It’s not the platform, redux

The minute I hit “publish” on the post below (and what an anachronistic verb that is, eh?), I started reading Bob Cauthorn’s screed on the future or lack thereof for newspapers. We’re singing in harmony. After predicting that large papers in the U.S. will show circulation declines of 9 to 15 percent this year, he says:

To put the cherry on top of the “bad news is really good news” sundae, the industry will talk about “platform shift.”

Good old platform shift. It’s a popular idea among editors who, in reality, couldn’t attract a new reader with a free back massage.

The notion of platform shift — people moving from print to web just, you know, because — is a comfort to the media establishment as it suggests people still really, really, really love their product, they’re just selecting a different distribution mechanism.

Nonsense. The platform shift doctrine is a dangerous — and for some media companies, ultimately fatal — illusion that blinds the industry to necessary changes in the core product. Platform shift is the argument for the status quo: We don’t have to do anything different. We don’t have to change. We just take our super-wonderful content and shove it down a different pipe and everyone can retire happy.

Hey, platform shift is a no-brainer! Problem is, you need brains now to save newspapers. Active brains. Big ones. With fresh ideas and no fear.

Why? Because as readers flee and advertisers follow and confused newspaper executive fiddle with their Blackberries the one thing that almost certainly won’t be discussed as the cause for readership decline will be the product itself….

The spin of the traditional media continues: “It’s really all about brand anyway. We’re a trusted brand and we’ll blast that brand at you through any hose you want. Brand, brand, brand….”

He argues that newspapers started blathering brand and stopped thinking product and that’s the problem. I pretty much agree. This is the Brigadoon industry that fell asleep and missed the future. And, worse, this is too often a deaf profession that forgot how to listen. Journalists think they still own trust but you can’t own trust — you can only earn it — and they lost much of it long ago. But I will argue that Bob’s still thinking about a world in which we have a product we sell. I say that doesn’t go far enough.

The internet isn’t a medium, it’s a means — a means of enabling people to do what they need to do and get what they want.

So see the post below: How can journalism get out of the business of controlling the news and get into the business of enabling it, bringing together people who know news with people who want to know it and bringing together advertisers with audience, still, to help support that. In that world, our asset is not ownership or distribution of content but, indeed, trust. Is the newspaper brand still relevant in that new world? I don’t know. And that is every bit as disturbing for the industry as Bob’s circulation predictions.

  • My experience has been that this attitude is just as prevalent in the television industry.

    TV execs look at the online world, and have convinced themselves that somehow all they need to do to make buckets of money is repurpose their current content and editorial approach to another medium.

    And ultimately, I think it’s as doomed an approach as the one being pushed by newspaper execs. The only difference is that the newspaper industry is about five years ahead of TV in the “getting smacked by new approaches” bell-curve.

  • Inflammatory Q: Are you allowed to write about the craziness at the NYTimes? I ask because this appears to be the first time you’ve been scooped by the brilliant but less than prolific Jay Rosen. Can we assume your lack of comment means you don’t care for the recent pay per Bush bash Op-Ed system?

  • Rick:

    The problem for newspapers and television appears to be as sources of local news. For national and international coverage (so far), TV seems to have a leading position as the source of online video feeds. In this sense bbc, msnbc, cnn and so on seem to have pulled off the first steps towards “platform shift” rather than being confounded by it. The good people at Lost Remote are on top of these trends. Of course, I am only talking about the popularity of these ventures, as in numbers of hits. Their journalistic quality or their profitability are other considerations. For those it seems too soon to tell.

  • ToddG

    I don’t think ‘publish’ is necessarily anachronistic, at least not in denotation. The first definition I looked up shows ‘publicare’, “make public” as a/the distant Latin root. So it doesn’t appear the word itself is tied to any specific medium. I suppose common usage has tied it more to print, but maybe better to liberate it than try to come up with a new term…

  • I thought the decline of newspapers was due to the fact that most people drive to work now instead of taking mass transportation.
    If you drive you have no time to read the paper in the morning or afternoon.
    Putting it online isn’t going to help unless you plan to read it at work!

    The lack of diversity is also an issue. If people can’t find publications with an outlook similar to their own they’re less likely to read it. Back in the day New York had 100 dailies.
    Now we have 100,000 blogs…

  • Fred Z

    Don’t forget the hostility. Some folks (me) are so upset at newspaper elitism, stupidity and lies that we are hoping they’ll decline or fail. I often refuse to cough up a buck for the local rag, even if a front page story looks interesting or there’s something I do want to read. I get it online elsewhere or go to McDonalds, buy a coffee, and read one of the free copies. I’d rather Micky D had the buck than the local rag.

    A question for circulation auditors. McDonald’s staff tell me they are not charged for the 30 copies delivered every day by the paper. Is that paid circulation?

  • Let’s play buzzmachine-buzzword-bingo!
    Journalists don’t own trust… strawmen do.
    Internet is not a medium, but a means; not a thing, but place… maybe let’s call the whole thing off and call it a metaphor?
    Not a platform shift… a paradigm shift! (why can’t these papers get their shift together?)

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