Newspapers are dead long live journalism – or somesuch

Last night I watched a live stream thing on Frontline called: Media talk – Print online: making it pay. You can watch it here

It was good, so good that I have been thinking about it on and off ever since I watched it. The basis of the discussion was initially blogger vs desktop publishers. How the hell can we transfer the superb journalism supplied by print newspapers, to online? Alongside the question about whether blogging is a recognised form of journalism, and if so, how to make cash.

This was interesting, but what piqued my interest most was the argument about brand, and how valuable that can be. Paul (Guido) argued that although a print media brand: Telegraph etc might be strong, the value of Jeremy Clarkson, for example, is equal to if not more effective a ‘brand’ online. If people want fun news about cars, they will subscribe to JC (no pun intended), rather than any strongly branded offline publication about motoring, whether it is available online or not.

Made me think. I read the free newspapers (not represented at the talk, sadly) on the train, I read the online newspapers at work, and at the weekend I buy the Sunday papers to read all through the week. I subscribe to the blog feeds that interest me, and more recently those that interest you. This is enough, I make an active decision when buying the paper, signing to a blog feed or grabbing a Metro, but it has nothing at all to do with brand. At all.

So, this discussion was not so much about journalism, or print, or profitability, it was an exercise in ignoring the elephant in the room: the value of brand in this new great age.

8 responses

  1. The elephant in the room is the value of honesty and integrity.
    Very little traditional journalism has really high values. It is riddled with the compromises that come from a mind set which assumes limited space and a pr industry that attempts to titillate journalists by pandering to the idea of limited space.

    Journalism still needs to fully embrace the implications of essentially unlimited bandwidth coupled with a breadth of amateurs who are more expert in their subject than the journalist yet can publish just as easily, link to and critique as easily.

    It is these pressures which make brand very vulnerable to the most potent and neglected force in journalism – the truth.

  2. Nick, you are right. This is the interesting bit about bloggers vs traditional journalists. The truth: ’tis a powerful force; difficult though to allow truth an argument when so often all of the written word is opinion, therefore subject to a disclaimer: this is my opinion only. As opposed to what?

  3. It’s increasingly ‘the cult of personality’. Certain personalities, like Clarkson, are liked because people like – if you’ll excuse the phrase – the way they tell ’em. Plus some people ‘sign up’ to a celebrity to seemingly bask in the reflected glory of their hero/heroine.

    …and it’s not just the Big Brother generation who do this either; witness the great affection many hold Stephen Fry in (including me). Guido’s right to a point – but he doesn’t go far enough – where he’s missed it is that if you could buy ‘Clarkson Daily News’ or the ‘Fry Clarion’, many people would.

    It’s just that in print/TV media you can’t be that selective because no single person will produce the requisite output…

    I also think ‘bloggers as journalists’ is over-rated slightly. I think most blog-journalism is the op-ed, rather than the breaking news (although granted, there is some). When bloggers are paid, they can maybe put the time in to break stories, but so long as they are unpaid (and they will continue to be so for the most part, simply because there are so many) they will continue to tell the stories of the things which are important to them, or interest them — and in this case you’re likely to be a bit partisan.

    Oh, and FWIW, I’ve virtually given up on ‘print media’, reading most of my stuff online these days…

  4. I think newspaper executives would be wise to read your post. Here is a key target demographic clearly saying that she not only chooses her media (as she might well always have done) but that for her, any form of media is just one voice among many.

    Regular readers of your blog know that you are grappling with ways of integrating all the various storytellers you wish to listen to and engage with. Guardian columnists, Newsnight pundits and humble social media bloggers are all part of the media/story/conversation mix that you are constructing for yourself.

    There is no one simple answer to how to make money out of these spaces or these practices, but it is clear that unless traditional Big Media is willing to be less arrogant – assuming it is some divine right to people’s attention -it faces a difficult future trying to carve out its niche in the conversation economy.

    Traditional media does have a role in that economy. Its intelligent and articulate journalists and commentators have a unique contribution to make but that uniqueness is just one uniqueness among many!

    The challenge will be finding a way in which those voices can not only play an active part alongside other voices but could perhaps find ways to facilitate the conversations. In short how traditional media, or more correctly the voices within it, can become the “conversation attractors”.

  5. I was with you up to your saying that it has nothing to do with brand. I think it’s unavoidably to do with brand – though not necessarily in the always buying brand X sense. The active decisions you make about which newspapers to read online or off, which feeds to subscribe to, whether to bother to pick up the Metro, are all about your expectations of what you will get from the experience – which is what brand is all about.
    Where it gets interesting is not that brand goes away, but that it may fragment and become attached to things at different levels. So if I want to read the news in one ‘paper’, sport in another and editorials in a third, I can, in a way which was possible before, but far too cumbersome for most people to bother. That kills one of the two strengths of traditional newspapers – their being a physical package which had economies of scale in production and distribution.
    The interesting question is whether the second strength – as a brand that signalled the kind of content you might expect to find – is sufficient as the first starts to go. I wouldn’t assume that it can’t be enough: the BBC website gets by without a print run to go with it, and sites such as the New York Times and the Guardian get a significant part of their readership from outside their physical distribution area. Maybe that will prove unsustainable, and I am sure that not all with survive – but I think it’s too early to predict the death of even traditional media brands.

  6. Thank you for that comment. Interesting… you have articulated what was nagging me about brand ever since I wrote this post. On your final point, the BBC is alive because it lives on public funds and does not depend on making a living for itself; the problem is in monetising the online journalism enough to ensure the survival of even those big, established bastions such as The Guardian – this was the subject of long debate at the Frontline thing.

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