The Words Remain

During a recent conversation with a wiser older man than myself, a question of the future of my industry was posed. The question was: “What’s going to happen to newspapers?”

The question came on the heels of a conversation in which each of us described some of the sweeping technological changes we had beheld in our respective lifetimes.

While I recalled a time when few of my peers owned personal computers and even fewer owned cellular phones, he could remember when television sets were considered a fad.

For those of his generation, print journalism dominated the landscape. For mine, they are all but redundant in the face of our up-to-the-minute Internet Age.

Some would counter that I lack both the experience as well as the business acumen to pontificate so broadly about this field, to which I would heartily agree. However, as someone born in the last 40 years, I would venture that I have a strong grasp of the spirit of this age.

If nothing else, but as a consumer myself.

Consumer culture is, almost by definition, a fickle creature.

I think that for many, myself included, whatever is accepted as the cultural norm when you’re growing is just considered the norm.

Of course, any new innovation that comes along before you’re age 30 is considered brilliant, but any new innovation that comes after that milestone is the beginning of the end of the world as we know it… that is, until it goes mainstream.

If you don’t believe me, take a glance at how many “baby boomers” and senior citizens are on Facebook or are Twittering to their grandkids from iPhones.

One compelling gauge of how powerful a media market is rests in no small part upon what it is able to generate in advertising revenue. For example…

According to media agency ZenithOptimedia, online advertising spending will rise from nearly $50 billion worldwide in 2008 to over $80 billion by 2012.

Currently television brings in the most ad revenue, followed by newspapers.

The Internet is at third but has closed the gap considerably in just the last 10 years.

Trailing the pack are magazines, radio, and outdoor billboard signage.

So, what does this mean for newspapers? What’s going to “happen” to us?

Well, to quote that great American poet Bob Dylan, I think we’d better “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’” and by “livin’” I mean we’re going to have to take a hard look at what’s happening around us, lest we fall too far behind.

Philosopher and social theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in 1964 but I don’t think that’s true anymore … if ever it was.

However the medium, the message remains the message.

Whether that information is disseminated via newsprint, video, radio, or HyperText Markup Language: the message is the message.

If I write a story about a crime that has taken place and that information (with a bit of reformatting) is then read in front of a television camera by one of my more handsome counterparts, is it not still the same story?

Lofty concepts aside, how does this relate to the business of media?

Because it’s all about access.

Print media is challenged right now between limiting levels of access to avoid losing cost.

Henderson Daily News does not update the website until at least a day after the paper has been published.

I know for a fact that many readers, who do not subscribe or even bother to read the print version, tune in promptly at 8 a.m. each morning to read tomorrow’s news.

Recently, I took a phone call from an area resident who complained about this practice. When I mentioned that it didn’t make good business sense to make our product freely available, she countered that neither did it make good business sense for our website to always be a day late.

Maybe she’s on to something.

In subscribing to a single “package” of television service at a single rate, one has access to any number of channels. Of course, more money brings more channels but, for most, a basic package with a few supplemental is adequate.

So, a broad range of advertising reaches a broad range of subscribers. This is both a strength and a weakness.

Newspapers have less access because of the “static” nature of their media, which limits how quickly it can provide the information, while at the same time allows us to dig a bit deeper than more immediate media.

The Internet, however, is superior to both in how it is able to be both immediately accessible and updated in real-time.

However, you’re still talking about someone somewhere sitting down at a desk and writing something.

Whether those words are printed out in black and gray, read on the television by a pretty face or over the radio by a husky voice, there will always be a need for someone with enough language skill to adequately communicate the facts of the matter.

The forms may change, but the words remain.

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