Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why do the corporate types who run so much of the nation's media want to eat their young?

I had the pleasure of covering the "Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar" in New York recently, the annual two-day event in which talk show producers, hosts and syndicators meet to discuss the industry.

"Talkers Magazine," by the way, is published right here in Springfield and is considered the Bible of that industry.

Being a former radio guy, I find this event very interesting. It's fascinating to see the parallels between what is happening in radio and what is happening in newspapers.

There are several points common to both mediums. One is that corporate owners have gutted the resources many stations need to produce the programming people want to hear.

The other is that what draws people to radio is good local programming.

There's a nice contradiction.

"Talkers Magazine" publisher Michael Harrison shared his formula for survival: investing in local talent and solid programming.

His remarks were well received. Clearly, the folks at the conference understood what he was saying.

Sadly, the same advice should be given to newspapers.

According to a report in this month's New England Press Association newsletter, paid circulation for daily newspapers have dropped. Could it be that newspapers execs, in an effort to bring the bottom line up to the demands of their corporate masters, have cut away at the very things that have attracted readers?

I would love to hear the reasons behind weakening the very elements that attract consumers in the first place to a product. I think we have developed a short-term mentality in business that reassures people that looking beyond the next quarter isn't necessary.

A recent story in "Mother Jones" magazine argued that rates of profits for newspapers were higher than many other industries. Reports of the demise of daily newspapers may have been slightly exaggerated. I'm not sure to what end as all of these doom and gloom stories may have persuaded some advertisers to take their business elsewhere.

In response to the "crisis," many newspapers have placed their hopes on creating products that are not traditional daily print products. There's some wisdom there. It's good to seek out ancillary markets that bolster your core mission.

But is the core mission of daily newspapers still producing a daily news product? For some publications, I would argue, it isn't. The mission has shifted.

Too many media entities have placed a whole lot of eggs into the Internet basket. That's fine, but there are still issues to web sites about attracting enough eyeballs to justify advertising rates and attracting new readers along with established consumers.

A newspaper web site should give readers something different that adds to the print product. The issue, there, is making an investment that might take years to recover, as the Internet is still a medium in its infancy.

What does this issue mean to consumers? To maintain the republic, people need information about the town and state in which they live, much less the nation. It's difficult for people to know what's going on if the amount of local news in newspapers, and on radio and television has been cut in effort to grow some fat cat's paycheck. Manipulation of the masses is a lot easier if people don't have the information they need to make decisions.

What can people do? Write the publishers and station managers about dissatisfaction with their local news vehicle. Too many wire reports? Too many weather forecasts? Too many Paris Hilton stories? Not enough real news?

Consumers need to be vocal about their news. Granted there are local publishers (well, at least one) who doesn't accept criticism very well and will belittle readers who express a negative opinion. Don't let that bother you.

Support the publications and stations that have made a commitment to local news. Let us know (yes, I think we've made a commitment to local news) what you like and what you don't like. And please patronize advertisers who finance local news vehicles.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


SRBissette said...

Well said, but I've still no idea which media will meet the MM yardstick, if any. Gee, I read my local paper (we subscribe), I keep abreast of daily news as best I can via various venues (save TV, which I find useless; it's the most 'infotainment' tainting of all!), and read as many first-person-source books I can, but MM finds it all suspect.

Support local media; scour for first-person texts on issues; be skeptical, be resourceful -- and all as time permits. What more can one do?

Mark Martin said...

srb: Wow, you totally miss my point about the media. Very interesting. It's like there's a total disconnect.

MIKEY, re this post: I'd just like to pipe up and say why the deuce can't AM radio get something decent on the air on weekends??? I can't listen during the day at work, and I assume many others can't either. Why can't they re-run the weekday programming over the weekend, instead of those awful shows like "Dental Chat" and "Senior Investing"? Is that crap they run on weekends provided to them FREE, as opposed to paying some tiny re-use fee for old programming from earlier in the week? WHAT IS THE #@%#@# DEAL, MAN???

I'll talk to you and srb later. I can see I have to go all the way back to Square One. Unless he's just yanking my chain.

Mike Dobbs said...

The stations sell the time to local businesses on weekends so they don't have to create programming and the "best of" shows are probably free. The assumption is that people don't listen to radio over the weekend although NPR certainly proves that wrong as I imagine some of the highest listened to shows on the network are weekend shows....appointment radio.

SRBissette said...

Ah, I'm forever yanking your chain now, Pumpie. I will yank it till it bleeds, or I get milk. Or man-milk.

AM radio -- UK! There hasn't been any decent AM radio to listen to in the Northeast since 1970!

That's it, I'm listening exclusively to Canadian FM from now on. You can both go crap in your American hats, give me my toque.