Friday, October 14, 2005

Media's Shifting Business Model

Shoshana Zuboff made an interesting point in this Fast Company article:

I felt as though I had just stumbled upon the clandestine documents of the elders of Davos. Want to know the secret weapon in America's race for productivity and global competitiveness? It's Althea! The much-touted self-service economy is actually a brilliantly concealed strategy to outsource American jobs. Instead of sending them overseas, though, we are sending them after hours to Althea and the other 54 million of us.

Jobless recovery? Hah! The recovery is throwing off jobs aplenty. They're just unpaid -- no salaries or benefits, only overtime. We join together each evening to complete the work our corporations can no longer afford to pay for

Cable news networks have been eager adopters of this new business model. In conventional journalism, reporters do interviews, assemble, verify, and weigh facts, and then write a story that has some coherence. The story was the public face of the newspaper or news broadcast. On cable, however, the interviews are the public content. The viewers are left with the task of weighing its significance and assessing the credibility of the people on screen.

What was once an unseen activity that was one of the costs of production is now center stage as the product-the content that advertisers pay for.

This is not a matter of left or right. Clinton-defender Greta van Sustren operates this way on Fox but so does Republican Joe Scarborough over on MSNBC. That bastion of journalistic excellence-CNN-has Nancy Grace who is one of the worst offenders.

The profit motive trumps ideology and professional pride.

The new model raises a couple of interesting points. First, this outsourcing to the audience plays into the hands of bloggers and other competitors of the traditional media. If paid media will not weigh and sift, then others will and they will attract readers.

Second, the cable news model undercuts the traditional media's assertion that they engage in a journalism of verification while bloggers and talk radio represent a journalism of assertion. How can NBC News maintain its brand as a serious, verifying news organization when MSNBC has Rita Cosby doing a show that is mostly raw interviews without verification or assessment?

There is a bleed-over for print journalism. Newsweeklies like Time will find it harder to maintain their niche-slower but more knowledgeable-when their reporters show up cheek-by-jowl with pundits and spinners on shows that specialize in raw talk.

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