I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy

The news business is imploding.

CBS Television just recently let a couple of hundred employees go at its local TV news operations. A few weeks earlier CBS pruned its radio news operations nationwide.

Newsweek is offering over 100 of its staffers including some pedigreed reporters and correspondents early retirement.

The New York Times, Tribune – I could go on and on.

Rupert Murdoch is one of the few said to be hiring at The Wall Street Journal. He knows something that the others don’t, apparently.

The newspaper business has been in decline long before the advent of the Internet.

All this is unfortunate, but explainable.

News reporting sucks.

Look at the cable networks.

MSNBC is the left wing answer to Fox. Chris Mathews seems to be imitating himself these days or that famous Saturday Night Live parody. Keith Olbermann’s scorched earth reporting attacks President Bush until he becomes a lame duck and then he takes a new number and Hillary Clinton is now it. In a way Olbermann has become a lot like the guy he hates – Fox’s Bill O’Reilly.

CNN doesn’t really do news. They do a lot of promos, though.

ABC World News isn’t really about the world. CBS Evening News is soft and Brian Williams is not Tom Brokaw and neither is his show like the NBC News that preceded him.

Audiences for television news are aging – rapidly. Luckily a lot of them can’t hear the lasers and sound effects that accompany everything on the screen that is called “Breaking News” or “News Alerts”. Watch all those erectile dysfunction drugs and blood pressure or cholesterol medications being advertised.

Local TV news is also unremarkable.

Top-rated KABC Channel 7 Eyewitness News in Los Angeles does little serious reporting – lots of shameless stories on ABC’s own Dancing With the Stars (Fox affiliates know what that’s all about with American Idol). The formula animal piece. Health/aging or youth piece and blow-dried weather.

It all sounds pretty bad for media outlets and their audiences -- their older audiences, that is.

Fortunately for the next generation, they’ve moved on. They’ve done a workaround. They don't have to watch this embarrassing residue that is today's news.

No worry about Olbermann or Sean Hannity. Most Gen Yers just aren’t interested in media people to whom they cannot relate.

They absolutely don’t read printed newspapers and haven’t for a long time. Forget looking for jobs in the employment sections – once a real profit center. They do it online now as newspapers have discovered through their declining revenue.

Can’t find too many Gen Yers who care to watch the evening network TV news shows. That wasn’t the case for draft-eligible baby boomers, many of whom cut their teeth on network news shows just to keep up with the Vietnam war.

The media business abandoned its audience even before the Internet gave them an alternative.

Think back.

Radio average quarter hour listening has been declining since the early 90’s. That’s the early 90’s. Long before iPods, cell phones and the Internet. The term “radio sucks” predates declining AQH – back to the 80’s.

Newspapers were closing down before clicking online became so popular. Remember all those afternoon newspapers that shut down way back when? They said it was because of television back then.

Television has been more successful until lately when you get the feeling their executives know that YouTube and the Internet are the real television for the next generation. They are scrambling to do something about it.

Many older people are crossing over as well. They will read printed publications (magazines are still popular) but also use RSS to deliver news and blogs.

In a sense it's about missed opportunities and not-ready-for-prime-time executives among other things.

Radio, for example, is live and best when it is local. News is live (not garden reports and the programming excuses stations call news for the sake of soliciting sponsors). News doesn’t easily fit into an MP3 player unless its content is time delayed (podcasting).

Live is a radio advantage, but you’d never know it by how hard radio tries to be canned, sterile and vanilla.

It’s harder to replace radio if it is being local and covering events in real time.

Radio talk is popular with older folks but not the next generation.

Radio, television and newspapers are trying to dig themselves out of their audience and financial rut by doing all the wrong things.

They must own brands first and find new ways to deliver content as technology allows.

For example, everything in Philadelphia should be KYW Newsradio not just terrestrial broadcasts but podcasts, Internet streams, local streams for municipalities and target listening groups. Even print where it makes sense. For over 40 years KYW has meant news in Philadelphia. Period. It’s their space to lose. Same in other markets large and small.

It’s as if the establishment media is resigned to going down with the ship instead of finding ways to innovate.

Budget cuts at the hands of their makers – Wall Street investment banks – prevent them from investing in their futures. (Look how smart investment banks look right now?).

I get the sense from working with the next generation – the one the media business desperately needs to grow a future – that they will make due with anything mobile and online.

Doing the same old thing on a dime store budget isn't going to cut it as you'll see over the months and years ahead.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: First you must check your mail or spam filter to verify your new subscription before service can begin.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.