If you lose contact with your market, you will be superseded by new competitors.

Without distressed debt specialists looking for a remake, speculators looking to short, or rich local luminaries duped by the believers, many daily newspapers would have already succumbed to the inevitable. You may find it a dyspeptic prospect, but you can sense the nadir now.

The complete disappearance of newspapers may not be a bad thing of course, we can debate that, though a government operating without thoughtful and informed censure is a dangerous notion and to the extent that newspapers ever lived up to that task we need somebody else to step up now.

Fortunately, many are indeed stepping up. New media products are emerging and expanding, new institutions are supplanting old ones. Politico has stolen the political reporting franchise of the Washington Post. HuffPost has eaten into the liberal audience of the New York Times. Vice and Vox and BuzzFeed and Grantland and Upworthy and Quartz are using data analytics and new modes of storytelling to engage attractive audiences of impressive size. It’s not a question of carbon media versus digital, of ink and paper versus pixels and screens. Get over it mate, it’s a false distinction and you’re showing your age. It’s about what you select to read and the new digital news brands to which you gravitate.

The fact is, the market for news is expanding. It just that daily newspapers won’t serve it, even in digital form.  As with other evolving digital markets, those stuck in the middle, die. On the one hand, their news product is not big enough. It lacks both depth and breadth. On the other, it’s not small enough. It doesn’t cater to specific personal interest.

Enough with romanticizing the fabled golden age of omniscient newspapering anyway, it was never what it was cracked up to be. Newspaper company commitment to the hard work of basic reporting and investigative journalism was always greatly exaggerated. Besides, the provenance of a newspaper has never guaranteed veracity or impartiality. The myth of objectivity propagated by the editor-priests is as facile and destructive as any of Scalia’s pompous claims of divining absolutist truths in the writing of Madison and Hamilton. There’s always another side to the story.  Twain put it well: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

The burden has always been on all of us to parse reportage from supposition, and in the digital age, we’re better equipped. No-one need go uninformed in the age of instant, endless information. Now we can mine information deeper and quicker than ever before, comparing, authenticating and debunking for ourselves. I’ll take that.

And I’ll take the news recommendations of trusted friends over those of an impersonal editor on a distant throne parroting the group-think news perspectives of his anointed peers. Journalism is journalism, under a newspaper masthead or not.  Social media would have exposed the myth of Iraqi WMD. A blogger working out of his sitting room in the English town of Leicester revealed that Assad had deployed chemical weapons. It was a part-time waiter with an iPhone that helped cost Romney the election. It was Reddit that provided fact checking after the Boston bombing, even of itself. In real time. Serving up corrections faster than CNN and Fox. The more sources, the better off we are.

See, it’s not the delivery platform, old or new, that begets or squashes trust. For all of traditional media’s bewildered dismissal of digital news, the issue is the process that lies behind news delivery, not the platform, and process can be fixed. Don’t blame Twitter and Reddit for unleashing the mob. If you really want to hear the clamor, quaff a handful of Xanax and listen to the brawling on talk radio for as long as your senses can take it. If you want to see wild eyes and pitchforks, turn on your television tonight. Television news is expensive and there’s not a lot of real news around, so most of it is manufactured out of thin air. The only way the economics work in a 24/7 news cycle is to fill the dead air with predictable argument from blowhards who have a vested interest in amping up division and stoking discontent. This is not journalism, it’s media proctology. Yes, holier-than-thou traditional media has its own problems of editorship and publishing process.

I’ll tell you who’ll keep them honest. We will. That’s the cultural value of social media.

Posted by Peter M. Winter

Peter is a traditional media veteran and a digital media pioneer. He is an active angel investor and occasional consultant. He advises established companies on cultural regeneration and also consults to digital start-ups, helping them incorporate management process without sacrificing speed. He holds five technology patents. Peter is an award-winning public speaker and writer. His new book "Cowboys and Cannibals," will be published in 2017 - it is the ultimate insider account of the battle to find a digital future for newspapers when the Internet came to town. He blogs on media and leadership at BlastofWinter.com and publishes his unconventional ideas about management on his LinkedIn page. His collection of short stories can be found on Medium.com, at Peter Winter's Life of Fiction

4 Comments

  1. Des FitzGerald April 4, 2014 at 9:42 am

    If you haven’t read what Peter Winter has to say about news, reporting and the world we live in, you’re missing an important commentary on the delivery of truth to those who care to be informed and act out their responsibilities as voting citizens. Ignorance is even more not an excuse in this day and age. I’m not sure I trust that social media would have exposed the Chaney/Rumsfeld canard but more information is always better. Keep ’em coming Peter.

    Like

    Reply

  2. Winter is the smartest, most thoughtful voice out there when it comes to media analysis. He should be required reading for everyone in the “biz”.

    Like

    Reply

  3. I think Anderson Cooper will keep them honest, just as he says he will, every night. There is more news, and more depth to the news, on Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett than from anyone else on television — and don’t get me started on World News with Diane Sawyer. Newspapers think we should read newspapers because they are newspapers. But I think, increasingly, we prefer to get our news from people. If I were building an online resource for a newspaper, I would identify 50 great writers — news journalists, news teams, not just commentators — and build out from there. We don’t need a ‘newspaper format’ online. We don’t need ‘print journalism’, either. We just need smart, very informed people who can tell us what’s happening and why. Some write, some talk. Doesn’t matter. Organize it. Remove all the clutter. Make it very accessible, very simple, very fast.

    Like

    Reply

  4. Col. McCormick’s definition of a newspaper got it right…a newspaper presents the news of the day, fosters commerce and industry and provides that check on government, government doesn’t provide upon itself. When the press in a complete fair and balanced manner lives up to providing such checks…journalism survives and thrives, politicians are forced into action, citizens votes become productive and our democracy returns to the standards set down by our forbears who also got it right in our constitution. When this occurs, presenting the news of the day in whatever channels becomes sustainable and commerce and industry supports the effort. The more things change the more they stay the same….its not rocket science.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s