Why The Traditional News Media Is Becoming Less Relevant: They Didn't Adapt

from the must-read dept

Michael Skoler, over at Nieman Reports, has such an amazingly good essay on how the traditional news business lost its audience, I’m having trouble deciding which parts to quote. The whole thing is great, and is a must read. The basic thesis, though, is one you’ll hear a lot around these parts. As the newspaper folks lash out at everyone, the real problem has been their own inability to adapt and change. They were built on a model where they were the sole place for a community to gather, but that community now has other options, and the news media has not kept up. Here’s one snippet:

The truth is the Internet didn’t steal the audience. We lost it. Today fewer people are systematically reading our papers and tuning into our news programs for a simple reason–many people don’t feel we serve them anymore. We are, literally, out of touch.

Today, people expect to share information, not be fed it. They expect to be listened to when they have knowledge and raise questions. They want news that connects with their lives and interests. They want control over their information. And they want connection–they give their trust to those they engage with–people who talk with them, listen and maintain a relationship.

Trust is key. Many younger people don’t look for news anymore because it comes to them. They simply assume their network of friends–those they trust–will tell them when something interesting or important happens and send them whatever their friends deem to be trustworthy sources, from articles, blogs, podcasts, Twitter feeds, or videos.

Mainstream media are low on the trust scale for many and have been slow to reach out in a genuine way to engage people. Many news organizations think interaction is giving people buttons to push on Web sites or creating a walled space where people can “comment” on the news or post their own “iReports.”

People aren’t fooled by false interaction if they see that news staff don’t read the comments or citizen reports, respond and pursue the best ideas and knowledge of the audience to improve their own reporting. Journalists can’t make reporting more relevant to the public until we stop assuming that we know what people want and start listening to the audience.

Again, don’t just read this snippet, read the whole thing. It goes on to talk about how other community sites have built trust, and have done it by really involving the community and empowering them. Anyone in the news business who doesn’t understand this shouldn’t be working in the news business much longer.

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Comments on “Why The Traditional News Media Is Becoming Less Relevant: They Didn't Adapt”

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tacticapple (profile) says:

low on the trust scale

Mainstream media had been controlled for too long by the Murdoch’s of the world. It’s true, why do we need to be ‘faithful’ reading only one newspaper and their slanted side of the story when we can find 10 stories with various points of views and read opinions about it from people all over the world. There really shouldn’t be a ‘mainstream’ media industry anymore in my opinion. cool article.

anon says:

Everyone seeks truth

There is more than what is mentioned here… not only is it easier to read news online, but the media has been instistant on shooting themselves in the foot by feeding us half truths. Sources such as CNN used to be looked at as being relatively straight forward with the truth (or atleast I trusted them as such in my younger days). Now a days, more people have seen how slanted they are and no longer trust them. Its similar with newspapers. The media went from “going down hill” to “falling off a cliff” with the elections in 2008.

Instead, people are seeking out sources that are more nuetral and/or align better with their own “slant”. whether its affirming the truth, or just our own interpretation of the truth… people don’t want to pay to read half truths.

Chuck (profile) says:

Re: Everyone seeks truth

You are right on with your comment. And, sad to say, I see the same “slant and bias” creeping into places you wouldn’t expect such opinion to be relevant or ‘tolerated’. I am speaking of the ZDNET site for technical info. Their biaz/opinion once was in favor of their biggest advetisers, now it is sadly in favor of the “change” being brought to us by the current administration.

But then, one needs to only discover that General Electric owns CBS which owns Ziff-Davis which publishes most of “tech magazines and/or web sites” that are consumed by the average techie consumer. What better way to instill the message that Jeffery Immelt (CEO of GE and major contributor/supporter of Obama) wants us all to follow than to use the media of preference by our younger generation!

Sean Williams (profile) says:

But who will pay?.

Ethan Zuckerman talks about this topic from the business angle (reporting on a Clay Shirky essay and presentation). http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2009/09/22/clay-shirky-and-accountability-journalism/

The business model of newspapers (and broadcast news) depended on advertising and paid subscription to fund what they called the “accountability journalism” that is most important to the functioning of society. Absent a means of culling the wheat from the chaff, we starve.

it’s true, as #3 says, that the journalistic integrity (despite the efforts of the Poynter Institute and others) has almost disappeared as regards simply fair reporting (let alone objective reporting.) But now we seem willing to turn over the entire enterprise to amateur reporters, trusting average people to act as their own editors, weighing claims from competing sources to distill the truth.

Also, much of the “free” media now is really just stolen from professional content providers without compensation — if there are no more professional journalists, all information will be subject to the overt biases (disclosed, sometimes not) of individuals. This returns us journalistically, to the turn of the 19th-20th Century. The volume of information alone is so much greater now, how can we make sense of it?

We may indeed rely on our peers (we all tend to associate with those similar to us in outlook, intelligence and education and interest), but what of competitive ideology? The prospect that we don’t know enough about something? Where is a source of more objective information?

This leads to all communication being commercial in nature — overt manipulation with no third party to cast a critical eye on claims.

Surely there are many examples of media bias, but also there are examples of good faith attempts to mediate these biases and discover broader truths. The government, especially, would love the independent professional media to disappear — who would hold it accountable?

Idealistically yours,

Call me Al says:

Re: But who will pay?.

“But now we seem willing to turn over the entire enterprise to amateur reporters, trusting average people to act as their own editors, weighing claims from competing sources to distill the truth.”

I’m afraid you have missed the point. The amateur doesn’t just dispense knowledge to the ignorant. He writes his piece as he sees it and then it is open for debate, deconstruction and fact checking by those who read the article. Through a process of collaboration, where people can check multiple sources of information in order to, hopefully, arrive at something more resembling the true picture.

“Where is a source of more objective information?” – Where is it now? Everyone has an agenda. All Newspapers have party or company line they must follow.

“Also, much of the “free” media now is really just stolen from professional content providers without compensation” – Here you are mixing “news” and “media”, which are two quite different things. News is not something you own but something you report. Media is something you create and so could have ownership of.

“Surely there are many examples of media bias, but also there are examples of good faith attempts to mediate these biases and discover broader truths.” – No one here is denying that. They are denying, however, that newspapers have a monopoly on such. The newspapers currently claim they are the only source for true journalism which is arrogant and patently false.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But who will pay?.

“But now we seem willing to turn over the entire enterprise to amateur reporters, trusting average people to act as their own editors, weighing claims from competing sources to distill the truth.”

You are assuming that I am unable to distinguish between a good source and a bad source in a perfectly competitive market and that I need you or some “professional” to dictate to me what constitutes a good source because I’m stupid and ignorant. This attitude will NOT get you anywhere with me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: But who will pay?.

“But now we seem willing to turn over the entire enterprise to amateur reporters, trusting average people to act as their own editors, weighing claims from competing sources to distill the truth.”

I want to be able to start blogs and report on things if I see things to report on, I want ANYONE to have the SAME opportunity. You, nor any “professional”, should be blessed with a privilege that you use the government to take away from others just because you can’t compete in the free market. The notion that I’m too stupid and ignorant to determine what is factual in a free marketplace of ideas is very condescending, I do not appreciate it at all and for that attitude I hope your business dies, I hope the government ignores you, and I hope people ignore you.

I will do everything I can to vote for people like Ron Paul, libertarians and people from the pirate party who will not have your condescending attitude and I hope others do as well. The mainstream media is absolutely not a reliable source of information and I find all these “amateurs” and Joe Blows to be FAR FAR more reliable. Your attempts to take that away from us and to turn the Internet into the absolute nonsense that the FCC and the government has turned mainstream media into under the pretext of lies that “amateurs” are less able to report accurately on issues than “professions” will only make me trust you less and it will only make me very upset at you. I don’t appreciate this condescending attitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But who will pay?.

“Also, much of the “free” media now is really just stolen from professional content providers without compensation”

As we have shown on techdirt many times, much of it is either to correct mainstream media inaccuracies

There are many examples of mainstream media stealing from blogs without even giving credit.

and if blogs do use mainstream media content, mostly to correct mainstream media inaccuracies, they are far more likely to give credit being that mainstream media tends to have a policy of not giving credit to bloggers.

kyle clements (profile) says:

As a fairly young person, I grew up with the internet, and have always seen newspapers as second rate. I can’t easily forward good articles to my friends. I can’t comment on factual errors, or obvious biases. The obtrusive ads can’t be blocked with plug-ins, and you hands get dirty after reading a few pages.

The only part of my small town rag that I ever bother to read is the ‘letters to the editor’ section, and that’s more for entertainment than anything. “uninformed masses” is an understatement.

Papers also go with a shotgun approach to reporting. They do a bad job of covering everything, so everyone gets something that almost interests them. Then they tack on a comment button, and you get thousands of ‘anonymous cowards’ with no clue about the issues the article addresses talking about everything-except the actual issue at hand.

Internet bases news sources have a way of gathering mavens around a certain topic. I am interested in technology, so I focus on technology sites that cover one small range of topics very well. Not only are sites like techdirt very good for reporting on issues relating to technology, but the community around it is made up of fellow technology mavens, so the discussion is relevant and informed. Also, the small number of people who do comment frequently usually register accounts, and post details about their experiences or qualifications. After a while, you develop an bit of an understanding of your fellow readers, which really helps to create a feeling of genuine community.

This sense of real community is something I have never seen a mainstream newspaper even attempt to achieve.

J Kimball (profile) says:

What the people want

One important topic that is missing from the article and the discussion is the idea of “what people want”. I’ve long since stopped paying attention to any facet of the media. I’m a should-have-graduated-from-college-a-few-years-ago-aged lad and I absolutely maintain a home delivery subscription to the old gray lady. I also donate about 1/50 of my annual income to National Public Radio. Admittedly, as a source of pride, I’m not one of the people referred to in this article. I’m not sure if it comes down to attention span or a true disinterest in substance, but the information disseminated by most news outlets is of little or no consequence to anyone and is presented in gaudy, constant attention-grabbing pose. Information readers want their information quick, dirty and in bright flashing lights.

Where does this take us? We end up in a society that is ill-informed about most of the objectively important information. Reading Sarah Palin’s twitter feed or someone’s blog does not make an individual up to date or news nor does it necessarily provide accurate information. Granted many factual, likely-news websites are labeled as blogs and are just using the term because it’s hip or cool, but I digress.

The article mentions trust being key, but I see little correlation between trust and readership/viewership–or maybe the sources the average person trusts is not a source I deem trustworthy.

In poor form, what I’m trying to convey is that if most people are left to their own devices they won’t choose news, they’ll choose information. The distinction between which is vitally important. News being hard, relevant, your-life-could-depend-on-it kind of material and information being whatever Headline News is discussing or word that Gmail had hick-ups earlier in the day.

So while the news sources that feed us news are dying, I see this not as an invalid business model, but a last stand for goodness, decency and for a truly news-informed world.

Let’s face it, Mackenzie Phillips having a sexual relationship with her daddy is probably what you’d choose over the latest UN summit if you had a choice. You’re the problem–not the business model. Loser

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Crap like this:

From the AP re-posted on MSN

“Police threw canisters of pepper spray and smoke at anarchists protesting the Group of 20 summit Thursday after the marchers responded to calls to disperse by rolling trash bins and throwing rocks.”

So now protesters are anarchists?

It is the biased yellow journalism that makes them worthless. Try doing REAL reporting instead of being a government mouthpiece.

I WOULD PAY, for REAL unbiased reporting. Nah, who am i kidding? We already get that for free from the interwebnet tubes. He he.

johnney (profile) says:

WTF? It doesn’t take a discourse on printed ‘news’, be it paper or magazine, to realize that society as a whole is just plain more digitized and mobile than we were 20 yrs ago.
It’s kinda like waking up one day and realizing there is an easier more efficient way to get news about anything and everything. Nothing was stolen and nothing was lost. This is similar to putting on a shirt that’s still hanging in your closet. You put it on because it’s still there, not because you’re going to actually keep wearing it but possibly because you just want to have an excuse for throwing it out.
Besides, “no news is good news” was never truer.
Newspapers should have done what many sites do profitably and offer the content up with ads for free. They could have attempted to adapt with modern society. Instead they sit around with old news complaining about why nobody will pay them for their old news.

Joe says:

probably no interest in pseudo-friends

like many of the media try to play it, wanting to become
an invisible and ever-present family member. And as media
crisis continues, probably a whole lot of people sort out their
relationship to the media. It’s in another a relationship
issue. (Sometimes, in some cases, somewhat similar to the
relation the main figure in Orwell’s 1984 had, who fell totally
in love with the big brother on TV.)
And something else:
“They want news that connects with their lives and interests “
That’s certainly becoming a main issue as the crisis takes
it’s toll. People realizing they cannot rely on the media
on all and everything, fix everything that is wrong – and
so forth.
A pretty popular video exists, it’s three news shows in 06/07, financial experts forecasting and advising. Most of them were horribly wrong as it turned out. What was so totally expert and overwhelming then can now be understood
instantly by teenagers, just about everybody. It logically
touches on the interest. Many obviously consider the
“Peter Schiff – video” a “wow” (and it totally supports
what is said in the article):

Michael (profile) says:

Why I dislike cable news...

CNN – Used to be my favorite, now they’ve really become a -slightly- leftwing biased sideshow style ‘action news’ outlet. Plenty of examples of ‘False/fake interaction’, the most notable of which is when they allow vetted twitter-length comments to appear, often split due to length in to two lines text; displayed one after the other in a small area at the bottom of the screen.

FoxNews – Obvious rightwing bias, additionally often a bias in favor of major corporations and religious orgs/corps. Same general ‘action news for the masses’ issue as CNN, but their fake interaction, if any, was the more traditional useless phone in style sound-bytes.

MSNBC – I don’t usually see this on TV in public or at home. The last time I did however it seemed like FoxNews with a business focus.

BBC World News America – It’s so bad that even the BBC seems to be trying to intellectually bail out the US; but of course their bias is mostly British. I at least get an obvious feeling of bias to compensate for and a more balanced set of coverage from international and US issues. On the downside they rarely have time slotted to properly cover complete depth on key US issues and they aren’t (weren’t?) even a ‘basic cable’ channel the last time I checked. It’s very difficult to have a community of discussion based around TV stories most of my peers won’t have the same access to.

So, I dislike cable news because there isn’t anything biased towards the consumer (anti-political or politically unbiased) that is able to provide proper time and depth to get to the root of issues and identify the parties who should be responsible for resolving the issues. Every one of which should be named and their mistakes noted to properly assign shame and motivate redemption by correction of mistakes.

News shouldn’t be about sensationalism as much as attention to detail.

Robert Snow says:

mainstream media

From the viewpoint of one who was once a heavy consumer of
mainstream media and who now considers it a nebulous fog of
Pravda Kool-Aid: for decades I was awed by its’ limitless
enthusiasm for things which quite clearly were destroying
this country. Eventually I learned there is information out there consistent with the observable reality. But precious
little is to be found in mainstream media.

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