Posts about oversupply

On journalistic oversupply

Michael Parekh:

So, there aren’t any fast-acting, silver-bullet solutions for newspapers. Just, slow, painful evolution to a “right-sized” organization and business model. Like industries have done in the face of technology-driven change for a countless years.

The ego of the anchors

After a network anchor was nearly killed in the Middle East, we still have the networks sending their talking heads there, in hopes they won’t be blown off. Why? All they do is stand and read the Teleprompter, the same as they do back in the studio. What do they add?

ABC’s Charlie Gibson was humble enough to say:

“Just because the guy who anchors flies in doesn’t mean he knows it better than the people who are on the ground,” said Gibson.

“If I come in, or Katie comes in or Brian comes in, does that necessarily increase how good the coverage is?” asked Gibson. “Does it necessarily mean it’s going to be better because you have an anchor there?”

I agree. So why does he go?

“I think probably it calls more attention to the story. But I’m very mindful of the fact that the people who regularly cover the beat know it best, and I don’t want to do anything in terms of anchor travel to preempt the prerogatives of those who really know the stories best.”

I think Gibson’s attitude about what the stars add or don’t add to coverage is exactly right. But I also think that the idea that sending an anchor alone brings more attention to a story is sadly egotistical and not just of Gibson but of the networks and the profession.

This is ego as journalism. It’s no different, at its heart, than my favorite hobby horse about journalistic oversupply: Sending 15,000 journalists to the political conventions just so you can have a byline. It says the story is important. It says we’re important. It’s ego.

After the attack on Bob Woodruf, there is, of course, another angle to this story: Networks putting anchors, their crews and their families at risk. I salute Katie Couric for saying straight out that she will not go to a war zone because she should not make her children orphans. Eat the Press disagrees, at first, saying this will affect her gravitas (they then have second thoughts).

Gravitas, my ass. They read Teleprompters. And they look silly doing it in safari gear.

: UPDATE: Well, so much for my praise of Couric. Page 6 at the NY Post says that Access Hollywood has corrected its Couric quotes.

: LATER: E-the-P’s Rachel Sklar emails to say that she wasn’t playing the gravitas card herself but was predicting what the gravitasmongers would do this with… if, in fact, Couric had really said it. Rachel and I agree about Couric’s family obligations and the need for good sense.

Too many journalists

The accepted wisdom in the news biz is that you can never have too many journalists and that the ad and circ crunch hitting papers will hurt papers by reducing newsroom staff. I’ve been questioning that wisdom here.

But sitting on another darned panel yesterday, Chrystia Freeland, ME of the FT in the US, said it better than I have. We were singing two-party harmony as I wondered why every newspaper needs a movie critic when the movies aren’t local and she questioned the need for the Miami Herald to have its own Moscow bureau — back in the heyday when she was reporting there herself — to get that apparently unique Miami view of the USSR.

Then she said that news is “an industry with a lot of oversupply that is now exposed.” I liked that hard economic talk about the business. It reminds us that we are an industry and need to reexamine our business assumptions like every other industry.

So maybe the problem with journalism today isn’t that there are too few reporters and and editors but too many. I’ve talked before about the foolishness of sending 15,000 reporters to the political conventions, about papers sending TV critics to junkets or golf writers to tournaments. Inside the newsroom, too, there are overwrought processes. Meanwhile, of course, revenue is sinking and staff will follow.

But rather than treating this as an endless retrenchment, the ballsy editor would take this bull by the horns and undertake an aggressive reinvestment strategy. Why not cut that staff today? Find your essence — hint: it’s local, local, local. Streamline now to put out a better focused and better print product.

Then make a deal with the owners to take the saved labor expenses and invest them immediately in digital interaction. I don’t mean moving old copy editors over to online and teaching them HTML to join the spare staffs there. I mean hiring new people with new specialties: people to get out into the communities and recruit and help support citizens to join in networked reporting at a local, local, local level.

And then shame the publisher into doing likewise with a sales staff that has spent a generation maintaining ever-dwindling lists of advertisers and not really selling n ew business, since there isn’t any. Trim there, too. And there, too, don’t take an old classified sales guy and try to train him in online. Invest in technology and marketing to create your local Googles: extremely efficient and thus inexpensive self-service advertising for new classes of advertisers who could not afford your marketwide print or online products. Maybe recruit citizens to help sell you on commission. And build distributed at networks across citizens’ sites. More on the biz guys later.

I come back to Freeland’s very clear statement: We are in oversupply. It’s time — past time — to face that and act on it.