Monday, December 01, 2008

The End Of Media As We Know It?

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

In looking at the 2008 election cycle, it is certainly true that use of the internet, texting, and cell phones helped successful campaigns in ways that were not possible in earlier cycles. In addition, there is a good chance that use of the blogosphere (especially the left-wing blogosphere) was very helpful in fundraising, up and down the tickets.

The cost of this has been to the MSM, that “good-old” main stream media: print newspapers, local news on TV, network news on TV and to a certain extent cable TV and print magazines. There are many who say that they are dinosaurs, and good riddance. My guess is that the younger you are, the more likely you are to see no need for this old-time journalism model.

We know that newspaper circulation numbers are down, advertising dollars are down, local news anchors are being axed, and fewer people are watching local and network news than ever before. To wit:

Slightly more than half of the population watches local news regularly, according to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, while only 34 percent read a newspaper each day and 29 percent watch a network evening newscast.

But the ratings for the broadcasts have gradually eroded over the years. The typical late newscast now reaches 12 percent of viewers watching TV in a given market, down from 21 percent 10 years ago.
As the number of people watching/reading declines, so do the ad rates that can be charged. Eventually, the number of companies willing to advertise declines as well. Super Bowl ads command millions per minute because so many people watch the game, while virtually anyone can afford an ad on one of the more obscure cable networks. (Kinoki footpads, anyone?)

Companies will always advertise to reach their target audience if at all possible. So, many are shifting. Internet advertising is up, reflecting the emerging potential market available to advertisers.

The question becomes, though, is losing the MSM news media all good? It used to be that the networks, and the major papers, had large news gathering operations, as did AP, Reuters and UPI. They had bureaus in multiple cities, they pooled coverage when beneficial, and they had sources on the ground. “Modern” thought may say that this has become unnecessary since ‘everyone’ has a cell phone with a camera and video. Plus, there is the perceived benefit of the immediacy of “news” being available 24/7 whenever one wants it.

There are a lot of people who contend that this is good, and that a new business model will arise to support “news”. I’m not so sure. Who will pay for news gathering once the MSM is dead? Certainly, it is possible to use modern technology to disseminate certain types of information. For example, the text of a speech.

But what about press conferences? Sure, the people holding them can put up a camera and film the presser, and then packet that out to the internet. But once the MSM is no longer showing up, who will ask the questions? Once the cameras are owned and operated by those handing out the information, what happens to a “free press”?

I can hear you saying that there’s no problem, we have a blogosphere, and those people are certainly capable of asking questions, and of knowing what to ask. The question is: who will pay the bloggers to show up at “the news”? Collecting news is a 24/7 undertaking, and most bloggers hold regular jobs, and blog in their off hours. Imagine what it would cost to get news online if you had to pay to support the people who collect and analyze it. Would you be willing to pay $25/month, or more, to each site from which you receive your news? Would you be willing to pay more for targeted news with no advertising?

And what about analysis and framework? Being able to record something on tape or camera does not mean you understand it, nor necessarily know its context. That's the thing with long term professionals, they have a 'sense' that others may not. Not because they are better than other people, just that they've been doing it a long time. In addition, years of experience have led these folks to have sources: people who can clue them in to what is going to happen, and what certain things mean.

Sure, the internet can take over in some ways: analysis takes smarts, with is not limited to the MSM, sources can be developed, and targeted blogs can specialize based on material or geography. But that "whole world" view will be very hard to come by because of the finances involved.

What of journalistic ethics? There is a Society of Professional Journalists, and they have a code of ethics for their members. In their preamble, they state:
The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility.
The four major points (to which DCW subscribes, although we are not professional journalists) are:
  • Seek Truth and Report It
  • Minimize Harm
  • Act Independently
  • Be Accountable
You can read the code, and while you can certainly find examples of when the MSM has faltered, for the most part, the vast majority of members adhere to that code. The same cannot be said for all bloggers, nor some infamous 527s (think "Swift Boat").

I don't know what the answer is, nor what the business model will morph into. E-Bay and Amazon changed retailing, the iPod and MP3s changed music business models, and the internet has certainly changed politics. Some of those changes are good, but certainly something is also lost in translation.