Sunday, October 10, 2010

An End, and a Beginning, for the Media

By:  James Poniewozik on Wednesday December. 31, 2008 from TIME 
Contributed by: Elysha   Posted By: Munirah
When the economy sneezes, the media business catches pneumonia. The problem for the media business in 2008 was that the economy caught pneumonia. When the economy gets pneumonia, the media business gets it too--then someone knocks it across the back of the head with a shovel.
Advertising is clattering. (GM is essentially a media-funding company with a carmaker attached.) The audience is fragmenting. And the old means of business--grinding up trees and delivering them, shooting radiation to antennas--are being superseded by the Internet. (And it's not just the news media feeling the pinch. NBC's giving five hours of prime time to Jay Leno is as much about saving money as about the comic brilliance of his "Jaywalking" bits.)
Journalists now read the business pages the way octogenarians read the obituaries. The Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times, declared bankruptcy. National Public Radio laid off 7% of its staff. The New York Times mortgaged its headquarters. Media companies from Viacom to NBC to Gannett to (gulp) Time Inc. had massive layoffs. Newspapers contemplated not publishing on certain days, going online-only or closing altogether. It's enough to make journalists wonder, Is this the end?
Yes, probably. And a beginning. Because there was good news for the media in 2008 too, and it had a lot in common with the bad news. For while the media business (the exchange of information for money) was lousy, the media (the conduits of information) were multiplying.
When an earthquake shook Sichuan and terrorists shot up Mumbai, eyewitnesses' texts poured out through Twitter. Some of the biggest scoops and best analysis in the election came from blogs and some of the best satire from YouTube. Political websites took off. The media have never been so ubiquitous or polymorphous. I can access more information on the phone in my back pocket than I could have, as a kid, in my hometown library.
Even old media benefit, in a way. A couple of decades ago, most New York Times readers lived on the East Coast or in certain big cities. Now, thanks to the Internet--the big, scary, media-killing Internet--it's read by millions worldwide.
Problem is, those millions read it for free. With the price of information dropping like a bank stock, no one knows how to make money off the media anymore. Or enough money, anyway: most of the companies firing reporters are profitable.
Now, those of you working for car-parts suppliers (or those of you laid off by them) can be excused if you don't break out your tiny violins out of pity for journalists. Where all this becomes your problem is that the daisy chain of free info--the Drudge links, the news crawls, the text updates--ultimately leads back to a professional journalist, somewhere, getting paid to learn stuff. And right now, he or she is weighing job opportunities in telemarketing.
Meanwhile, anxious consumers and advertisers are closing their wallets. And all our endless media platforms amplify the bad news, which ups the anxiety. Repeat loop as necessary until we all get to the poorhouse. (I hear it has wi-fi!)

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