The skewed view from the inside

Science refers to the embracing of one point-of-view in an objective study as “going native,” and it can ruin sincere attempts to observe. This is the risk of any observer at the annual conference of the business of broadcasting and broadcast news. It’s the business of broadcasting talking to itself about things relating to the business, and this produces an odd (for me) perspective on the disruptive innovations about which I write.

This was evident during last night’s opening supersession panel. I had the honor of being a part of the discussion. The show opened with Bob Papper, an old friend and professor at Hofstra University, revealing a new study showing that employment in TV news fell by 4.3 percent (1,200 jobs) last year, while the typical station added one newscast. This is called doing more with less, which is — in the Clayton Christensen view — a textbook response to a business disruption. There was agreement on the panel that we can no longer do things the old way, but I was taken aback that much of the rest of the conversation spoke of exactly that.

RTNDA panel

The view from inside the business of broadcast news is very different than the view from the outside. Inside, it’s about content, how to get more people producing content for multiple platforms, the tools to create the content, and the presentation of the content. There exists the (nearly) absolute conviction that “quality” content is the key to the future, and that we’ve cut back on investigative reporting, so audiences are turning away. In this view, one only needs to fix the content, make more of it, distribute it everywhere, and in so doing, fix the audience problem.

This is not only naïve, but it completely misses the bigger picture of what’s taking place in media — that the “mass” in mass media is being scattered and that the people formerly known as our advertisers are finding better and cheaper ways to find scattered eyeballs. This is the view from the outside, and absent serious and immediate efforts by local media companies to attack this problem, the “quality” of our content output won’t matter one bit.

Russ MitchellThe view from the inside interprets my position on this as too much doom and gloom, but regular readers here will know that I’m still quite bullish on broadcasting. I think it will be around for a long time, but I don’t believe it will ever sustain the kinds of business growth necessary to satisfy Wall Street through any form of multiple platform delivery of news “content.” People may want their news in a variety of forms, but the belief that we can support that with advertising sufficient to produce growth is not a safe assumption.

Another one of Bob Papper’s findings was that TV is still the dominant media form — and by a wide margin. This led him to say that TV and TV news, while needing to change, won’t face the same kinds of audience drop-off numbers that have crippled the newspaper industry for at least ten years. This is the view from the inside, for the revenue pressures on all media companies aren’t going to stop just because the recession (or whatever we’re calling it) ends.

The panel was a fun gathering. Russ Mitchell of CBS News did an excellent job as moderator, and I was proud to share the stage with Kevin Roach of The AP, Lane Michaelsen of WUSA-TV, Susana Schuler of Raycom Media, and Bob Papper. You can follow Jill Geisler (another dear old friend) and her live blogging via Cover It Live here. I’m told the RTNDA site will also offer a stream of the session via its website later today.

(NOTE, I interviewed both Jill and Bob for our book, “Live. Local. BROKEN News.

Comments

  1. Nice Terry, but I don’t think it will make any difference in the long run.
    The die is already cast.

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