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.