Terry Heaton is a doomsayer

DoomsayerLast week’s piece about broadcasting suffering the same fate as newspapers brought a comment from a reader.

Terry Heaton is (a) doomsayer. And he’s been at it for YEARS and YEARS. Good God, man—enough already.

I don’t wish necessarily to refute that, but I do want to talk about it, because if anybody honestly feels that way, then what we have here is a failure to communicate.

I’ve learned in my life to actually welcome criticism. It used to really get to me, but my beliefs about Life have convinced me that we’re all just trying to do the best we can with what we know. That means I can’t assume a personal attack when considering criticism. Instead, I have to back away and ask myself honestly if there’s any truth in what’s being said. If I have a teachable spirit, I might actually learn something.

So the issue here is have I been functioning as a doomsayer for “years and years?” Along the way, I think it’s fair to ask if such forecasting is validated by the circumstances, or whether it’s merely ranting to get attention or for some other motive.

There are several variations of the definition of a doomsayer, but they all say essentially the same thing.

  • One who predicts calamity at every opportunity.
  • A person disposed to predicting catastrophe, disaster, etc.
  • A person who predicts disaster, esp. in politics or economics.
  • One given to forebodings and predictions of impending calamity.

There are two essential problems that I have with the image of a doomsayer.

One, my overall body of work consistently expresses the admonition not to view anything I write as “all-or-nothing.” I’m a pragmatist who deals in abstracts, not absolutes, and readers will miss important nuances if assuming I speak of black-white, win-lose, sink-swim, right-wrong, and all-or-nothing. I may predict calamity, but it’s always with certain caveats that can be understood. For example, I’m careful to write that it is the pursuit of “only” a certain path that will produce a certain result. This is far different than stating that the die is cast and that we’re all going to die.

Two, I offer solutions, and while this may qualify me for other pejorative terms, it disqualifies me as a doomsayer. Local media consulting has changed forever, and many would say that’s a good thing. At AR&D, we are absolutely convinced that reinvention is the mandate, but to what end? We wrote a book about that and are about to embark on taking that vision to another level. Meanwhile, I’ve been making intelligent and workable suggestions for “years and years,” because my views aren’t fully tainted by trying to defend the indefensible. I understand the resistance, but I will continue to make the recommendations.

The vast majority of observers, writers and consultants who work with new media view it as a way to make media better, to improve on its essential mandate, and find new ways of distributing media’s work. There are lot of these people, and they provide a necessary service. Every TV station, for example, should be using Twitter and Facebook and Skype and iPhones, and so on and so forth. These things, to me, however are a part of the Media 1.0 mission and architecture, the extending of the existing brand in the marketplace. While that’s important, it doesn’t do much for the bottom line, because it’s simply moving declining money around.

For example, we need to be TV stations online, but AR&D research reveals that when we do that, we’re still dealing with the same people who watch our stations. Even a station with a very high preference rating is leaving at least two-thirds of the market alone, and online, that means we’re not competing for anything other than 9 percent of the potential revenue pie, according to Borrell’s latest market share data. Simply put, our brands limit what we can do online, for we bring with us all the baggage that accompanies those brands (e.g. we’re not everybody’s favorite) in addition to all the good.

To a certain extent — and for newspapers especially — moving money around is vital, for these companies need that digital, brand-extension revenue to take the place of that which is being lost via its legacy property. So you’ll never hear an argument from me about this, and where I can help, I will.

However, my mission on behalf of media companies is the growth and development of Media 2.0, the disruption itself. It’s here where I think media companies miss the boat, and wherever I see the practice of protecting the brand taking precedence over disruptive innovations, I have to call “foul.” I had a very smart media exec tell me recently that he has to play both defense and offense at the same time. This is a problem, for defense is reserved for the Media 1.0 side of things. Media 2.0 is a separate entity that is only on the attack. It has to be separate, because it conflicts with the defense being played by the Media 1.0 purveyors.

That’s pretty straightforward, it seems to me.

The catastrophe for media is for an old way of life, when double-digit annual revenue growth and over 50% margins were the norm. Rules changed when we became corporate profit centers and then again when the disruptions started hitting. The last blow was the economy, and that’s showing signs of becoming a permanent fixture.

So yeah, in that sense, I’m a doomsayer, and I feel sorry for my many colleagues and friends who continue to suffer the consequences. There is a bright future, however, although the path from here to there seems obscured by overgrowth and boulders. Finding that path, unfortunately, means letting go of our grip on the old, and that’s extremely difficult for those with mandated quarterly goals to meet.

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