Whatever You Want To Be
March 25, 2016
There's a little media war going on in Cincinnati over which some folks in the newspaper industry are getting very upset. A little while back, a local TV station decided to put its website behind a paywall, and went out and hired an expanded staff to bulk up its content, and, recently, it decided to amp up its marketing with a campaign directly targeting the city's daily newspaper, with the hashtag #DropThePaper as the centerpiece.
Needless to say, newspaper people are treating this as disrespectful, wrong, crude, and a sign of the apocalypse. HOW DARE THEY? is the general sentiment. Don't they respect the pivotal role newspapers play in society? How can they be so cavalier?
My reaction is different, but first, let me ask you: Have you picked up a newspaper lately? Not the web version, but the paper kind? If you have, you may have noticed a few things: It's gotten smaller, not only in dimensions but thickness. Some papers -- the Gannett chain, which owns the Cincinnati paper, is doing this nationally -- have substituted a generic USA Today section for some sections, leaving local content pretty thin. And what's in the paper is generally what you read online the day before. In short, if newspapers are still claiming the high ground in newsgathering, the product they're putting out is no longer living up to the reputation. It's all online now.
Meanwhile, the suggestion that a TV station website can't be a replacement for a newspaper is also an archaic idea. Why CAN'T a TV station website be a legitimate news source on par with, or better than, a website representing a newspaper? And, for that matter -- here's where radio comes in -- why can't ANYONE'S website be a competitor in the news field? If newspapers long ago began to dismantle their own brands, why can't other media companies step into the breach and provide what people want and need from a news site?
The point is, looking at the WCPO-TV vs. Cincinnati Enquirer sniping as TV vs. newspapers is outmoded thinking. We're a few decades into the commercial Internet, and a lot of people in our business just can't see that the shackles are gone, the definitions of what your business is are no longer restrictive, and the opportunity to redefine what you do is unlimited. Here, though, I have to call out the radio companies that are telling Wall Street that they're digital media companies now, because that would be good if they were doing something different with their digital assets. Why is it that radio station websites are a) cookie cutter and b) mostly populated with generic, common content? Why aren't you generating something other than rehashed Us Weekly or BuzzFeed posts? Why does your radio brand need to mean your terrestrial signal and duplicative stream? Why are your digital assets being used mostly as passive promotion or superfluous additional content? If you really believe that you're a digital content producer, why can't you, too, compete with better news, better multimedia content, better everything?
Oh, right, money. But TV is in the same financial bind as radio is, and we see this paywall experiment. Anyone in radio rolling the dice that way? I'd like to know, and I'll relay good ideas in this column, because if anyone's trying to redefine this business, it's worth highlighting, and we, as an industry, tend to respond to such initiatives with scorn and derision... until one works, in which case everyone copies it and claims to have invented it. If someone really is trying something radical -- not just a new format or adding a live events division or slapping some podcasts on their websites, but something that breaks down self-imposed business barriers and has the potential to really change everything about their business -- we shouldn't reject it because "that's not what we do."
What the TV station is doing is pretty audacious. It may not work. Getting people to pay anything for a website is going to be very hard -- even if, as they're doing, you discount it to a cheap price and throw in extras like a digital subscription to -- ha! -- another newspaper in the bargain. I'm not sold that what they're doing will be perceived as an adequate replacement for the local paper, or worth paying for when the three rival TV stations with online news are still free. But at least someone's trying to throw out the definition of what a broadcast station can do, and it only takes one experiment that works to show the way for an entire industry. We need that kind of audacious thinking in the radio industry again, on a programming level, on a marketing level, on a business plan level. And if it puts us in the kind of media slapfight that's happening in Cincinnati, well, if there's anything we know, radio people are good at that kind of thing.
Whatever you do to redefine radio, though, you still have radio shows (or podcasts, or streams) to create. And you need content, for which we have some help: All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes for any kind of show, by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the new Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. Oh, and if you read last week's "10 Questions With..." Tama Fulton, KKWF (100.7 The Wolf)/Seattle personality and co-host of the new "True North Story" podcast, or even if you missed it (go back and read it already!), you'll want to come back and read this week's follow-up interview with her co-host and lifetime friend, John Hudson Messerall. He, like Tama, has a clear idea of what their show is about and what they're doing with it, and his eclectic (to say the least) background makes for an interesting read.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Hey, you're registered for the Worldwide Radio Summit in Hollywood on April 13-15, 2016, right? No? Hurry, because you will want to be there and we're expecting another full house. Also because for the first time, I'm emerging from my usual back-of-the-room spot to moderate a panel, and I think it's gonna be a great one, if I do say so myself. It's going to be on podcasting, and it's going to be focused on what you, as talent or programmers, can expect when you go into the digital realm, with a panel of folks who have been podcasting for years and can tell you what they've learned.
Those folks include my Nerdist boss Chris Hardwick, who created the Nerdist Podcast, the network for which I work, and an entire media empire of nerd culture; Dave Anthony, co-host of "The Dollop" and "Walking the Room," WGA Award-nominated TV writer and performer on IFC's "Maron," and one of the brains behind the L.A. Podfest and the All Things Comedy podcast network; Jackie Kashian, standup comic and creator of two very successful podcasts ("The Dork Forest" and "The Jackie and Laurie Show"); Alison Rosen, reporter turned Carolla sidekick turned host of her own popular show "Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend"; and Katie Levine, the Head of Production for the Nerdist Podcast Network, who can tell you the hows and whys of producing podcasts after doing just that for longer than just about anyone.
And that's only my panel. There's a whole agenda of great content for anyone in the radio business, especially programmers and talent. Seth Resler of Jacobs Media and our podcast section will also have a podcasting panel looking on the business side, with Panoply's Andy Bowers, Audible's Eric Nuzum, Libsyn's Rob Walch, and Raw Voice/Blubrry's Todd Cochrane. Steve Goldstein of Amplifi Media and our podcast section has a panel on the future of the radio industry with Jeff Pollack, The Current's Jim McGuinn, Triple M/Australia's Mike Fitzpatrick, Shazam's Peter Szabo, consultant Tim Zunckel. Fred Jacobs will have Techsurvey 12, CEOs like Ginny Morris, Jeff Smulyan, and Larry Wilson will be on hand, and there's a talent panel with folks you know, and music panels with programming minds from around the world, and much more. You should be there. You CAN be there. Find out all the details and register at worldwideradiosummit.com.
You'd think that for the closing, I'd do what I always do and talk about a certain alma mater's recent success in March Madness and making the Elite 8 and... no, can't jinx it. The less I say and the more I fear the inevitable disappointment, the better they seem to play. So ixnay on the Illanovavay talk for now. There'll be time for celebration or misery soon enough.