The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s ‘State of the Media 2007’ report is out, and folks, its laced with negativity. The media in general certainly hasn’t seemed to benefit from any kind of potential reawakening since last year’s report.
Most revelatory (albeit vague) in the executive summary (PDF) of the 160,000 word report, is this analysis:
With fundamentals shifting, we sense the news business entering a new phase heading into 2007â€”a phase of more limited ambition. Rather than try to manage decline, many news organizations have taken the next step of starting to redefine their appeal and their purpose based on diminished capacity. Increasingly outlets are looking for â€œbrandâ€ or â€œfranchiseâ€ areas of coverage to build audience around.
I’m confused by the parallel drawn between “limited ambition” and “diminished capacity.”
What is the root cause of this so-called era of “limited ambition?” Is it this renewed focus on local, or “hyperlocal” news as Howard Owens (to his utter dismay) read it? Or is it intimidation and competition with TV’s talking heads that’s led to print journalists losing their jobs as newspapers get thinner — as the LA Times’ James Rainey wrote?
If I’m looking at an Internet start-up after the 2000 bubble burst, say a Yahoo! (which lost a huge chunk of it’s market valuation at the time), I’d reconsider the business strategy and reshape it’s goals for success. After all, by 2000 a techie, Web-centric future was evident, in spite of the disabling adjustment Wall Street made to once ridiculously overvalued stocks.
Similarly, it’s apparent today that news content, the media-hungry audience and its sponsors are moving online. Is it impossible for the old media to adjust their expectations for the sake of journalism and maybe, I dunno, accept 15% profit one year, knowing that investment in online and interactive endeavors may eventually reap profits of 20% and more in the long run?
As Dan Rather offered in his keynote address at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference, perhaps journalism has “in some ways lost its guts” in recent years and is in need of “a spine transplant.”
I received similarly motivating and emphatic advice a couple weeks back, when Tom Brokaw visited USC Annenberg to commemorate the career of Ed Guthman, who will retire this year at age 88. I asked Brokaw, “what can young journalists do to rebuild the public’s trust in the media?” He answered simply, “stay true to the journalism you believe in and make the news fun again.” As short of an answer as it may seem, I took it as genuine. Perhaps there will come a tipping point when more people have fun with and enjoy journalism about “news” than those starving for the latest scoop on the Paris Hilton DUI?
More on State of the Media 2007 at Editor’s Weblog, Lost Remote, and Poynter.