The Media Industry's Perspective Problem

A newsroom survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism touches on one of the major issues — and failings — affecting mainstream media: the power of flawed perspective. Here’s an excerpt from “The Changing Newsroom” report:

Staffing for coverage of sports, local government and politics, police and investigative reporting, all grew in 30% of the newsrooms surveyed. Although not specifically measured in the survey, anecdotal evidence suggests that at least some of these gains have been driven by pressure to provide web content during the course of the day. Some of this content is often then “reversed published” back into the newspaper. [Emphasis added.]

There’s a huge difference between “published” and “reversed published.” A published piece of content — be it an article, a podcast, a broadcast, or even a book — is pushed into the world with a clear intent (inform, entertain, influence, etc.). But reversed published content has been stripped of intent. Its sole purpose is to fill space; whether it entertains, informs, or influences is secondary.

The whole concept of “reversed published,” and the adjacent issues of print vs Web vs mobile vs broadcast, illustrates a fundamental flaw in the media perspective. Content should be defined by its audience, not by its container. If an article is initially published on the Web, that article must be geared toward the Web audience. If the same material later appears in the paper, that material needs to be geared toward the newspaper audience. Same goes for mobile consumers and broadcast consumers.

Repurposing material without regard for its audience is a luxury the media industry used to enjoy when it was a primary information conduit. The only difference is that years ago the Web was where rehashed shovelware was dumped (“Story continues on A12”, anyone?). Early Web users quickly tired of media’s detritus, so they looked elsewhere for useful information. Apparently, media organizations didn’t learn from this past mistake because now they’re pulling the “repurposed content” maneuver with traditional audiences. No one wants rehashed bits.

This is where perspective comes in. If a media organization continues to think in terms of content containers rather than content consumers, then it will inevitably default to “reverse publishing” and other bad habits. These days, as audiences scatter and company valuations plummet, every piece of content needs the justifications and intentions of fully published material.

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