Posts about Media

TV’s next

Young Broadcasting, once – but no longer – a forward-thinking TV company, just filed for bankruptcy under the crushing $13 $1-billion debt load. This follows the bankruptcy of cable company Charter and, of course, TV-station-owner Tribune company. And let’s not forget radio giant Clear Channel, with $19 billion in borrowing, tapping its last-resort debt and Sirius-XM (whose stock I own) nearing bankruptcy while even Muzak crosses the line.

We’ve been wringing hands over newspapers and magazines but TV and radio aren’t far behind. Broadcast is next.

It’s a failure of distribution as a business model. Distribution is a scarcity business: ‘I control the tower/press/wire and you don’t and that’s what makes my business.’ Not long ago, they said that owning these channels was tantamount to owning a mint. No more. The same was said of content. But it’s relationships (read: links) that create value today.

Young tried to build relationships, once upon a time. At WKRN in Nashville, Mike Sechrist did amazing work starting blogs, buildilng relationships with bloggers, training the community in the skills of the TV priesthood. But he left and all that disappeared. Been there, done that, I can imagine executives saying as they try to stuff the hole in the dike with borrowed dollars. Didn’t work.

The local TV and radio business, once a privilege to be part of, is next to fall. Timber.

Magazines don’t look so slick now

First, the grim reaper came for newspapers….

Now magazines are looking bad and worse by the day. The latest: A major distributor is adding a surcharge, according to Keith Kelly in the NY Post.

Anderson News earlier this week informed publishers that it would impose a 7-cent charge for each copy of a magazine that it delivers to stores, and warned that any publisher that refuses to pay the fee could no longer count on Anderson to distribute its magazines….

Publishers, which have until Feb. 1 to agree to pay the new fee, are balking at Anderson News’ move, which would drive up costs at a time when most magazines are hurting. Indeed, American Media, which is already on the brink of bankruptcy, could be hit with a bill of up to $12 million, one source estimated. Another source said People, which has one of the best sell-through rates in the business, could be hit with up to $15 million in extra charges….

Magazines have a sell-through rate of around 38 percent and the surcharge would apply not to just the copies that are sold but to all unsold copies as well.

And magazine advertising is falling in the dumper – and it’s sure to get worse as the impact of the crash deepens. The Wall Street Journal reports at 17% plunge in ad pages in the fourth quarter against a year ago. For the year, they were off 12%.

TV’s next as auto, retail, and consumer categories suffer.

And they say the business model for the internet is crazy. At least it has no physical costs. Oh, I know, media online is supported by advertising, too, but the real opportunity there is to replace mass ads with a mass of niche ads. That is what Google did. Though Google, too, will feel the impact of the crash, it has room to grow while mass media do not. The crash is only accelerating — as in pouring accelerant on a fire — the fundamental shift in the economics of media. The change is big, fundamental, and permanent.

After the industry association (and the industry)

Following my bum’s rush from a industry association meeting yesterday – not a big deal on any scale; just personally aggravating, insulting, and embarrassing – I got to thinking (now there’s the danger) about the future of the industry association … and of industries. I wonder whether there is much of one.

By being ejected yesterday, the group decreed that I was an outsider. By one definition, that’s clear: I’m not a member; I don’t pay dues. But by a more sensible definition – we’re in this together, we people who care about the future of news – I’d say they’re defining insider way too narrowly, dangerously so. As I harrumphed out, I said this is the problem with the industry: It is too closed, still. It is not hearing enough new voices and perspectives and ideas. And this trade association is only exacerbating that insularity. Instead of calling it an echo chamber, perhaps my aural reference should have been to a crypt.

And as I walked out, I started to wonder why the people in that room need a trade association anymore. Isn’t Meetup the new trade association? If people in the industry want to get together to talk about their problems and search for solutions together, can’t they just arrange a meeting at a Starbucks? And wouldn’t it be better to open the tent wider – to expand the definition of inside – and get new people with new ideas to those meetings?

I will volunteer to play host to such meetings here at CUNY. Helping news transform is part of our mission, so we should. I’ll bet other universities would agree. Indeed, as budgets are cut back and trade association dues are lopped off, there’ll be a need for such ad hoc meetings – more need than ever. (Note, by the way, that the outsiders are getting together on their own at News Barcamp and we’re playing host to part of it at CUNY.)

And the wheels kept spinning. If there’s less need for trade associations – if they could even be dangerous because of the very limitations that define them – then doesn’t that indicate a diminution of the role of the trade (or industry or guild or craft or union, for that matter) in the future, when the tools get democratized and anybody can pick them up, when you don’t win through control of scarcity anymore but through supporting abundance? The idea of a closed industry and its closed association controlling a closed segment of media or the economy becomes absurd. In short: Who made you publishers and not you?

: BTW: There was a report that it was the WSJ that had me bounced. I didn’t think that was the case and Jay Rosen tweeted some reporting: It’s not.

: LATER: A rather lengthy addendum, in response to a Jay Rosen comment, here.


I was invited to speak to a media trade organization today – I’ll spare them the specifics – with the assignment of provoking discussion about new models, which I’m happy to do, even if I do often hear the same old lines and take the same old arrows. I also hear new challenges and learn from that. I was also looking forward to spending the rest of the day with the group to hear about their ideas and opportunities and needs were and, at their invitation, to share a drink at the end of it. I was going to get a chance to catch up with people I’ve worked with over many years and meet some new people I was looking forward to getting to know and I would learn a lot. It was an off-the-record session, which may not be ideal – for them – but is pretty standard; I’m used to that and abide by the desire.

But after I finished talking and sat down to hear the next panel, I was ejected from the meeting. It wasn’t anything I said, I don’t think. It was that they now wanted a closed meeting. As I was rather unceremoniously rushed out, still noshing on my cookie, grabbing my coat and hat and trying not to let the door hit me in the ass on the way out, I turned to the room and said, “One last thing: Think open-source, people.” It got a laugh and even a hand.

I was angry – insulted and embarrassed. But the problem is worse for this trade group and its industry. Talk about an echo chamber. What these people need is hear more new voices – newer than old me. What they really need to do is share their challenges and ideas openly and hear new perspectives and new answers from unexpected sources. Hearing the same old stuff from the same old group will get them nowhere. Witness the last 15 years.

If I were such a group, I’d be bringing in people from many different backgrounds and perspectives – from bloggers to technology executives to inventors to investors to customers to kids – and share quite openly my business with them (it’s not as if media’s problems are a secret!) to get new ideas and solutions. But then, that is the reflex I have learned here, online. That, sadly, is still not how media people think. As a group – not to a man – they’re still closed. Too bad. That will hurt them. It already has.

: LATER: A rather lengthy addendum, in response to a Jay Rosen comment, here.

What is literacy?

It’s time for new definitions of literacy just as we need new definitions of media.

I’ve been talking with lots of people lately – academics, foundation and government folks – about the need for more media literacy training today as media is becoming more expansive and thus confusing.

But I emphasize that media literacy today must encompass not just the consumption but the creation of media. Media literacy means being able to find and discriminate among sources of information and being able to create content and understand how it fits into the larger sphere of information and identity.

But now break media literacy down into its component definitions. What does literacy itself mean today: reading, finding, discriminating, what else?

An annual survey of literacy out of Central Connecticut State University frets that declining newspaper readership is a sign of reduced literacy. No surprise: I’ll argue with that.

Jack Miller, author of the survey, says: “This study attempts to capture one critical index of our nation’s well-being — the literacy of its major cities–by focusing on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.” But, of course, the last of those has an impact on and even redefines all the other indicators.

And the problem is that even in its definition of the internet, the study still relies on views of media in pre-internet terms: “1. Number of Internet book orders per capita; 2. Number of unique visitors per capita to a city’s internet version newspaper; 3. Number of webpage views per capita to a city’s internet version newspaper.” What about reading – and interacting with and creating – new media not related to the old?

I don’t want to mischaracterize Miller’s work. He is trying to connect various activities associated with literacy. The story about his survey says:

That concern was that declining newspaper readership was caused by increasing online newspaper readers. This was the same assumption that having a book available online meant fewer local booksellers and less use of libraries.

However, what Miller found was just the opposite.

Examining the data for this and his past surveys, Miller found that top ranking cities for library use also have more booksellers, and that cities with more booksellers also have more people buying books online, and that cities with higher per capita newspaper circulation rates also had a higher proportion of people reading newspapers online.

“Cities that rank highly in one form of literate behavior are likely to rank highly in the other forms and practices of literacy,” Miller said.

He noted that a literate society tends to practice many forms of literacy not just one or another.

Good. But we still need to redefine literacy – as we also understand that the internet is not a medium. To quote Doc Searls, the internet is a place. It’s a means of making connections and creating. I went around this track a few times with Howard Weaver in a different discussion. He said that “the internet is NOT a source of news; it’s a delivery system.” I argued that the internet is not just a means of delivery for one-way distribution of media as a product; the internet is a means of collaboration, creation, and curation (alliteration unintentional). Paper is a medium; the internet is not. Jay Rosen also pointed to the problem of trying to view these overlapping structures as if they were separate when he tweeted regarding Pew’s latest: “‘Net Overtakes Newspapers As News Source’ is a weird headline because newspapers are the main ‘source’ of the Net’s news.” (For now, I’ll add.) And what’s a newspaper when a newspaper goes online? 140 characters later, Jay added: “People had organized their media headsets like so: print, radio, TV, now Internet! Re-organizing is so painful they’d rather not make sense.” The dictionary’s behind, too: “Media – the main means of mass communication (esp. television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet).” Except it’s not just mass now and it’s not just communication and the internet isn’t a medium; other than that….

So back to the start: We must redefine media as we redefine literacy.

Media is no longer broken into separate means of presentation and delivery; they are all mixed in together online (as I tell journalism students, while hacks in my era had to decide among media once for a career, now they must make that decision each time they go to gather and tell a story). The internet, as a replacement for media, brings in so much more functionality: the ability to search, create, analyze, curate, track, interact, follow….

Media literacy, then, must embrace all those activities and skills, not just reading but:
* knowing how to focus on a need for information and express that by crafting a query to find an answer;
* knowing how to judge the relevance and reliability of sources – including the PageRank-like skill of judging sources on sources;
* knowing how to create (and remix) content across all media types;
* knowing how to collaborate;
* understanding the impact of facts on perspective and perspective on opinion;
* understanding the impact of identity and anonymity;
* understanding the relationship of pieces of information that make up a larger story via links;
* understanding how to make and find corrections…

And on and on. There’s a lot of good thinking on the topic: Here’s Dan Gillmor’s list of principles of media literacy. Howard Schneider is running a Knight-backed curriculum in news literacy at Stony Brook; here’s a list of Schneider’s key skills. Here’s an article on Ofcom’s efforts in media literacy in the UK, which says: “A media literate person can access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts.”

I’d like to see more discussion of new definitions of media, literacy, and media literacy. What do you think? What are the new definitions and new skills?