09 December 2008

Creative Destruction in the Media

Word of the Tribune Company bankruptcy moved fast through my social network, though most weren't surprised by it. I also heard McClatchy was trying to sell off the Miami Herald and closing some regional bureaus.

The other piece of news that moved almost as quickly was that online-only publications were now eligible for the Pulitzer Prize.

Combine that with an ever-increasing number of times that corporate media gets scooped by people using Twitter and I think you're seeing more each day how the people who stick to the old model of delivering news are dying out.

Today we call it "disruptive technology," which I guess sounds a bit better than the term Josef Schumpeter popularized, "creative destruction." While consumers will have many more options to get their news and information, we are definitely going to see fewer newspapers in the near future.

To me the whole thing is more than a bit Darwinian. The Tribune Company would certainly have lasted longer in a better economy. But the simple truth is the corporate media won't survive for long under its current business model.

Corporate media isn't failing simply because there are more choices - they're failing because those choices are competing effectively in terms of accuracy, speed and quality. The journalists who continually rail against social media users with the "they're not journalists" cry and the talk about ethics and standards need to look at how the public views journalists these days. Not the worst, but definitely not the best, and negative attitudes toward journalists have inched up over the last couple of years.

The bottom line: while journalists work relentlessly to be accurate, they make mistakes like the rest of us. There is still plenty of "advocacy journalism" where bias rules or where facts are taken out of context. And as a PR guy who has done his share of crisis communications work, I've found that many journalists don't like it much when the spotlight is shined back on them.

I'm not sure some in the media realize how much trust they surrendered when they failed to be a true check on power in the buildup to the war in Iraq. And I'm not sure they realize how much more trust they surrender when they present "news" in pre-packaged ideological niche formats like the shows you see on Fox and MSNBC. They prompt people to search out information for themselves.

That may be great for consumers; it's not so nice if you're running, say, the Trib.

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