So here we are at the apparent crux of the revolution in information in our society. The internet has opened up a world of information beyond the control of the established media, and that, in turn, has helped to expose some long-standing problems within the industry. Specifically, the top-heavy nature of publishing companies that focus more on advertising and financially expensive management infrastructure than quality content. People have been complaining for as long as I can remember that the press simply wasn’t presenting anything worth a damn, and those complaints have largely fallen on completely deaf ears while profit margins soared.
Now, in an ironic twist, publishers everywhere who had little time or interest in content even just 10 years ago are now bemoaning how “valuable” it is, even though no one, including Google, can make money on it directly. They also speak ad nauseum about how quality content is expensive at the same time as they lay off skilled content producers hand over fist to protect what little profits remain.
What we see today is an industry in a state of collapse and simultaneous denial. Here is a rather disturbing piece I came across earlier today. Yeah, this’ll work. Content is all-important today so let’s put all your editors under direct command of sales managers. I’ve worked in atmospheres like that in the past and I can tell you, the relationship is ass-backwards. I have no problem coordinating with sales staff, it’s only reasonable to present a united front, but to have sales staff essentially making content decisions is hopelessly wrong-headed. It would be like asking your reporters to sell ads. Let the content people do what they do best and let the sales people do what they do best and make sure everyone is working towards the same ends. This kind of sales-first decision making is a big reason why publishing is crumbling as it is. So much for editorial integrity and high-quality content. If you’re a reader of those papers, get ready for lots of classy advertorials. I’m sure that will help their reputation amongst readers.
Another popular trend now is calls for the government to provide support for the struggling legacy players. Anyone with any sense knows this could have catastrophic results, and you need look no further than the effort within congress for a journalist shield law. This legislation essentially requires that someone either be employed by a hard-copy publishing entity or make the majority of their income from some vague definition of journalistic works to fall under the shield. Apparently, congress has never heard of the internet, or is even aware of the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of professional journalists plying their trade for low pay or no pay online independently or for small internet start ups. According to Congress, these people aren’t really journalists. This bill wouldn’t cover free-lance writers, either. This is so bad that the newspaper industry doesn’t even support it. Yeah, the government, clueless as always, is going to save the day.
So where do we go from here? Let’s have another conference. One more round of the same talking heads spouting off about this, that and the other will surely solve something. The first few thousand of them haven’t, but why should that hold us back? Maybe next time…