The events of The New York Time's Jayson Blair situation has exposed a problem with the credibility we assign to our press. However, the biggest problem isn't that it occurred, but the response from the press themselves - angry, opinionated, and biased. Is this journalism?
Unobjective Disinformative News
If reporters are just writers, as opposed to being actual experts at the "beats" they cover, if they have to often "protect sources", if their newsroom continuously falls prey to the needs of adsales, who's only job it is to please an advertiser, if a severe lack of diversity in their newsrooms creates tensions among the younger and older reporters, males and females, Jews and everyone else, then no standard really exists to define the sort of unobjective, disinformative news product that actually gets produced. (Editorial Note: This publication is making no attempt to stir anti-Semitic sentiments. Anyone who has worked at almost any news gathering organization is aware that it is indeed hard to discuss the industry without recognizing the strong Jewish presence at the helm of most news-gathering organizations.)
This is not generalizing every news organization, but as consumers' media habits change, more media options are developed, and the cost of producing news in particular skyrockets, the majority of news outlets are faced with either a no-holds-barred effort to attract audiences, resulting in the above-mentioned scenarios or maintaining their editorial objectivity, at the risk of loosing audience. (Quality has nothing to do with objectivity.)
There's no question that experience is the best tutor - it helps you hone your investigative and probing ability, helps you develop your own writing style, helps you become a responsible journalist. However, the only thing most learn from their experience is how to have their opinions at the ready. This hurts you, the reporter, because as you become accustomed to stating your opinion-wrapped-in-few-facts, you perpetuate narrow-mindedness, but more important, your opinions hurt the masses, who aren't sophisticated enough to discern the difference between the opinions and facts of their information gatekeepers, and become narrow-minded themselves. In your opinion as a news consumer, do you feel the press' coverage of Martha Stewart or Jayson Blair has made it easy to form your own opinion or have you permitted your opinion to be formed? (Contrary to the popular beliefs of news-gathering organizations, most consumers aren't just interested in watered-down infotainment. But if that's all you're providing, and our choices are limited, then is our consumption of it really representative of what we really want from you?)
Irrational Perceptions of News Consumer
In continuous observations of irrational consumer behavior, we've noticed that news organizations believe their readers value 1) price over content, 2) local pride over quality, and 3) entertaining, pre-packaged opinions over education and thinking. Competing news providers often allow their readers to perceive them as having equivalent content as their competitor and fight for our hearts through our wallets. Others tout their home-town-ness in the hopes that some sort of affection towards neighborhoods is all they need to win our sentiments and dollars. And of course, any news organization that tells us what to think by giving us just enough facts to wrap around their personal opinions is irrationally believed to be what we prefer.
Add Advertisers To This Mix
To complicate these perceptions of the news consumer, advertisers like GM have done studies that tell them consumers utilize newspapers to learn about sales, get information about certain product, and willingly engage themselves with newspaper content and advertisements during their decision making process. The problem with these studies are that they're proprietary (meaning that giant advertisers don't like sharing these insights with their agencies or media vendors, so insights can't be verified and applications to other media lost) and I don't believe they take into account the involvement habits of varying demographic and lifestyle segmented readers (i.e. does a business person that's only looking for headlines relevant to their industry really stop and look at ads? Does that teen that goes for the internet first, really engage in any newspaper content when they're looking for their first car in newspaper sales announcements?)
More Research Is Needed On The News Consumer
As newspapers and other news-gathering organizations fail to diversify their audience from older America, they believe that they're still independent of other news sources consumers have available to them. This is evident by their attempts to branch out into other media like the internet and television. Although studies show that multi-media combinations lowers the cost of news production, while maintaining a relatively high level of quality, many still don't understand the impacts they're having on their audiences (i.e. how have readers' habits with news brands been altered as a result of content being accessible via internet and broadcast? What is "quality" and at what point does it reach a high standard?) And unfortunately, there aren't any resources available to understand this, putting news organizations in a difficult position when they have to quantify the value of their audience to interested advertisers. This ultimately results in experimentation with the news product, which contributes to the deterioration of a news brand as a single source for readers, continuing the vicious cycle of eroding audience.
Recommendations for News-Gathering As An Effective Business Model
The FCC has loosened audience-reach ceilings and media-ownership rules, meaning news-gathering is poised to become more cost efficient through the shared resources of mergers and acquisitions. In the meantime, cross-platform media vendors have become more creative and responsive to advertiser needs, making the relationship both profitable and a force that has altered consumer acceptance of excessive marketing. But both these events don't take into consideration the independent news organization that has only one medium, one audience, and limited sources of revenue.
al berrios & co. recommends
1) Before launching, re-engineering, or re-organizing, research your market. How can you deliver a relevant news product that your audience will consistently tune in to or pick up without knowing what they love and hate?
2) Clearly and concisely distinguish your news brand from your competitor with a single USP.
3) Upon branding, maintain this consistency via all external communications, including via the delivery of your news product.
4) Although it may appear as though I'm calling for an end to entertaining news coverage, I am simply reinforcing the recommendations given at the last news media event I attended, which was an increased balance of entertainment and information, including more thorough reporting that answers the why's and how's, not just the other four w's. Don't underestimate your market and don't be scared to diversify your content. Initiate coverage of additional news subjects. With a brand name, almost anything you offer will be worth your audience's time and will help you acquire new audiences.
5) Bring creativity back to reporting. Make it informative, but interesting, not exactly entertaining. al berrios & co. has been tracking the simplification of culture and how consumers are increasingly interested in expressing their own creativity and appreciating the creativity of others. Story telling has become a national past-time which people feel is important to their culture. News can be the same thing.
6) Pretend advertisers aren't your only source of revenue. (After all, they don't consider you as their only choice to reach your market.) What other asset do you own that you can make money from? Your audience. I've always claimed that your audience should be one of your most important sources of income. But how do you convince the typical twenty-to-thirty-something guy to pay for your news? Perhaps get them to buy something? Maybe you can become a shopping-channel alternative? And do news stories about the great products available exclusively through you? Whatever solution you arrive at, remember, with the relationship you've established with your audience through your branding efforts, they are more willing than you think to pay you for certain things. This is attributable to the value they place on you and your content.
Write to Al Berrios
- The Future of News Content
Related alberrios.com Sections
- Print media
The recommendations, commentary and opinions published herein are based on
public information sometimes referenced via hyperlinks. Any similarities or
likeness to any ideas or commentary from any other sources not referenced
is purely coincidental. al berrios & co. cannot control any results occurring
from advice obtained from this publication nor any opinion(s) conveyed by
any reader of this publication.
(c) 2005. All Rights Reserved. al berrios & company, inc. Published by al berrios & co. This Report may not be reproduced or redistributed in any form without written permission from al berrios & co., subject to penalty.