RonAmok!

The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. A.J. Liebling

It seems that I’ve drawn the pointy-end of the quill through a blog comment of mine. Here’s the story.

On July 25th, Lou Covey wrote a post about the cause and effect of a shrinking B2B news industry. In it, he highlighted seven points, of which I agreed with the first five, but had issues with the last two.

Here’s his item number 6:

The customers and investors have no way to know how you differentiate yourself anymore other than their own research… which primarily consists of reading really bad news releases.

And my commented response to it:

Customers and Investors aren’t limited to just reading “really bad news releases.” They also talk with one another…The difference between 1999 and today is that these groups have much better ways to communicate their pleasure or displeasure. They have email, blogging, user forums, or even those pesky trade shows that you mentioned. These are all valuable channels for objective, third-party research.

I was simply pointing out that people aren’t limited to only getting their information from “really bad press releases.” They still have choices. However, at no time did I imply that “the news media really isn’t necessary anymore.”

So you can imagine my surprise when I read the following from Lou’s July 28th post which said:

Ron Ploof had an interesting reply to my post on a marketing veep’s revelation about the death of B2B media. He posited the well-known premise that the news media really isn’t necessary anymore because engineers talk to each other through email, blogging, forums and trade shows. He said, “These are all valuable channels for objective third-party research.

Ummm…not exactly. Let’s try this a different way.

I’ve spent the past twenty years studying the history of technology and its affect on business. There is nothing new here. Technologies cause change and the people who are affected by that change always resist it. The agrarians resisted the manufacturers and the manufacturers in turn resisted the knowledge workers. From the displaced worker’s point of view, it always looks as if the world is ending. But from an economic perspective, the forced changes have always lead to growth. The same thing will happen here.

The news media world isn’t ending, folks, but it must change.

The reason is due to an inversion of the economics of influence. In the past, the masses were influenced by a select few who could afford the enormous costs associated with owning a printing press, a radio station or a television station. And with that influence, came power — one so great that the Federal Government decided to regulate it through various Telecommunications Acts. Businesses on the other hand, didn’t see this concentration of influence as a problem. Instead, they saw it as a vehicle to deliver messages and as a result, two new industries were born: advertising and public relations. Business now had two ways to tap into the power of the press: buying their way in through advertising or selling their way in through public relations. For generations, the resulting system of publishers, journalists, ad execs and PR folks worked together like a well oiled machine.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the office. Through technologies such as WordPress, iTunes, and YouTube, anyone can now own a printing press, a radio station, or a television station — for free. And through RSS, content in any form (text, audio and video) can be distributed around the world, to ultra niche, self-identifying audiences — again, for the cost of nothing.

As a result, the news media is now facing competition from the most unexpected of places. And not only that, they are handicapped financially because they still must carry unmatched costs such as ink, paper, fuel, or FCC licenses. The economics of influence, the fundamental foundation of the news media business, has been turned completely upside down. That’s what’s happening. I repeat, there’s nothing new here. New technologies force change. Those who adapt thrive; Those who don’t die.

So, no I don’t buy into “…the well-known premise that the news media really isn’t necessary anymore,” because there’s still a very important place for it — with one caveat. The industry must rebuild itself on the new economics of influence if it is to prosper.

I’ll end this post with the same words that I used to wrap-up the comment that sparked this discussion in the first place:

Lou, 5 years from now we’ll look back on this time and say to ourselves, “The answer was right in front of us. Why didn’t we see it?” I just hope it’s one of us gray-hairs who figures out the puzzle — ya know, as opposed to some snotnosed kid.

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Comments

OK, I’ll buy that one. The economics of the media for almost 300 years has not really been to sell influence, but eyeballs. The influence the media just gave away. Advertising has always been sold on the size of the audience and the journalists always said they were above the influence of the advertisers. But what the journalists did was what brought the audience and that influence was never monetized.

I’ve been using an analogy to prove to people that paying a journalist to write an objective article (or A/V podcast) was not a stupid idea. If you are sick, you go to a doctor to get a diagnosis. Do you pay the doctor to tell you the truth about your condition, or to tell you you have a sinus infection when it’s really lung cancer? Journalists are trained to research and develop an objective story in an easily consumable format. We rely on their honesty and attempt at objectivity.

Journalism needs to be separated completely from advertising and we need to pay good journalists accordingly to their ability to analyze, not because they tell us what we want to hear.

Lou Covey
August 5, 2008

OK, I’ll buy that one. The economics of the media for almost 300 years has not really been to sell influence, but eyeballs. The influence the media just gave away. Advertising has always been sold on the size of the audience and the journalists always said they were above the influence of the advertisers. But what the journalists did was what brought the audience and that influence was never monetized.

I’ve been using an analogy to prove to people that paying a journalist to write an objective article (or A/V podcast) was not a stupid idea. If you are sick, you go to a doctor to get a diagnosis. Do you pay the doctor to tell you the truth about your condition, or to tell you you have a sinus infection when it’s really lung cancer? Journalists are trained to research and develop an objective story in an easily consumable format. We rely on their honesty and attempt at objectivity.

Journalism needs to be separated completely from advertising and we need to pay good journalists accordingly to their ability to analyze, not because they tell us what we want to hear.

Lou Covey
August 4, 2008

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