Thursday, August 18, 2005

"Rebuilding Media" Blog a Welcome Addition as a Forum for Discussing News Media Structure and Mission

I want to call you attention to a new blog has been created at the Corante site called Rebuilding Media. It was organized by two journalists with impressive news and online credentials. Vin Crosbie, a fifth generation news man, was the first director of online publishing at News Corp. Robert Cauthorn is a former vice president of digital media at the San Francisco Chronicle and was the third recipient of the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer Award.

As might be expected with the solid journalism background of the co-founders, the emphasis of Rebuilding Media is on the news media-- a subset of the larger media landscape but at the top of the list of types of content for which we are so concerned when we discuss the state of the media industry. While it's certainly important that the First Amendment places few restrictions on broadcasting fluff content, such as the personal live of celebrities, the reason there is such contentiousness about media ownership is that news and information is needed for a democracy to best function, for the civil discourse that so many Americans often take for granted.

The mission statement of the blog holds that
The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readership of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
In a recent entry asking "Are Metro Papers Outdated?, for example, Bob Cathourn writes "that the scale of the metro newspaper has become a central liability of today's press." He continues:
As our cities have grown, metro newspapers evolved with them. That brought a necessary giantism -- giant presses, giant distribution mechanisms, giant staffs. And because of the size of the enterprise, metros require giant advertising revenues to stay afloat.... Perhaps we should now begin asking whether there is a maximum size that a newspaper can achieve before it outgrows its ecosystem and begins to fail its community.
His ideal remedy:

Clearly the lame efforts at zoned editions at metro papers haven't succeeded. Zoning was always more about revenues than coverage anyway.

Let's talk about real structural change instead: partition the giants. Maybe the LA Times should actually be broken into three or four or five distinct papers to better cover the market one giant lumbers across today. If you did it smartly, you could still retain many of the economic benefits of large scale while gaining the focus of smaller organizations.

He doesn't really think that is likely to happen (nor do I think it even adviseable), but he does expect challenges -- and I would add, opportunities-- to the metro papers:
Instead, we should keep our eyes open as multiple, small upstarts -- ala the [San Francisco] Examiner -- arrive to do the local job the metro daily refuses to complete. Add citizen journalism to that mix and you get a spectrum of media that is downright hopeful.
The future of the newspaper is very much on my mind these days. In October I will be making a presentation on the topic to a small group of publishers from around the world and I'm trying to hone my message. Long term trends are very negative, as circulation continues to fall along with advertising lineage. More localism may hold opportunity for some form of media product or service. But it won't reverse the decline of the metro newspaper as we know it.

We need the kind of discussion that is taking place at Rebuilding Media.

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