When the Last Pillars Fall

Two distinct news stories last week indicate that two of the last pillars of traditional journalism are caving to the new media era. The first was the firing of Jill Abramson at the NY Times over her opposition to native advertising (hat tip: Scott Monty). The second was a leaked Reuters memo from Americas editor Dayan Candappa directing journalists to write all of the news service’s stories to be no more than 500 words in length with the exception of exclusives.

In both cases, traditional notions of quality are at stake. Driving the two changes — one a firing, the second an editorial shift — is the need to remain competitive in a dynamically shifting media world.

In the case of Reuters, an old argument about short copy and quality seemed to be at play in Candappa’s words. Spending inordinate amounts of time writing longer repetitive stories isn’t helping the wire service.

Yet, how much competition does the wire service experience? Certainly, it faces fewer and weaker traditional competitors.

No, its current competition is the TMZs and Huffington Posts of the world who publish a quick blog story or publish a racist Donald Sterling audiotape. An old school rendering of these new media first stories doesn’t help Reuters, which for all intents and purposes is a cut and paste service for many news organizations that don’t have national or topic specific reporters.

Still no one likes to see an editor tell reporters to invest less time and copy in their stories. One cannot help but think that quality will suffer. Perhaps this is just another indicator of TL; DR syndrome caused in part by the move towards visual media discussed here last week.

What is more disturbing is the move to oust Abramson at the New York Times. Several issues joined together to cause her ouster, including her rightful complaint about unequal wages, and what will surely trigger some strong debates, her bossiness. But a core issue remained Abramson’s editorial integrity and an unwillingness to completely compromise the boundary between stories and advertisements.

Almost every publication offers a form of digital native advertising today, including the NY Times. Some publications hold tighter control over their properties, even insisting that their staff produce all sponsored content. Yet they still write and release bought stories denoted by a cute moniker and a different boundary color.

Now we know that everyone is for sale, even the NY Times.

As Power Weakens, New Properties Develop

14123483481_efdf3e6166_b

No one really knows what the disintegration of traditional media quality really means. POLITICO, Mashable, AllThingsD (sold to the WSJ), the Huffington Post, and The Verge and many other new properties have arisen already.

As traditional properties continue weakening in quality — both from lesser reporting methods and untrustworthy sponsored content — we will see more niche upstarts and strong corporate content providers. There will be less trust for media brands and more disruption.

How many people really trust Forbes and all of its blogs and sponsored content properties as much as they did five years ago? I know I don’t! Let’s not even discuss the tabloid mess called CNN.

Media upstarts will come faster and faster now. There is little to hold them back as more mastheads succumb to untraditional methods of monetizing online content. Upstart mastheads will not only displace the old, but the new will eat the new. Every new Internet technology offers another opportunity for a media disruptor to change the rules.

I look at Buzzfeed as an example of a weak new media brand. It’s a gimmick. How long until their formula is replicated? How long until another brand offers righteous silliness in a more mobile and/or engaging format? It’s inevitable.

With each new year we see another series of brands that provide news or entertainment content in a better fashion. In the end, those that don’t evolve story quality will find themselves in a weakened position. Gimicks and poor quality can only last so long.

What do you think?

Featured image by Yersinua pestis.

4 Replies to “When the Last Pillars Fall”

  1. What concerns me about shorter copy, etc., is not getting the whole story. One has to read several versions of a story to understand the whole story, get the facts and ignore the bias of one media over another. What happened to “Just the facts”? And don’t even get me started on what is actually “news”.

  2. I truly don’t know what to think. It’s difficult to get your arms around something so volatile. What you see depends on what part of the picture you focus on. The same trends that are breaking up old media are also giving voice to citizen journalists. An analogy is the emergence of the printing press: many more voices appeared, concerns about quality of content rose, etc. The ultimate effects (mass literacy, the decline of authoritarianism and rise of democracy) took a long time to play out. I take a long term view and see an opportunity for more human expression and freedom, with lots of difficult developments along the way.

Comments are closed.