The market don’t care about journalism

A full banquet’s worth of thought from Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0:

“The web is the most disruptive force in the history of media, by many orders of magnitude, destroying every assumption on which traditional media businesses are based.

But the market should care, you say. What would happen if we didn’t have the newspapers playing their Fourth Estate watch dog role?

Here’s the bitter truth — the feared loss of civic value is not the basis for a BUSINESS.

The problem with the newspaper industry, as with the music industry before it, is the sense of ENTITLEMENT. What we do is valuable. Therefore we have the right to make money.

Nobody has the right to a business model.

Ask not what the market can do for you, but what you can do for the market.”

People would miss their local paper. But not enough to get outraged and march down the street in protest, I think.

And the death of the local paper, or radio station, won’t mean the death of journalism. It’ll mean that journalism is done somewhere else, probably by somebody else:

“Journalism will find a way. Even if the industries that once supported it do not.”

There’s nothing wrong with trying to retain the audience you’ve got. But retention is fire-fighting. Innovation can start fires elsewhere.

Let’s think about what the staples of the local paper are:

Classifieds? Not any more. Gumtree, eBay, Craigslist and others. Your mates no longer send in embarrassing photos to the paper on your birthday. They stick it up on Facebook.

Letters to the editor? Blogging. Or comments on other blogs.

TV listings? Plenty of those around elsewhere.

Event listings? As above. Google’s as much a friend for this as any other site.

Local sport? Ok, so they’ve got the access. But every club has their official website. Most fans forums post their own thoughts and match reports. The information’s fairly readily available.

Obits? Ok, I’ll give you that one. Nobody does obits quite like a newspaper.

So we just come down to journalism and the quality of the writing (and obits). As nice as it would be to say these are a great reason to keep a paper alive, it doesn’t necessarily stack up for the balance sheet.

Joanna Geary (who flagged up Scott’s piece) has a succinct thought on this:

“If time is becoming increasingly squeezed then I suspect the reasons behind someone dedicating half-an-hour of their time to reading a newspaper have to be even more compelling. Being on public transport and having a paper available for free is one of those reasons.

Even if the newspaper is a great product, with fantastic stories, it may not be something that fits into a person’s life easily.”

The model changed a long time ago, largely thanks to Google [1]. People don’t need to be told what the news is. They can sit at a computer and find out for themselves the news that’s relevant to them (and this is coming from somebody who still loves flicking through the papers and finding random articles of stuff I never knew about. But then isn’t that what StumbleUpon is for?).

And PR: don’t think you’re immune from this. The conversation’s happening around you, not necessarily with you. The web doesn’t need press officers to kick-start and control the conversation. Its perfectly capable of doing that for itself. The question is now how to get into that conversation, not how to control it.

And, strangely, after all that, I still feel optimistic for the future of the media: both journalism and PR. But just not in their current guises. Especially not local journalism if it carries on in its current state. Sorry.

[1] If newspaper editors want to start pointing fingers at websites that are killing their industry, they’d be better off looking there than the BBC’s plans for local news.

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