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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Best of Times...Worst of Times

If we only knew then what we know now...

What a year we've just been through! Many media organizations cut back, some folded or declared bankruptcy and generally conveyed a mood of desperation - all trying to figure out what they must do to get through this economic downturn and wait for signs of new life.

Looking back over the year, we should have seen it coming:

News organizations large and small were sending out early indications that all was not well.

Whether it was the Washington Post or the New York Times or NPR - all began to turn inward, despite spending money on the election campaign where it needed to be spent, but looking for cuts everywhere else.

Overseas, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were covered less fully than before and foreign reporting played it's usual role of "canary in the economic coal mine," and according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press , foreign news was less reported this year, despite increased public interest in news from overseas.

Granted, during domestic election cycles, the foreign desks always have difficulty in getting their stories aired or printed. But this year, with fretful business managers hovering over the assignment desks, it should have been obvious that cuts were coming.

Now that the economic crisis is upon us, advertisers are turning away from their traditional reliance on newspapers and broadcasters. Despite audience research that indicates that core readers, viewers and listeners are precisely the demographic (slightly older, slightly more affluent, slightly more educated) that should be sought, advertisers are going after a younger demographic and the media that attracts them.

This may be more bad news for mainstream media (MSM) organizations in 2009 who now have to convince advertisers that they too, can appeal to that elusive demographic.

So predictions for 2009?

* MSM will try to get in the game and be competitive with the online media.

* MSM will do that by spending less on journalism and more on eye candy.

* MSM will do stories that are quick "turn-arounds" - single source stories (aka press release journalism) and crime. In effect, doing public relations for police departments even at a time when crime rates are dropping.

* More newspapers will drop printed editions and home delivery and as some have already started - go full time to internet editions.

* Broadcasters will stop seeing their news departments as "loss leaders" and force their news programs to adopt the values of "reality entertainment," a move some fear is already being initiated at the CBC.

* More newspapers will adopt the public broadcasting model and declare their papers to be private not-for-profits, thus removing them from the pressures of the shareholders.

If the economic crisis eases in late 2009, as some hope it will, could news organizations return to doing traditional journalism once secure financial conditions are restored? Should they? Or has the news media become just a more white collar version of the automotive industry? Can we afford to let the marketplace alone determine the fate of the media?

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