Radio and The National Enquirer

It says a lot when The National Enquirer (known as tabloid trash to former presidential candidate John Edwards) gets it right and The New York Times (known as the paper that gives you “All The News That’s Fit To Print”) gets it wrong about assumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

If you think this is all about newspapers, you would be incorrect.

It’s about the media business and in particular radio. Stay tuned a bit longer.

The Enquirer hounded Edwards and asserted that he had a “love child” with Rielle Hunter, a former campaign aide. Edwards denied it. Hunter went into hiding – until, until – the enterprising reporters at The Enquirer caught Edwards escaping from a Beverly Hills hotel a few weeks back. Eventually, Edwards fessed up – although he didn’t admit to being the father of Hunter’s child. (The Enquirer, by the way, continues to say he is).

The New York Times
meanwhile did a piece that insinuated McCain may have had an affair with a Washington lobbyist. It ran the story. Never backed it up in the minds of many readers. But now it is out there in any case.

Wait a minute.

What’s going on here?

Since the news media has been heading for the exits – slashed and burned by budget cuts, it seems like you can’t get a good news story any more. Except in a tabloid.

If The National Enquirer is the only publication that had the story right, is it possible that the news media finally accomplished the unthinkable – handing over the Fourth Estate to the inmates running the asylum?

To the next generation it doesn’t matter.

Because while America’s media companies were out cutting costs and telling investors that they were building shareholder value, Gen Y came along and said, “I don’t care”.

Think about it.

Back on 9-11 you remember turning to radio and TV for coverage of the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies. Remember, we watched Peter Jennings’ beard grow darker as he sat perched in front of our TVs for what seemed like forever sucking in every bit of news we could get on how 9-11 happened and why.

You may be like me. Today, I go right to the Internet when I want news.

Earthquake while I’m In Los Angeles? No problem.

I’m pulling my iPhone out and going to one of several earthquake tracking sites I’ve bookmarked.

When Ted Kennedy got a brain tumor, I was notified by several news sources I subscribed to online and on my phone. Maybe you were, too.

I find it's easier to get local news on a local website than from local TV where viewers have to put up with superficial reporting and news consultants who advise anchors to say “here’s a story you won’t believe” – they’re right, I won't.

Oh, I used to be a TV and radio newsman among other media careers in my past, but radio and TV are the last places I would turn to now. For all practical purposes, radio got out of the new business long before it got out of the local radio business. It's doing that now.

I mention all of this because as radio (and television) leave their audiences behind in news coverage, the next generation has turned to other sources.

You asked for it – you got it.

The smarties running radio groups think their job is all about shareholder value – cutting costs or at least containing them. But I don’t think radio has done anything truly new or bold since the late 1980’s. Things certainly got worse after consolidation.

The real story is not about John Edwards or John McCain. It’s the way the next generation gathers news. And before we indict these young folks as not being representative of the majority of people, wait one minute.

of us have changed the way we get news and information.

The Internet and mobile devices are the new radio and TV – even for those of us who are older than Gen Y.

Blackberries. iPhones. YouTube (admit it). Video on demand.

And the same thing is happening in music.

While the record labels try to inflict a performance tax on radio, the point is already moot. Radio has less and less influence with the record buying public – that is, if you can even find the record buying public.

The new radio?

The Internet and mobile devices.

The lunacy we see almost every day now in the radio business is that less is more –
Less staff, less local programming, less news, less variety of music – you name it.

Farid Suleman is out slashing Citadel staffers because he just turned in a 9% decline in revenue last quarter. The board of directors isn’t all hot and bothered over it. Shareholders are apparently okay with Citadel's share price under a dollar. And advertisers continue to spend money – although obviously at a slower pacer.

But the one thing that has changed is that consumers have discovered that less isn't more -- more is more.

More options, more channels, more ways to communicate to others, more variety of music, more social networking.

So as radio, TV and print make The National Enquirer look legitimate, I’ve been thinking.

The first influential leader who can start investing in the Internet and mobile future will be pursuing a growth industry.

And don't tell me that the major radio companies are already involved with the Internet. Run the numbers -- look at the percentages. See how little they spend on the only future they could possibly have.

For those of us who love the traditional media business and think it – and its people – have the skills to make it in digital media – it's discouraging to realize that a handful of radio CEOs still get their news the old fashioned way.

From investment banks.

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