Recently, Pew Research published a poll of newspaper and broadcast news editors and executives, finding high levels of pessimism about the future of journalism, especially the viability of journalism when revenues start disappearing.
The concerns are the usual ones — the financial models are changing, there’s less money to cover the news as it’s been done traditionally. The hopes are more interesting — self-sufficient multimedia reporters are doing very good work and allow for more people on the streets, and the value of journalism seems to be high in general, even if business models are struggling to keep up. Best of all, the majority of those surveyed believe journalism’s problems are more about missed opportunities than about technological change, a very realistic view, in my opinion.
Broadcast news editors and executives are much more pessimistic than their print brethren and sistren, which isn’t surprising given the fact that their hegemony over the visual presentation of news is being threatened for the first time by abundant online video, while their notoriously superficial coverage is easier to disrupt than print’s deeper archives and broader (and often deeper) coverage.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pressure on news organizations is driving some new attitudes. One executive is quoted as saying:
Our mantra this year is experiment and fail quickly. Don’t be afraid of change and don’t stick with something too long if it doesn’t work.
Attitudes seem to vary with vulnerability. Print outlets appear to be farther along in responding to the digital revolution, and more realistic. In fact, a slight majority of those interviewed believe journalism is headed in the right direction. Broadcast seems newer to the game, and a little more depressed by the changes they’re about to undergo. A full 64% of broadcast executives believe journalism is headed in the wrong direction. Newspapers are farther along experimenting with pay walls and other revenue sources; broadcast is barely starting to think about these things. (Oddly, broadcast executives think their organizations will remain solvent longer than newspaper executives do; this may be because their disruption started later, in which case they’re right, or because they’re just starting to sense the enormity of the changes they’re about to undergo, in which case they’re probably really wrong.)
But there may be a more instinctual attitude that’s holding traditional news outlets back from succeeding in the new media age.
In the section of the Pew report on “Content Management and Display,” one striking response common to both print and broadcast executives is that email is viewed as “essential” by only 33% of respondents, as compared with 41% who view mobile as “essential.”
Email is both a major communication technique for alerts (aka, news) and a major mobile application. It should rank at least as high as mobile, and should be much higher.
Maybe this is indicative of the deeper problem here.
In contrast, Web sites are viewed as the most important element in content display — perhaps because they are an analog of print papers, with layouts, columns, and photos placed just so. Web sites are a package, and news editors and executives are used to selling packages, not interactions or services.
Email is a news service. Missing this crucial insight may be part of the reason why news outlets are struggling.
Twitter and Facebook are rated by the news executives as just slightly less important than email, as well. This is probably another mistaken perception stemming from the same packaging attitude.
Failure to appreciate the modern media landscape and the utility of something like email could reflect a profound level of cluelessness. In the age of hyper-competitive communications, distribution is vital to survival — speed, precision, location, and presence all matter. Email and social media both embrace these attributes.
News organizations should appreciate this, but they may believe that what they’re distributing — a unified 30-minute broadcast or a full slate of yesterday’s news — is more important than granular, targeted, personalized distribution via email and social media.
Boy, do I have news for them . . .