State of the State of the News Media
March 22, 2013
I suppose I should this week address the annual Pew Research Center "State of the News Media" report, because it was in the news and it's, in part, about this industry. Pardon me, however, for a decided lack of enthusiasm on my part, based on a few things, namely:
- It's pretty much the same thing every year. More alternatives, less reliance on radio for news, cutbacks in the newsroom. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- It's nothing I haven't told you before, except I don't have a fancy name like "The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism," so I don't get the same mileage out of it.
- I keep thinking that the "Pew Research Center" is really a laser-tag place where guys run around with toy guns yelling "Pew! Pew pew pew!" Okay, I'm, like, 11 years old. Sorry.
Anyway, the study told you what you should already know. The financial picture isn't getting better. Public radio did a better job of preparing for the Digital Apocalypse than commercial radio. People are still consuming audio news, just from a more varied set of sources. Online is growing. HD Radio is an unmitigated disaster that doesn't work well and smells funny. Okay, I made up the smell part, but you get the idea. It's all stuff you've heard before.
So, what do we do with this information? I mean, besides resolve to get ourselves a fancy research-center-type name and issue important-sounding reports? Sorry for my cynicism, but when I see reports based on lists that are in turn based on someone pulling numbers out of one's butt, and surveys asking people if they listen rather than measuring actual listening, it reminds me that the threshold for being anointed an "expert" in this field is remarkably low. Anyway, what do we do with all this?
A few responses:
If you produce a quality product, you'll find equilibrium. Public radio's a perfect example: If over-the-air in-pattern listening is down, digital listening is up, so as long as the material is available however people want to consume it, there's a future. Ultimately, if I listen to "This American Life" or "Only a Game" or whatever as a podcast or on a stream as opposed to over my local station, I'm still listening. Same for, say, WTOP if I'm reading the website or listening to 103.5 or hearing a stream. You provide the material people want in the form they prefer. The rest will work itself out.
It's likely true that people are abandoning news outlets they don't think are serving them well anymore, but I'd be willing to bet that a huge portion of that is about newspapers, not broadcast, cutbacks in the newsroom or not. Radio news has taken a huge hit in staffing over the last decade, but the shrinkage in coverage is so much more obvious on the print side that I'll pick up our local papers here and sometimes wonder why they even bother running the presses anymore. Compared to the diminution of newspapers and magazines, radio news looks a lot healthier than it might otherwise appear. That doesn't mean things are great for radio news, though. Too many stations have abdicated their positions as news authorities rather than transition to provide news across all platforms. That's too bad, because with newspapers largely botching that transition themselves, and TV news not being a lot better for that, there's opportunity. Still.
And the study didn't address the strengths of traditional media that keep them viable in the face of competition, namely a) ubiquity and b) ease of use. Despite what you may have heard, regular ol' radio is still in cars and will be for a long time. As much of a futurist as I am, and as much as my own media consumption has moved to streaming and podcasts and online in general, when I get into the car, even with a receiver that does bluetooth audio, I'll just hit the local station presets for a quick hit of news or talk. I know how to get other stuff, but if I'm just running out to pick up some food at Trader Joe's up the street or fill the gas tank at Costco, it's less of a hassle to just put on KFI or KNX or something. There's still a lot of value in that, and the trick will be to continue to be as easy to access when the "connected dashboard" reaches critical mass. But we've talked about that before, so you know what to do, right?
And HD Radio still doesn't work for me. But you knew that, too.
Hey, I told you last week about this year's Revlon Run/Walk for Women in Los Angeles on May 11th, and how my wife Fran, a cancer survivor of seven years, and I will be participating once again -- we walk every year to celebrate survival and raise money through the Entertainment Industry Foundation for research and services dealing with women's cancer -- and how your donations will be appreciated. Well, then, don't wait - donate. (That rhymes! Cool.) You can do that at do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2013. Thank you!
Okay, what else we got here? Oh, right, All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, which, as always, has hundreds of stories and comments compiled with radio in mind, available by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. Free, all free. Check it out, then read "10 Questions With..." Jay Mohr, comedian, actor, and Fox Sports Radio host, who has some interesting perspectives on radio and life in general. Plus, come on, he was Bob Sugar! And Peter Dragon!
By the way, you really should follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, because I'm not above shamelessly begging for followers. Also, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, because I need all the "friends" I can get. It's SO lonely in cyberspace. Anyone still with me? Okay, then, come visit the other site I edit, Nerdist.com, and set your DVRs now for the return of "The Nerdist," March 30th at 10p (ET) on BBC America (or the following day on Space in Canada), after the half-season debut of "Doctor Who" and the debut of "Orphan Black."
Did I mention that you should donate to the Revlon Run/Walk for Women at do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2013 already? Yes? Okay, then I won't mention it again. Although I just did. So donate. Maybe it'll shut me up. And thank you!