Posts Tagged ‘poynter’

Saving Legacy Media From Itself

September 28, 2009

rescueWhile startups were embracing — and by virtue, defining — the world of new media, traditional news organizations were mindlessly singing “We’ve got to hold on to what we got.” No wonder they’re now livin’ on a prayer.

According to a here-and-now, keep-the-stockholders-happy mindset, their behavior made sense. Newspapers, the poster children for distressed legacy media, were making double-digit profit margins unheard of in virtually any other industry. Why innovate when the model you dominate and built your company around continues to reliably pull in cash?

(Plenty of newspapers are still making money, by the way, many still at margins a retailer would sell his soul for. They can’t keep pace with Wall Street’s expectations, however, and many of their parent companies are swimming in debt.)

It’s human nature, and, therefore, market nature, to go against one’s long-term self-interest — choosing the cheeseburger over the salad, sub-prime loans over ones borrowers can actually pay back — until a misbehavior affects short-term well-being: The cheeseburger eater’s daily routine is turned upside down as he recovers from a heart attack. The lender is knee deep in defaults and its name and assets aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Climate change is an extremely high-stakes area in which society consistently ignores its long-term self-interest. However, China, which famously had to shut down factories during the Olympics so competitors could, well, breathe, has begun to view environmental recklessness as a threat to its immediate economic health.

If China can come around, legacy media can. And it by and large has. Some companies, though, enticed by the Web’s broad reach, are stretching the push model they should be abandoning.

Though many dress as if they’re poor, journalists don’t make for the most sympathetic charity cases. They regularly rank somewhere around lawyers on lists of least liked professions. Be that as it may, democratic societies need strong, active news organizations to function. Ask Thomas Jefferson.  To that end, industry leaders, policy makers and concerned citizens can be taking action toward a sunnier journalistic future:

  • Produce and widely share information, like the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next reports, that shows why old models are failing and suggests what new models might work.
  • Publicly recognize innovative efforts. The Pulitzer Prize Board’s decision to accept entires made up entirely of Web content is one example of this.
  • Give intelligent feedback. Cancel your print subscription? Tell the paper why. Have an opinion, good or bad, about the paper’s Web site? Share it.
  • Join the dialogue about alternative models, such as U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s proposal to grant public-TV-like nonprofit status to certain newspapers.
  • Support independent organizations like Poynter that foster innovation. Publicly shame companies that pass off a disproportionate share of their profit to shareholders instead of reinvesting it in their journalism.
  • Encourage young people to become newspaper literate. Print, online, whatever — just get them reading!