and, occasionally, The Torontoist.

So, there is no cause for worry because, as a recent article by David Carr concludes:

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful.

 

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