Before I begin, let me observe that any self respecting episode of foot shooting invariably includes a strong element of irony.
Now, to the matter at hand.
In a previous professional incarnation, while, for my sins, studying Marketing, I learned that a business has two choices. It can develop a way of differentiating itself from its competition, say, by customer service, quality or brand image, or it can compete on price.
It’s one or t’other. There’s no third choice. Well, there is, it can always go broke.
This past week of self absorbed, breast beating, (okay, fair enough, there is no other kind), by the traditional media has shown that it’s slowly coming to terms with the fact that its business model is ratshit.
Why is it so, as Professor Julius Sumner Miller was known to ask? (If you’re not old enough to know who he was, then look it up, and kindly keep your opinions about senior citizens to yourself).
Because Fairfax, News Ltd, et al, have been trying to compete on price with competitors that have hardly any overheads, i.e. people like me, who opinionate exclusively on the web.
And why are they competing on price, you ask.
Good question, I reply. It would seem, on the face of it, that the traditional media should easily be able to differentiate itself from web based opinioneers on quality alone.
Newspapers, with their skilled, professional journalists, research facilities, representatives all over the globe, easy access to high quality analysis, etc, should be producing a product that is of such a high quality that idiots like me simply have no chance.
In ancient times – read middle Twentieth Century and before, newspapers were, for the most part, authoritative, trustworthy sources of information. “Damnit, I know it’s true, because I read it in The Times. (Insert your paper of choice.)
They didn’t get it wrong that often, and when they did, they owned up. When seeking opinion, journalists didn’t simply interview other journalists, which they routinely do now, in a kind of pseudo intellectual, circular cluster… well, good manners prevent me from completing what would have been a vivid though highly suggestive analogy.
Back then, they asked an expert, whom they quoted accurately and in context. They did so because journalistic standards mattered. It was called – such an antiquated word – ‘professionalism’.
So, what happened that today’s traditional media has to compete – unsuccessfully, as it turns out – on price?
Well, heh, heh, funny story.
Back in the 1980′s, on his way to ruling the world, Rupert Murdock bought a paper or two in the UK.
And his attitude was journalism, shmournalism, there were vastly more bucks to be made by introducing a new business model.
First, he sacked many of the skilled, highly professional journos and replaced them with hacks who’d write anything.
Second, he figured that he could sell heaps more papers – and advertising space – by discarding the facts, focusing on the salacious and by putting a scantily clad young thing on page 3. (Not that I have anything against scantily clad young things, on page 3 or anywhere else, I hasten to add).
The result was that quality went to hell, but profits… Lordy, lordy, did they look sweet.
Most other daily papers decided it was too hard to do a Canute so they just did the same thing to varying degrees, leading to a race to the journalistic bottom. (With no reference to the page 3 girl intended).
The result was that over the past thirty years, traditional media, as a block, lost serious street cred.
Which didn’t matter much as there was no serious competition. If you wanted a paper…
Then along came the internet.
And it turned out that pretty near anybody could, to quote our PM, write crap. And they could do so on the internet far more cheaply than could newspapers.
So now, who is bleating the loudest about how papers can’t compete profitably?
Right, one Rupert Aloysius Murdoch, the guy most responsible for destroying what should have been newspapers’ great differentiators, quality and accuracy.
By treating journalistic quality with contempt, he shot himself right in his media footprint.
And yeah, see that? Right there? There’s that irony I was talking about.