New Ideas Needed for the Media Industry

The Times has a very touching obituary for a small town newspaper in Bristol, Conn. The Bristol Press is yet another local newspaper to bite the dust in the past few years. And with it goes information about births and deaths of people too ordinary to gain the notice of the New York Times, photos of the boy scouts in the Memorial Day Parade, and summaries of Town Council meetings.

Local papers aren't the only ones in trouble. The Tribune company filed for bankrupcy protection earlier this month. They may be as much as $13 billion in debt. The New York Times plans to borrow up to $225 million against its mid-Manhattan headquarters building. The Christian Science Monitor ceased producing a paper version of its news.

Both large and small newspapers have many of the same problems. A decline in readership, especially amongst young people. A decline in advertising. Newspapers typically gain most of their advertising from the real estate and automobile industries — both of which have troubles of their own right now. The competition with online media and iphones and wiis. A busier world, where people don't have the time to open the paper or get home in time to watch the evening news.

The impact of the downfall of traditional media is obvious. What to do about it is far less obvious. We need new ideas for old media.

Some people have suggested revamping the text – making it more punchy, funny, and light. Others want to rethink the advertising — putting ads on the front page, putting more ads on the websites, charging the consumer more. The most desperate are suggesting government subsidies of the industry.

UPDATE: More from Megan McArdle, James Surowiecki

11 thoughts on “New Ideas Needed for the Media Industry

  1. I think that the problem is the transition between generations. I love having my local paper have twitter feeds for breaking news via their blog. I also get twittering from the local tv station. I have a Google Alert set for CorruptSmallTown so I can all the little bits of news and such.
    The media can dispense info this way. I would love a web site that had all the info about local births and deaths. I’m nosy that way. We can still have newspaper subscriptions. Except we’ll call them RSS and Twitter feeds.

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  2. I think that the problem is the transition between generations. I love having my local paper have twitter feeds for breaking news via their blog. I also get twittering from the local tv station. I have a Google Alert set for CorruptSmallTown so I can all the little bits of news and such.
    The media can dispense info this way. I would love a web site that had all the info about local births and deaths. I’m nosy that way. We can still have newspaper subscriptions. Except we’ll call them RSS and Twitter feeds.

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  3. And to finish my thought, which got interrupted (LOL)…
    Older readers are less tech-savvy than younger. I just read an article/blog post somewhere about how our students’ generation doesn’t even think of it as “surfing the web” or “e-mailing” someone. They just think about it as communicating and getting info.
    Except they still don’t know what RSS is. I’m working on that.

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  4. If we do have to do something, why not try to figure a way to make the new media employ more people instead of trying figure out how to save the old media? There is a public interest in getting information to people, but I don’t see why there should be a public interest in delivery of news via wood pulp.
    I had pretty much the same objection to the bank bailout and the auto bailout. I mean, I need a bank, but I don’t need National City. Apparently the FDIC agreed with me on that one, so they killed my bank and sold the parts to a (hopefully) better run bank.

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  5. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve purchased a print newspaper, and I was a devoted newspaper reader starting from 4th or 5th grade. I do really enjoy our local newspaper in Texas. It has some major biases (toward various foolish downtown development schemes among other things), but it’s invaluable to a new resident like myself. I have to read it between the lines like Pravda, though, to get around the editorial prejudices. The campus paper is also interesting. There was a scandal this fall that made CNN, etc., and the campus paper was very helpful in laying out what had actually happened, which wound up being quite different than what wound up on the national news (and what are the odds that CNN ran a correction?). Good for the kids at the campus paper, and I hope they get decent jobs in the new media someday.

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  6. I agree with Wendy. I stopped getting the paper a while back. I’d rather fire up my laptop than deal with the clean up of a newspaper.
    I think though that newspaper companies can leverage their reporters and move into a non traditional media company. Instead of a picture, take a video camera to a fair, log it and view it. The news on the net sucks because it’s all TV people trying to write.
    The subscription model then changes to focus more on advertising per click ratio,something that is still very hard to gauge but needs to be done. I’m surprised that a company has not come up with a turn key solution for papers to do this so that they need no have IT support stafff but can merely act as a foregin or other office would for a regular news desk.
    What would be smart is if groups of local papers banded together as a news aggregator and as a central source of info.

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  7. I think all media companies have a difficult problem to work out when the means of communication becomes virtually free (i.e. the internet). It’s the deepest fear of the movie/tv/copyright owners, and the newspapers are the first line that’s falling.
    Moving to the new media is fine. But, are people going to pay for information, without anything physical attached?
    I read almost all my news online. I have a subscription to the NYTimes, but also regularly read the post, to which I do not subscribe. I would read WSJ & the economist if the were free, but don’t now ’cause they’re not.

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  8. I read my city’s paper every day– online! I think a healthy press is essential to any democracy, but I don’t think that means it has to be a healthy press *on paper*. Means of production change, and it is an industry’s responsibility to adapt for their own survival, not the public’s job to remain committed to a somewhat anachronistic means of production solely because it’s “traditional”.
    I think my cultural studies roots are showing :).

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  9. I read my city’s paper every day– online! I think a healthy press is essential to any democracy, but I don’t think that means it has to be a healthy press *on paper*. Means of production change, and it is an industry’s responsibility to adapt for their own survival, not the public’s job to remain committed to a somewhat anachronistic means of production solely because it’s “traditional”.
    I think my cultural studies roots are showing :).

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  10. One of my journalism professors back in the 90s talked about the absurdity of newspaper distribution in the Bay Area (or some such place). The newspapers were printed downtown and then transported out to the outlying areas. Then the commuters read the newspapers on the ride downtown on public transportation, taking the newspapers full-circle to where they started their day.

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  11. The Chicago Tribune filed for 11 not because it is doing poorly (although it is not doing as well as its controller would like) but because the controller — Sam Zell — paid too bloody much for it, using money generated by the company’s promise to pay a lot of money in interest, and because he didn’t sell the Cubs last year, betting that he’d get more this year. Zell’s a smart guy but he isn’t always right. And who knows, when the dust settles, he may eventually get more.
    Its as if — and these numbers are simply hypothetical and have no necessary relationship with fact — the comapany is making a good, solid 10 percent return on investment in its operations, but Zell has promised to pay the bankers 12 percent interest. The tragedy of the Tribune these days is not the money it is or is not making, it is the very reduced quality of the product.

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