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Saturday, 19 March 2016

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING JOURNALIST, OR DEATH OF THE MEDIA



 Buzzword's commissioning editor, D. S. Mills, gives one man's view on why old media and journos are stuffed. And what to do about it!


Is the so called 'digital revolution' the root cause of print media running at a loss, of the slow death of magazine titles, of free-to-air TV gasping for survival? 

As with most explanations, that's too simple. The underlying reason, as I see it, is ignored. In fact I see no evidence anywhere that it is being acknowledged. All right this is one man's view. But a voice in the wilderness has weight. (Really? How can that be?) Before I explain, let's look at the current carnage:


 

Death of the Journalist


In Australia, Fairfax Media (The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times, Financial Review and so on) is set to fire another 120 journos. So the newsrooms are on strike. Not that it will do them much good.
News Limited staff here (The Australian, The Telegraph) are already running on a shoestring. And, across the spectrum, newspapers are losing money - becoming increasingly less informative and more strident. As for News Limited, what can Rupert be thinking? Well Rupert (not a bad bloke and a sentimental Piscean) loves his mastheads and likes influence as well as pelf. So he is relying on subscription TV and Movie interests to hold the fort in this long, painful game of wait and see.




Where is the bottom of the market?


Will sales eventually stabilize? Surely there has to be a break-even point somewhere? Interestingly, the pain is also on-line. Digital versions of mastheads rarely do well and advertising revenue for both is down the tube.  (Certainly, the river-of-gold classifieds that supported the dailies for years have migrated to the web.) 
 

So let's assume the ad spend has migrated to the net. It's certainly declining on free TV with its dreary unreality shows. Then, again, the problem is dispersion. The reward for running ads on websites is dropping fast. As for pay per click. Forget it.  So digital sites, and not just news sites, are also trying to predict the bottom. (See Growing digital access = reduced revenue below.)




Amateur hour


Meanwhile, everyone with a computer has been sold the myth that s/he can now be a star. The bloggesphere is awash with would be journos - and half-baked news websites proliferate.  As W. S. Gilbert wrote: 'When everybody's somebody, then no one's anybody.'
The result? Even more dispersion, disruption, confusion of the market for news. Not to mention the proliferation of disguised propaganda outlets stemming from right wing religious groups.
Or conglomerates presenting warped scientific 'findings' in their own self-interest. Or promoting feel-good schemes to cloak their agendas.
I won't mention the often carefully disguised political sites. We live in the age of misinformation which, increasingly, is displacing fact.




Growing digital access = decreased revenue

What is not often stated is that this utterly uncontrolled proliferation of sites means an increasingly small share of the pie. Why?
Assume that the pie (the possible consumer spend of everyone) is X. The pie is then a fixed size - X. In fact the pie is shrinking because the effects of the GFC are still working through and may do so for another ten years.  Every country in the world is strapped and swimming in debt. So people are fearful - paying off their mortgages and sitting on their cash. But, back to the illustration.
Let's say the size of the pie, the maximum consumer spend world wide,  is now X.  Assume there are only ten commercial websites on the web. X by 10 means everyone gets one tenth of X. But X by a billion of two and increasing…? The answer's plain. Less for all.




Dispersion and the declining ad spend


Back to advertising spend. Newspapers have one foot in the news business but magazines are in the advertising business. Most of their revenue comes from ads. According to the bean-counters, the editorial is simply there to fill in the spaces between the ads. Subscriptions/price of purchase helps to defray the cost of production and distribution. But the main game is ads. And there are now far fewer for print.

So the spend is being frittered away on-line in an increasingly piecemeal (the digital agencies would say 'targeted') manner.

And how does this affect the consumer (once termed a 'customer'). It makes him/her mad! Because the dismal welter of small ads and infuriating pop-ups far more irritating and unwanted than any full page ad in The Age. Some spend angry hours fiddling with CC Cleaner, Spybot, Uninstall, Local Temp delete and browser reconfigurations to block this crudware.

Certainly the full page ad in the press has fewer readers. But intrusive on-line ads are self-defeating because, in the second they have to present themselves before click-off, the viewer's response is fury. And if you can't click them off - apoplexy!

What is left? Viral advertorial sallies on U-Tube? Whoop-te-doo! It's not a good time to be the Creative Director of your mainstream agency. And, I suspect, the overall ad spend is still tanking. So that is the state of play. But not the end of the story…





The real reason media is cactus


 Let's take newspapers as an example. They are faced with declining readership. Why?
Because people who read newspapers are getting news from other sources? Some are.
Because the news is hours or a day old before you read it? Yes.

Because you can get the gist faster on the web or radio? Yes.
Because young people don't read newspapers? Getting warmer.

Older folks read newspapers, or did before they got their smart phones. But older folks die. And young readers? Well, to start with, they don't read. Well not in that traditional way. They are the eternally distracted. They scan. Facebook. The twittersphere. (Twitter loses money, by the way.) Mindless games. And they and their so called friends are flat out telling each other what they had for breakfast. As for THE NEWS - they don't give a stuff. If Jackie O doesn't chuckle about it, then, as far as they know, it's not important. The 'Look at Me' generation is concerned with its self image, not the world.

Journos have had it because their consumer base is almost gone. The post-literate generation doesn't give a flying fart about who's mining coal near Sydney's dams and flooding disused shafts with water. (Yes, it's been happening for years. A boiler worker I know who worked there told me the whole story.)




So what should a crusading journalist do?


Try to join the ABC? But that's already short staffed and pinching most of its ideas, like you've been doing, old mate, from TIME and the BBC.  Start an on-line mag? Heartbreak down the track. Write a book? You see what's happening to publishers, bookshops? Get a life. Post-literates don't read print. They tweet with the twits.
I suggest a nice cash business like a fish shop. Except there seem to be enough. (No, not a restaurant. They wink out like fairy-lights.) And who wants to run a fish shop anyway?

So does this mean the end of responsible reporting and the snafu of civilization?

Yes and yes. Have you ever heard of a civilization that didn't decline? The barbarians are at the gates and have been for some time. Everything has its lifespan.  The net is not the problem. It's simply a facilitator - speeds things up, that's all.
Civilizations grow old and sicken just like us. When too many things go wrong with us - organ failure or invasive cancer - we die.

WE are the problem. The LCD of people is declining. And when that gets to a certain level - when the scientists, intellectuals, artists, philosophers and responsible journalists, are no longer listened to or lose their integrity - collapse is certain. Things overbalance. And a civilization is toast.




"Christ, I'm a journo. So what can I do?"


Your best. As long as they let you. "Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might. For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave wither thou goest." Ecclesiastes.

Do your best. Now.

Be assured that the collective psyche - the mob or committee or parliament - is always dumber than the individual. The aim is to become an individual. Only the individual can repair things. We can't do anything collectively. That just breeds more corruption, tyranny, compliance. But individually, we can. See if you can nurture a flame. Even the littlest. With somebody. Now.




The block of jelly.


If Buddha and other individuals were right - everything is one.  Unity in diversity. (Know how a Buddhist orders a hot dog in Manhattan? "One with everything.")

So if everything is also one thing, then everything I do affects everything!

Imagine a huge block of jelly. Now imagine that you - yes tiny, insignificant you - poke the jelly down there way at the bottom. Goodness! Look! The whole vast jelly block shakes. Even way up there at the top. Not as much as it shook down where you are at the bottom. But a bit.
One thing is certain, even if you don't believe it yet.
No good initiative is lost.

Never!
Ever!
Somewhere, it has an effect!

So, go on along the road. Do your best. And do it now.