Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Whole Lotta Blather to Get to The Point

Three long posts to get to the payoff, but here it is. A very necessary part of our governmental ecosystem is dying. The creative destruction underway in the legacy media is like a wildfire where the lack of logging and clearing of land has left the tender ripe on the forest floor.

Journalism as we know it today exists like a giant whale, feeding on a plankton of advertising that fills the seas. Journalism has survived in its current form on what is functionally a tax upon commerce called advertising.

It is directly funded by advertising. But the ocean is heating up and off the plankton for our media whale. Call it website warming.

Think about it. Since the dawn of Madison Avenue, newspapers -- then radio and television -- survived on their ability to be the most efficient mechanism for promoting commerce. The producers of goods were willing to pay these purveyors of public opinion a tithe to bring people to their door. It wasn't a required tax, but it was a taste off the top of the books nonetheless to the piper.

Today's one-to-many system of communication allows people to let other people know the same information, and unless the brand of an institution gets in the way of that, people will tend to trust other people more.

Ah, yes, brand again. Let's say for the sake of argument that the legacy media were to fully collapse into some eight-track tape anachronism. Who is left with the resources to promote their POV? That would be the institutions -- both public and private. The job of the fourth estate? Bought out at a bankruptcy auction by the other three.

Before we go off on some Ben Richards worm-hole, roll back to these couple of counters.

At some point, a new revenue source will appear for the legacy media that carries with it standing and reputation -- again, brand -- and they will move right into the future.

But the digital media stands ready to fill the gap immediately, and what will differentiate the good from the bad -- well, guess: reputation.

Consider this: who really believed the National Enquirer had the goods on John Edwards? The previous week, they were as likely to have the inside scoop on Oprah's latest diet or space aliens living in our midst. The traditional media harrumphed, but at the end of the day, the Enquirer had a good bit of the story down.

Did that make the Enquirer have a better news brand than the New York Times? For many, no, the brand that is the NYT endures.

How does that relate to our digital natives? I predict the successful ones will be the bright kids that look back to the future. That realize they can short-cut the time it takes to build a reputation -- you don't need a century of newsprint, just ask Politico or Little Green Footballs (or gasp, Matt Drudge). While it may come at hyper speed, the digital brand is build with the same care to the details -- being right, being sourced, being vetted, knowing when you're being played. A melding together of the time-honored traits of journalism with the time-smashing techniques of digital media. Being first doesn't count over time if you're nothing but first with the rumor when others are next with the truth.

Pretty exciting stuff.

No comments: