This morning brought me a good composite illustration of the evolving media landscape, at least a snapshot of it, that is so challenging for traditional news organizations to adapt to.
On Facebook, a journalist friend vented about local sites’ aggregation practices, which several times a day summarize and link to news her staff has reported: “It’s my reporters doing all the hard work! Am I looking at this wrong?” It’s a type of heartburn, but keep it in perspective: It has been going on since the first time a radio talker read the news on the air.
Nieman Journalism Lab reports on how NPR is trying a new strategy for rolling out new shows, aiming to simplify the process and lower the cost while also making use of social media. My first thought was it just shows that NPR, perhaps because it relies on grants and donations rather than advertising, has been somewhat insulated from the economic issues confronting print and commercial broadcast news organizations because it has been several years since I became used to hearing the idea of “fail fast, fail cheap.” But my second thought was that it illustrates one problem for traditional media: We don’t like to do anything just one time. I don’t mean stories, I mean columns, features, shows, sections, segments. We’re used to the idea of stand-alone news and features, but anything that we would do more than once, but not at least weekly and not for the foreseeable future, is a giant barrier. Any traditional news source is tremendously structured and formatted. The idea of predictability is roundly accepted as a plus, that people want to know what they are getting before they even try. Try telling a newspaper editor (not to pick on newspapers; this is just an example) that certain stories should run in larger type. At best, he’ll convene a committee to discuss it for a few weeks, and if they tend to agree they’ll run off test copies on the press and discuss it some more. So in that sense, even though many organizations have been preaching “fail fast, fail cheap,” almost no one really practices it. “Fail fast, fail cheap” means you go ahead and do it, and if it clear quickly that it isn’t working, you stop.
Finally, John Robinson explains what I would call the cognitive dissonance in a Pew study of news habits, which reported that “31 percent of people ages 18-24 get no news on an average day, and 22 percent of 30-34-year-olds get none either.” The nut of John’s argument:
“The 18-24 year-old age group is the ‘if-the-news-is-that-important-it-will-find-me’ generation. Those folks are on Facebook. They get news every time they log on. Their friends tell them the news in their worlds. (And for you not on Facebook, don’t think that they talk about what they had for breakfast.) This generation doesn’t immediately call it news the way we old-timers do, but when they watch, say, the president slow jammin’ the news, it is news. When they see the ‘Trending Articles’ foisted upon them by Facebook, that’s news. (Well, some of them are.)
“But if you ask them where they get news, the answer is Google and Yahoo and Jon Stewart and Huffington Post. It’s rarely actual, traditional, mainstream news organizations. The news may originate there, but they don’t identify those as the sources. And that’s one of the problems with using the generic term ‘news’ in a survey.”
And that right there is the larger issue: Not just young people but almost everyone now picks up news everywhere throughout the day. It used to be far more structured; the morning paper (or, before that, the afternoon paper), the evening TV news and whatever people talked about during the day that was passed on by word of mouth or that was big enough to warrant a news break on TV or radio in the middle of the day. It’s all atomized now, or it’s increasingly so.
A further illustration: Although I started my day with the morning paper, all of the above was stimulated by things I found online — starting with Facebook.