September 20, 2005

An important week

Over at Vodkapundit, Steve posits that the NY Times is making a bad business decision, between laying off hundreds of employees and charging for access to their opinion pages.

To me, it signals the end of a long era in journalism. The layoffs and the desperate bids for increased revenue tell me that the Times is bleeding and is trying unsuccessfully to staunch the flow. Instead of looking seriously at the big knife stuck in their chest, they're trying to stitch around it.

Ok, enough with the blood metaphor. Clearly the growth of new media and the internet has taken a chunk out of their business, and they are scrambling to catch up. You could argue that these layoffs represent the first concrete evidence that "flammable" media is dying. The problem is that like most large corporations, those who are responsible for fixing the problems refuse to examine their own biases. A paradigm shift has taken place in the last 5 years. Media consumers now have multiple sources for news, and freely compare the information they get from each. They don't just accept the editorializing found at one source or another. Editors and publishers haven't (as yet) been able to look carefully at their own papers or broadcasts to see what it is that consumers are turning away from.

The Times will never be the same. It will never wield the same kind of authority that it did in days past. Why? Because as they lay off reporters they will lose the newsroom flexibility to cover breaking news, update older stories, and fact check pieces before publication. Forget editing, if you've even perused the Grey Lady over the last couple of years, you know that went out the window a long time ago.

Another step away from the "old media" also took place this week, though it was largely symbolic. During Sunday night's Emmy broadcast, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the late Peter Jennings were honored for their contributions to network news over the last two decades. Although the segment was supposed to serve as a memorial to Jennings, and a recognition of the careers of Brokaw and Rather, it was also a tacit memorial to the role of network news in American culture. Since the birth of TV, the majority of Americans got their national and international news from the evening broadcasts of each of the three major networks. With the retirement of Brokaw, the "retirement" of Rather, and the death of Jennings, clearly an era has ended. What remains to be seen is whether the evening news will ever be as important in American culture as it was before.

It is likely that in years to come we will look back at this week as highly significant in the history of media in that the events of this week represent the emerging importance of "new media" and the effect that internet journalism and blogging have on the bottom line of older media outlets.

Posted by caltechgirl at September 20, 2005 11:20 PM | TrackBack

I don't think mainstream media is going any where. It's going to have to change, obviously, but the media can do many things that we in the blogsphere just can't do - like hire 200 stringers to be on the ground when a story breaks.

I think there biggest mistake was making their content free on the internet. From a business stand point it makes no sense. Why would I pay 50 cents for a hard copy at the newsstand or 30 cents for home delivery when I can log onto my computer and read it all (plus not have a stack of newspapers to throw out every couple of days)?

Then again, I think you may be onto something with the bias thing.

Posted by: KG at September 20, 2005 11:29 PM

Well, WRT charging for content, in most cases the content is only available for a short time. If you buy the paper, you can keep it a week before you read it. Paying for your convenience so to speak.

I agree that the MSM will always be around, or, at least for a very long time, but I suspect that it is beginning to be diminished, and hindsight will show that this is the beginning of some concrete decline. Certainly I know several people who are less likely to watch the network news now that they don't have a "familiar face" to tune to every night....

Posted by: caltechgirl at September 20, 2005 11:34 PM

You may be onto something. This bears pondering.

I mean, when I moved to LA in 1999, the LA Times was my primary news source. Now, I often recycle the paper without reading it.

The media has drifted so far left that today in a 7-11, I saw a Time with a cover story on whether or not it is too late to win the war. Don't they realize we are winning, it's just the media reports which focus on body counts while ignoring the actual military campaigns.

Posted by: Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest) at September 21, 2005 12:29 AM

Yeah, I remember my father cutting out from the dinner table every night to watch Walter Cronkite. It was the daily ritual, along with the daily papers (morning & evening).

We only get our local paper on weekends now, because weekday issues were going to the recycle bin unread.

Very interesting what's going on at the Times. For a recent work project, someone I'm working with wanted to link to a relevant NYTimes article & couldn't do so for free after 7 or 10 days (don't recall which). It's like they're holding "their news" hostage.

Posted by: Marie at September 21, 2005 05:02 AM