"The News" Ain't What It Used to Be

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"The News" Ain

The modern era's "dirty little secret" is that most people prefer entertainment to information.  Frankly, the old PBS model of being "an audiovisual educator of mankind" doesn't appeal to an audience fascinated by the latest shenanigans of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Michael Jackson.

Also, many educated, affluent people don't watch traditional TV programs or immerse themselves in newspapers.  As a result, advertisers increasingly have to look to "new media," specialized cable networks, radio talk shows, and, especially, the Internet to reach their target audience.

One very visible sign of this transformation in the media is that the American newspaper industry is crumbling around us.  Employee buyouts, shrinking circulation, and declining advertising are persistent realities.  The Washington Post's circulation has dropped in a decade and a half by approximately 150,000 readers.  The San Francisco Chronicle is hemorrhaging $60 million per year.1 

As for newspaper readers in places like Minneapolis, Houston, and Cleveland, the time may be coming when their daily newspapers will close up shop.  The American Journalism Review2 forecasts that "by the year 2020, print ad revenue will be about half what it is today." 

Today, fact-based journalism is often overrun by "advocacy" masquerading as information.  Simultaneously, traditional news outlets end up citing blogs and talk radio as the sources for breaking news.  As a result, non-traditional journalists are doing more of the investigative legwork that we associate historically with The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the major TV networks.  With entertainment being a bigger component in news ratings, the big three TV networks spend their money on high-priced newsreaders rather than "reporters."

A big factor in this shift has been "digital connectivity."  It enables the unconventional media outlets to leverage so-called "distributed genius" to a degree that would have been unimaginable until about 15 years ago.3 

Until recently, experts were the people anointed by newspapers, magazines, and TV networks as "worth listening to."  As for the rest of us, we were mostly passive observers.

But now, nearly anyone worldwide can share his or her opinion and compete for attention on a relatively even playing field, transmitting knowledge and ideas almost instantaneously.

Of course when anyone, anywhere can instantly share his knowledge and opinion with everyone else, there is little competitive advantage for the large news organization with massive overhead...

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