Free Markets, Free People


Out with the old, in with the new

Print and broadcast journalists aren’t at all happy with the direction of or future of journalism according to a Pew poll. The decline stated with the internet boom and hasn’t let up.  Most print and broadcast editors think that without a new revenue stream (traditional advertising isn’t what it used to be by any stretch of the imagination) their employer will go out of business 5 to 10 years.

Almost all of them blame the internet for their problems. For instance:

In an era of shrinking newsrooms, 58 percent of the editors said journalism was headed in the wrong direction. Sixty-two percent said the Internet had changed the profession’s fundamental values, with most citing a loosening of standards.

Someone – anyone – how did the internet make them “loosen” their “standards”?  Note the word used is “make”, not “cause”.  “Make” has a completely different connotation than does “cause”.  And yes, I’m in the weeds on semantics, but it is important.  If, in fact, those 62% actually said (or believe) “the internet made me do it”, then you have found the reason “journalism”, as we know it today, is in decline and it has nothing to do with the internet whatsoever.

Remember the “three layers of editors” comment years ago that was thrown out there as a reason journalists were better than the pajama-clad blogging hoards?  Remember how that’s been thrown back in the face of the MSM countless times since?

The editors complain about being unable to find a way to charge their on-line readers as one of their problems.  Of course, the unknown there is whether present on-line readers deem their free stuff worth paying for.  My sneaking suspicion is they know they don’t.  There’s nothing particularly unique to be had on their site (exceptions being newspapers focused on local communities) that can’t be found for free elsewhere.  That’s the real dilemma – what can they offer that is unique and sought after in terms of information, that the public is willing to pay to access?

To this day, most have said “not much”.

So what are we seeing here?  We’re seeing the buggy whip industry go out of business.  We’re seeing the creative destruction for which capitalism is so famous.  News is beginning to be delivered in a way that has fundamentally changed that industry.  What used to be the exclusive realm of the news providers (with source subscriptions which were prohibitively high for most independent subscribers) has now found its way into the realm of news consumers.   I can read AP just as well on the net as I can in a newspaper.  There is no reason for me to subscribe to the paper to read what I can on-line.  So the local paper is no longer my first choice to read the news AP provides.

This is no different than what cable news has done to network news.  For decades, TV news was delivered by appointment.  That is, you had to make time at 6pm or so to sit down and watch was presented or you’d miss out on what was happening in the news.   Along comes CNN and appointment news is dead.  Now, when you’re ready, you can sit down and catch up on what’s happening in the world.  The appointment TV business model was essentially dead (although it still doesn’t seem to know that, even as its rating numbers seem to confirm it).

But even with cable TV, we were only apprised of what they deemed newsworthy.  If they chose not to run it, it wasn’t news.  Along comes the internet, and that breaks up their journalistic monopoly of steering the news agenda.  Now, as we’ve seen a number of times, stories the media buries are surfaced and given visibility that eventually forces those known as the MSM to pay attention and cover them.  That screws with both their agenda and their credibility.

As for opinion journalism, the net has also broken that monopoly up as well.  There are literally millions of opinions available now with the democratization of publishing the net offers through blogs.  And as many have found, you don’t have to be a journo grad to write well or have a worthwhile opinion.  So now, instead of having a limited number of opinions available, we have more than we could ever read.

So while the old media laments its decline and most likely it’s eventual demise, let’s remember there’s a new media out there in the midst of founding and forming itself.  Some smart person will eventually put the business model together that works and makes a good profit.  This isn’t about the news media going silent, that will never happen.  It is about the break up of virtual monopolies of news delivery because of technology.  When the old media enjoyed those semi-monopolies (they were really very high bars to entry into the market) what they delivered was worth the money they charged.  Now, because the same thing can be found for free thanks to technology, their product doesn’t have the same worth and is losing its subscriber base.

I’m reminded of the Gutenberg bible.  Ironically it’s a legend in the printing industry because through the invention of the printing press, which enabled the printing of hundreds of copies of the bible, the monopoly of the clergy as the sole possessors of “the word” was broken – as was their power as the sole interpreters.

This is exactly the same process in action now.  The MSM needs to realize that the “old days” are dead and are never coming back – ever.  And they had better realize that instead of  thinking of themselves as a news broadcast or a newspaper, they need to understand that they have to be in the business of providing news that is unique and valuable (valuable enough consumers will pay for it) or they’ll go the way of those buggy whip companies I mentioned earlier.