The Death Of Old Media - Do You Care? [Updated]

Society is changing beneath our feet and very few seem to be noticing except those that are grasping on to their waning power.

Old media, or as I've just discovered MSM ("MainStream Media"), is the umbrella term given to newspapers, radio and broadcast TV and more specifically those parts of these industries that focus upon "news".

Old media is dying.

Well, actually the publishing model of old media is dying, as I have said over and over again:

I believe that “media” as a whole is something we can’t really talk about as it is made up of two fundamental building blocks:

1: Journalism (an activity)
2: Publishing (a business model)

1: The act (art?) of journalism will continue – it may change with the use of “bloggers” – but the act of getting out there and finding a story (even the truth sometimes) will not go way. In fact the Web (onto top of the Internet) will enable more to participate.

2: The current business model of “publishing” however is likely to make massive changes of which there will be some major structural shifts. It’s this that we hear about the most – the reaction from the current (old?) publishing model to the changes. Someone, somewhere will publish the product created by journalists and pass on the revenue but it’s unlikely to be ONLY by the current centralised publishing business model.

But what does that mean to the woman on the street, the man on the Clapham omnibus, to YOU? A fuck load, that's what it means.

Imagine a world where your newspapers are:
  • full of lightweight, badly written crap
  • regurgitation of stories you've already seen
  • is focussed on throwaway celebrity advertising
  • is a choice of one
  • is 99.9% advertising
OK, so maybe some of you think it's arrived ... and for us in New Zealand we are certainly trail blazing a lot of it, particularly the first points.

But imagine a more realistic future of newspapers - they simply don't exist.

I believe they are going the way of the CD - objects that, as delivery mechanisms, are just not required any more. And if the object isn't needed then those that make them (newspaper publishers) aren't needed. Gone burger!

But that's not the real issue for newspaper publishers (I'll get to TV and radio in a sec). If they were clever(er) they would've already have seen that the delivery mechanism was shifting, jumped ahead of all of us and been waiting with open arms with the news delivery mechanism that we have all demanded - the Internet. They didn't, they are stuck thinking about newspapers + the traditional publishing model. Not everyone, but the majority.

Having missed that boat and not followed the audience the single most important aspect that they have already lost (no going back on this) is the control of the readership. No more do we hold newspapers in such high esteem. They have lost their loud voice because it can now be drowned out by the all the other voices available. They have lost their ability to manufacture a perception of news scarcity because "news" (merely events deemed to be "news worthy" by someone) is happening and being written about ("reported") by millions - now you can find the events you deem is newsworthy. They are losing their audience.

Again, this is about newspaper publishing and not quality journalism - that can happen anywhere and probably more efficiently online. Trouble with that, as Russel points out, that few have worked out the renumeration for quality, 'in for the long haul' journalism yet. Well, maybe Julie Starr has with this project:

So, no more newspapers - do you care?

(BTW: the one thing I miss about newspapers is buying one on the street before the commute home. But now I check my Google Reader on the iPhone which does my eyes in ;-)

For more on the death of media (newspapers and magazines) check out The Fall and Rise of Media By David Carr (New York Times):
That feeling of age, of a coming sunset, is tough to avoid in all corners of traditional publishing. Earlier in November, the New York comptroller said that employment in communications in New York had lost 60,000 jobs since 2000, a year when the media industry here seemed at the height of its powers.

[Updated] Also check out Arianna Huffington's, Journalism 2009: Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, And The Desperate Need For Better Journalism. Her take on my first two "horrors of the future" is particularly well written:
Here is what we must not forget: our current media culture (with a few honorable exceptions) failed to serve the public interest by missing the two biggest stories of our time -- the run-up to the war in Iraq and the financial meltdown. In both instances, there were plenty of people who got it right, who saw what was coming and warned about it, but they weren't given much of a voice or were drowned out by the thumping sound of journalists walking in lockstep.

What about TV news and radio news?

You know what, I think radio news will survive. There is an emotional attachment to radio that is hard to define. And, they have been here before with the advent of TV, they have fought the battle and, hopefully, learnt the lessons. I recognise this is a hugely subjective statement about my favourite type of broadcasting - it's why I love podcasts so much.

Do you care if radio news goes away?

TV news ... well already in NZ we see the regurgitation of the "funnies of the week" gleaned from the emails we all have sent to us (isn't that electronic "news" dissemination or "publication"?. On TV3 there's use of YouTube "funnies" ... why bother watching it on TV when you can get it delivered to you online? But TV isn't just about news and I think TV news will be left to wait for the result of the wider battle of "old entertainment" v "online entertainment" - broadcast it or go online and get it. As you know, here in the Riversdale household we use YouTube/NZOnScreen a lot for our entertainment BUT it's generally for "old stuff" - new shows still come through the TV aerial (just a lot less frequently as our standards are higher and/or the programme standards have dropped so much). Oh, and we're big DVD people which, when it inevitably comes, only requires a format shift to start downloading instead.

Do you care about broadcast vs online TV?

Our big windows to the world are not only changing but mostly going away - newspapers, TV, radio ... do you care?


  1. Good article Mike! This writeup by Clay Shirky is, I think, essential reading on this subject...

  2. From Clay Shirky as noted by Matthew:
    With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.



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