Journalism's Groundhog Day - the excuse that won't die

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Groundhog Day
Today’s the day that all the old arguments about what’s gone wrong with journalism and publishing come out to play: David Higgerson has discovered that the “original sin” argument that giving away our content free was behind journalism’s problems with the internet has moved from being a theory to being accepted wisdom:

If I talk to digital colleagues outside of our industry, they are agog that journalists still have the ‘free folly’ debate. My concern is the fact it’s becoming less of a debate, more accepted wisdom that the industry was wrong to give away content online. That’s what stood out in Paul’s article. It was less statement of opinion, more throwaway obvious statement of fact.

David goes on to make the case agains that viewpoint

The internet simply made it possible for people to pick and choose the content they consume, rather than receiving everything we thought they wanted. If we’d not bothered putting it online, they simply would have gone elsewhere, or managed without.

Meanwhile, over the pond, Matthew Ingram is dealing with the old chestnut that Craigslist killed the US newspapers:

The reality is that the decline of print advertising rates and the resulting effect on newspaper revenue would likely have occurred with or without Craigslist, driven by the explosion of webpages and ad providers and the advertising industry’s increasing desire to focus on digital markets, not print-based ones. And those factors were arguably compounded by the newspaper industry’s focus on dumping commodity news content onto the web without approaching it as a separate market, the way web-native providers did.

Which makes an interesting connection to Kevin Charman-Anderson’s excellent piece for the Media Briefing about the fact that print/digital integration might have been the bigger problem:

More than a decade ago, Gilbert also had statistical evidence that should have been a warning to newspaper executives that digital-legacy integration was not the answer to their problems. In fact, it was exactly the wrong thing to do.

So, what would have worked?

However, it is important to understand that while Gilbert says integration is a mistake, potentially a fatal one for your company, he is not simply advocating a digital first strategy. Key to his strategy is a dual transformation, creating a new disruptive digital company while also transforming the traditional print product.

How many print product do you know that have fundamentally transformed to recognise online disruption of people’s reading habits?

In his transformation of the legacy print and broadcast business, he said that it is important to understand that in the age of digital media, generalists are not as valuable as specialists. Local media should excel in this age, but instead they have suffered.

It’s a fascinating read, one that deeply challenges much of the received wisdom about where traditional journalism businesses have gone wrong.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.