[Updated] Earlier this morning, Dan Gaydou (President of the newly-minted Mlive Media Group) announced that the Booth papers: Grand Rapids Press, Kalamazoo Gazette, Flint Journal, Jackson Citizen-Patriot and Muskegon Chronicle will be cutting distribution down to three days a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The announcements characterize the new venture as a “digital-first company.” Another big announcement was that MLive Media Group will merge with Advance Central Services Michigan.
What does it mean for the citizens of Michigan? I’m afraid it will be less detail and less of a local focus in their news coverage.
Even in the announcement of the move was somewhat disconcerting (and even incestuous):
- first an announcement was posted by Gaydou,
- second each of the affected papers issued a “Frequently Asked Questions” article detailing the changes:
- third the story was covered by Julie Hoogland from the Press: “Booth Newspapers and MLive.com into next era of news media”. Interesting here is while the Grand Rapids Press readers received coverage of the story from a local reporter, the readers of the Kalamazoo Gazette and Muskegon Chronicle did not (or at least not that I could find). Instead, the Grand Rapids Press story was added to their streams (something that will likely become more common).
This same business model going into place around the US and one of the consequences was unattributed recycling of news from one paper to another. Lest the local TV news media (which also covered this story) feel tempted to breathe any sighs of relief, they’re next – DVR saturation will likely reach a tipping point next year that will cause their advertisers to cut back significantly.
Twitter Case Study in The New Journalism
By coincidence, I happened to “report” on breaking news yesterday via Twitter as a power station exploded. After parking my car, I quickly tweeted a photo of the plume of smoke I had snapped and added all the details I had available:
What is the news media’s role in the act of journalism when citizens can easily capture and report on information so easily via social media?
- One could argue that it is to vet and fact-check that information – but average citizens are already doing that (just as they do it on Wikipedia).
- The next point one might argue is that the news media performs an investigatory function that citizens are ill-equipped to provide. Fair enough, but investigatory journalism is expensive and time-consuming – two financial hurdles that are hard to clear. The result is that it is being performed less and less frequently as news staffs and budgets are cut.
Take, for example, this electrical outage story. Beyond what I and other Twitter users posted, the investigation of the local news media consisted of contacting Consumers Energy for official comment (it turned out to be an errant squirrel that wandered into a substation). … Or did it? I’m not saying that the squirrel story is untrue – but what if it wasn’t? How would journalists discover the truth? Did any actually get visual confirmation of the charred squirrel or site of the explosion? – Probably not.
All of the local news media and even news outlets outside of Grand Rapids (including the Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press) covered the story and all 20 stories written ended up with virtually all the same facts (especially the ones that just re-ran the Associated Press account).
What The Future Holds
The business model relied upon by newspapers is clearly shattered beyond repair. Case in point: Journalism Professor and Author Jeff Jarvis pointed out on a recent episode of “This Week in Google“ (which I highly recommend) that the reason newspapers are going to this model is because those are the dates that they insert coupons/circulars in with the paper so the circulation tends to be far higher.
I frankly can’t believe there are that many dry-handed troglodytes out there clipping coupons with newsprint-smudged fingers, but apparently there are (particularly in a poor economy). CLEARLY this revenue stream cannot hold because coupons are being replaced with loyalty barcodes or electronic profiles that accomplish the same ends as coupons (but in a far more efficient fashion). Just as the classified ads could never compete against CraigsList.
The outlook appears bleak, until you consider that many behavioral studies have found that money does not motivate people to perform intellectual tasks very well. This reality is covered in detail by Daniel Pink in his book Drive: . This brief animation illustrates why we should have hope – talented people do great things for the satisfaction of helping others, achieving something or getting acclaim:
Let’s hope that principle stands. We have plenty of talented journalists available – we need to find a way to make sure they’re compensated fairly so that they can put their talents to work doing what they love. There’s no reason it can’t happen; newspapers ARE profitable despite what we’re told. They’re just not profitable enough for the investors of the publicly-traded conglomerates that own them.