Commentary

Just An Online Minute... Media in Crisis: Are We The Cause Or The Effect?

Gotham Media Ventures Presents "Media In Crisis: Is There A Way Out?", Samsung Experience, New York
July 8,  2009

After Tuesday night's party for Chris Anderson's book "Free," I settled down in front of the TV, which coincidentally is a Samsung,and figured out my route on HopStop to The Samsung Experience in the Time Warner Center. I cringed as I set my alarm for 6:18 a.m. - intending to give myself enough time for breakfast even though the Gotham thing is a breakfast panel. I'm wise to what they mean by breakfast: tiny dry cookie things and mini croissants. I'm about as much a morning person as Jeffrey Dahmer is a snuggle fiend, so, needless to say I found myself racing to Columbus Circle with wet hair flailing - and I made it within seconds of the start of the panel.

First, a little demographic eyeballing.  Gotham Media Ventures filled the room with around 60 middle-aged white people in suits. I counted around 15 or so as women (including myself), and one dude in jeans. The panel reflected the audience. Five dudes in suits and ties. And those dudes were Eric Dezenhall, Founder and President of crisis management firm Dezenhall Resources; Andrew Heyward, Senior Advisor to MarketSpace LLC; Former President CBS News, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, media editor, Financial Times; Jason Klein, President and CEO, Newspaper National Network LP; and Bennett Zier CEO, Air America Media. 

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Let's do the old faux bulleted-out snippets (I love bullets, but they don't look right in this column) OH! Before we go on - lesson learned: do not bring the notebook that you also use for dirty hangman as the notebook to take professional notes in. People around you can see. Just saying.

The "Media Crisis" was likened to an earthquake, where at the press conference a reporter asks "So what went wrong here?" Point being that Henderson the flack didn't make the earth move and destroy buildings and kill people, but the implication is "what did you do wrong?" This led to the analogy as question - Are media types messing up the media industry was there an earthquake? AND, is anyone doing anything right? 

Technology is what's holding traditional broadcasters back. Bennett Zier offered that "MSNBC and Fox are very clear on who they are." But that while broadcasters are trying, where they get lost is with technology because it moves so fast. In fact, the entire panel blamed this "technology" thing as a big barrier to survival for a lot of traditional media.

Which makes me ask: Which technology in particular? The fact that my mom Skypes and my dad is on Twitter and plenty youngster have figured out how to podcast, vodcast, blog, tumbl, etc makes me curious (because I really don't know) what specific pieces of technology are tripping people up. I know consuming is different than creating, so I appreciate the enlightenment.

"The news has become a spectator sport" [another Zier-ism]. This hammered the dead donkey that is the "what's entertainment/what's real journalism?" debate. 

"...part of Rush Limbaugh's genius is..." - Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson. No commentary here, just recorded for your enjoyment.

It's "Survival of the samest" - Andrew Heyward. Check it - E! covers Michael Jackson's memorial. Loyal CNN watchers go to CNN for their coverage. Well, what if CNN doesn't cover it? The viewers go to E! That's the conundrum. The network wants to report the news, but then the viewers (on the web too) say what they think is news (via those ratings). All this dog-wagging is annoying. How frustrating it must be to not be in control of programming.

People still dig original programming. But how do you charge for it - or retain its originality across the 'net (if it's sharable)? This is where I thought things were going to go nutty, but the entire statement was glossed over. What was this statement? It was when Jason Klein said that "now would be a good time to revisit copywriting of original journalism". I believe there is some highly debated potential litigation on that topic.

"The core of journalism is unbiased news coverage... and that core is shrinking" - Jason Klein. Andrew Heyward agreed, explaining that the watchdog service is in jeopardy - investigation into those dark corners and poking around to shake out corporate and government malfeasance has an associated cost (it's not  FREE ) and "as news becomes commoditized you chip away at your core values... which is your only chance at survival in a fragmented economy." So how do you spread the budget out? How do you fund the hard-core investigative journalism that shines a light into those dark corners? Edgecliffe-johson has the answer: "You fund that stuff by doing less of the Michael Jackson coverage." Do you really need three correspondents covering the memorial? Yes, deliver the "news," but no one needs to know, as one panelist said "Breaking news: Michael Jackson's neighbor has arrived."

You know, if any of the panelists were actually on Twitter (if you are, let me know - I'm @socialmedium), they would have seen that during the MJ memorial coverage, a lot of people felt starved for real news. A notorious celebrity dies and suddenly Obama's trip tp Russia disappears?

While Zier was the gruff and straight-shootin' John Wayne of the bunch, I'd say Edgecliffe-Johnson was the to-do-list-creating realist - he was the guy who offered a viable and believable solution (that sounds crazy, but it JUST. MIGHT. WORK) and that is that niche is the new business model. That straight journalistic reporting of the news may actually be a niche itself - and the key is to market it to its audience.

And, back to my own beaten horse, that might be what educates people - we may actually have to spell it out: This is researched, dug out, fact-based and fact-checked reporting, not opinion. And maybe then people will stop confusing where the reporting is done (online reporting often confused with opinion blogging) with what kind of reporting it is. Oh yeah, and then we'll all make millions, newspapers will be saved, books will be read, and Craig Newmark will join forces with Arianna Huffington and save Coney Island.

Summer = parties.  You = party thrower.  Me = party coverer.  You send those invitations to kelly@mediapost.com and we'll make magic together.

4 comments about "Just An Online Minute... Media in Crisis: Are We The Cause Or The Effect?".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, July 9, 2009 at 11:41 a.m.

    Love it. The sum up is glorious. But I'm left in horror of a newfound gap in my personal resume - I have no idea what 'dirty hangman' entails. Is it the words? Or the drawing? And what is the protocol for suggesting a game to friends and strangers of either sex?

  2. Jason Klein from On Grid Ventures, LLC, July 9, 2009 at 12:05 p.m.

    @jknews

  3. Kelly Samardak from Shortstack Photography, July 9, 2009 at 1:37 p.m.

    Thanks Jason!

    And Monica, this is going to sound weird, but I invented it on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I was seated next to a Fordham professor and for the entire flight (with the help of Absolut tiny bottles) we played. It's as dirty as you want it to be. Helps that the hangings are somewhat dirty minded as well.

    See - Just an online minute - a lovely mix of serious media, educational content, and tomfoolery :P

  4. James Delong from Convergence Law Institute, July 9, 2009 at 1:43 p.m.

    My take, as express in The American:
    http://www.american.com/archive/2009/february-2009/preparing-the-obituary/?searchterm=delong

    Essentially, the news was turned into a commons, and everyone was invited to drop in a fishing line and hook some advertising dollars. The problem is not that an advertising model cannot support the production of news content: pre-Internet, the industry had revenues of $1000 per subscriber, 80 percent of it from advertising, and the Internet can provide a vastly improved product. The problem is that no mechanism exists to channel the ad dollars back into the news production enterprises. So, inevitably, more and more people will launch their boats onto the ocean of content, and rising resources will be devoted to competitive efforts to attach advertising to that $14 per subscriber worth of AP content.

    However, the whole structure of Internet sites still relies on the newspaper industry, including the AP. Since the newspapers support the wire services, the more the content leaks out the more they are supporting their competitors’ free ride, and the more they enable the entry of still more competitors for the advertising dollars.

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