21 April 2008

Corporate Media's Five Stages of Grief

A lot of people have heard about the Kubler-Ross "five stages of grief" model outlined in her book, On Death and Dying.

Reading the transcripts of the presidential debate in Pennsylvania last week and a lot of other material, I'm noticing that the major news networks fear their deaths in social media and they're working through the five phases. The examples below are a bit out of chronological order here, but you get the picture.

Denial is sorta what we saw at the debate - When George Stephanopolous was asked by the Associated Press how questions about comments on imagined sniper fire and what former pastors and 60's radicals say and flag pins were appropriate, despite the overwhelming evidence that American voters' interests lie elsewhere, he said:
The questions were tough and fair and appropriate and relevant...We wanted to focus at first on the issues that were not focused on during the last debates.
It's also the silliness we see when the NCAA tries to ban live-blogging of baseball games. (Haven't heard much about twitter yet, but it will happen.)

Anger is the "THEY'RE NOT JOURNALISTS!!!!!!!" cry you hear from respectable journalists. Yes, we know that. Except some of them are. But even if they're not, Many bloggers offer smarter and better commentary than the beltway pundits. That of course doesn't stop people as noteworthy as Brian Williams saying this to journalism students; as reported in the WSJ Political Journal (found via TownHall):
You're going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I'm up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn't left the efficiency apartment in two years.
Bargaining is the YouTube Debate. People can submit questions, and we'll act all hip, but CNN gets to pick which questions are asked and they make sure insiders like Grover Norquist get their questions asked. (Ironically they rejected a question from Governor Crist of Florida because "he already had access to politicians.") 10Questions is a step in the right direction. It's also the blogs you see popping up on newspaper websites. "See, we can blog too but we're not bloggers." It's also the BBC asking its viewers/listeners/readers to send in their personal accounts of breaking news and the "I-Report" experiment at CNN. Bottom line - people contribute, but the networks ultimately maintain control of the content, and more importantly they're the only ones who make real money from it. (Not good enough, and only temporary as we move through the other stages.

Depression is pieces like "The decline of news" you see in SFGate. A few pieces note the decline of journalism - closing of foreign bureaus, the decline in quality of coverage, and so on - and they always talk about bloggers filling the void. It's also the silly pieces you see in top-tier papers about how blogging is so incredibly stressful it can kill you.

Which leaves us with acceptance -- the stage we really haven't seen yet universally, but we'll get there. But more and more media outlets are getting more and more social every day. The media is evolving from a lecture format to a discussion - it starts with little things like giving people the ability to leave comments on web-posted articles.

The funny thing is, corporate media isn't going to die - its business model will evolve out of necessity. Content will come from everywhere, feedback will be instantaneous, consumers have more choices - including the choice to create their own content. Journalists won't lose control over their work - they'll still report on things happening every day. And it's not like TV or newspapers will disappear. But editors will lose some control of what makes the headline above the fold. And pundits (bless their li'l hearts) will face far more competition for airtime.

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