Old Media R.I.P.

Articles like this one by Peter Osnos of The Century Foundation tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has been around media very long. What’s happening to newsrooms is sad. Every day seems to bring more bad news. The CBS O&Os laid off scores of people yesterday, even high-priced anchors, because business has gone south. Newspapers have been buffeted for several years now, and it’s taking its toll.

Osnos writes of the morale in newsrooms as if comforting an old friend.

…the real problem is something deeper, I sense. It is a belief that no matter how good your work, how thoroughly reported and influential, it isn’t going to matter in protecting your newspaper. Because of the revenue declines and cutbacks, the mood of proprietors and managers, on the whole, is near panic. Outstanding work by their staffs, the newsroom has become convinced, isn’t going to make a difference in the outcome of their institution. The effort at morale-building in the stream of front office memos announcing departures, the cheerful exhortations to survivors to do great work, only adds to the cynicism that pervades.

News people are by nature skeptics, and given to grumbling. One of their missions is to find fault. Self-criticism in newsrooms is standard, and so is defensiveness when the criticism comes from outsiders. None of these characteristics are at issue. The problem is that the prevailing mood of a declining and deteriorating industry is so pervasive and so discouraging that it reinforces itself. “What’s the point?” is a debilitating attitude, and it is very difficult to reverse.

What’s happening hurts, but I believe it’s the same necessary kind of hurt that comes with the death of a loved one. And I think we would all do well to think of it as such.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of grieving, and they are as appropriate for this situation as any.


We’re past denial, although who can argue we went through that? We’re also past the anger phase. Professional news people lashed out at anybody they could tag, beginning with the blogosphere. That’s gone now, as is the stage of bargaining. If we could do this… If we could do that… Sorry, folks we can’t talk our way out of this one. Besides, to whom does one bargain for justice anyway?

I think what Osnos is describing is textbook depression, and that’s the stage that we’re in now. Television may not be as advanced as our newspaper friends are, but it’s there just the same. “What’s the point?” is the behavior of an industry depressed.

But look what comes next? Acceptance. That’s where we need to be, because minds who have fully accepted that those nostalgic days are gone and are not coming back are minds that can actually move forward. It’s the darkness-just-before-dawn syndrome.

As my friend Gordon Borrell likes to say, “Things are very positive where I work.” Indeed. Growth is on the web side, so let’s all get on board the Cluetrain. Historians will write what they must, but we’ve all got work to do.


  1. […] Terry Heaton, senior vice president of AR&D’s Media 2.0 arm which covers everything from the internet to mobile devices, makes an astute observation on his PoMo Blog paralleling this debilitating attitude permeating most MSM newsrooms to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross‘ five stages of grieving: […]

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