Muddles in old media models

Ann_moore_ceo_timeThere was this morning a distressing interview in the Wall Street Journal: Brian Steinberg talked to Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive of Time, Inc. 

There is some evidence that Ms. Moore gets the challenge ahead.

We are a content company, OK? We create and we edit, and we aggregate the best content out there. We can deliver to you, our reader, in whatever format you want it in the future — maybe not on paper.

The "maybe not on paper" is a worrying.  It’s almost certainly "probably not on paper" and that much should be clear. 

But then things get a little alarming.  Ms. Moore says,

One of the biggest threats to our business is this confusion in the public between real, fact-based, checked news and opinion, which is very cheap… And so, I’m really committed, as is John Huey, to really paying attention to Time and figuring out how we can hold up the price value of fact-based news.

This is a gratuitous swipe at blogging, clearly, but worse than that it demonstrates this sense that Time will continued to be a journalistic silo or citadel, with writers "in here" and readers "out there."  This boundary has blurred and journalism will adapt or die.

And please don’t tell me that the value add is fact checking.  Your value add, Ms. Moore, if I may presume to say so, is pattern recognition.  You have some magnificently gifted editors and journalists with a nice track record.  We must hope that they are still up to the task now that we live in a world where info, data, outlook mutliply like the Mayfly of a Cambridge spring. 

But then things get really distressing.  Steinberg askes a difficult question about John Huey, the new corporate editor in chief at Time. 

Mr. Huey suggested in a recent New York magazine article that he might not read some of Time Inc.’s women’s titles if he didn’t have to. But titles like People and InStyle are the powerhouses of the operation — and also where you made your mark before becoming CEO. Do you and John need to have a little chat?

Beauty, Brian.  Ms. Moore is obviously a gifted political actor and she cannot criticize Mr. Huey.  But, lord in heaven, why did she hire him? This is another boundary that has coming crashing down.  I refer to the distinction between "serious journalism" and "popular culture."  If your editor in chief insists on the silo or citadel approac here, God help you.  Two "boundary errors" of this kind, and, as Heidi Klum would say, " you out."

Thoughts on the media summit tomorrow.

Steinberg, Brian.  2006.  Time’s Chief Plats A Digital-Age Transformation.  Wall Street Journal.  February 8, 2006.  p. B3.

10 thoughts on “Muddles in old media models

  1. Raw Data

    “fact checking” versus “pattern recognition”…hmmm.

    that’s a new distinction for me. it seems to me that the latter is meaningless unless based on facts.

    so i’d say that they are inseperable.

    the way i see it is that bloggers do pattern recognition based on the (relatively) raw data of the MSM. so to me the real value in the MSM is its facts, not its op-eds (which i assume is what you mean by ‘pattern recognition.)

  2. Carol Gee

    Objective facts are just that. Opinions will always have certain built-in biases. I am a blogger; my biases are clear to my readers. But I form my opinions from what I assume are the news facts. I cannot “hit the pavement” to check facts, but I do the best I can to cite sources meticulously. I also realize, as I am writing this, that I have sometimes left out certain facts of which I was aware–lies of omission–so to speak, for brevity. Otherwise, my stuff would sink of its own weight. But my stuff seems absolutely squeaky clean, compared to what my government sometimes tells me, “for my own good,” in testimony, briefings, etc. It is, as the current rage says, “positively Orwellian.” That is why we are so desperately dependent on the free press.

  3. Peter

    I’m not as convinced as you seem about the imminent death of paper delivery, Grant. In 1991, I led a committee of European media company people in a project initiated by the European Commission to design “the newspaper and magazine of the future”. Without taking any account of technological capabilities then or in the future, we ended up with something that had all the positive features of both paper and electronic delivery.

    Most of the positive features of paper delivery have yet to be seen in any e-delivery technology. Despite the technology advances since 1991, we still don’t have an inexpensive e-delivery system for content which: is waterproof, foldable, requires no power, can be written on with any pen or pencil, can be cut or torn easily (and thus shared with others), works in conditions of extreme cold and heat, can be dropped, crushed and trod-upon, and does not require possibly-obselete software for access. Indeed, a person can even read books and magazines written in the 1960s, which is not true for many electronic storage formats! My guess is that e-books which have all these nice features of newspapers and magazines are still another 30 years or more away, if ever.

    Whenever I hear about the death of paper, I think back to its predecessor technology, stone carving. Despite all the paper around us, we still write some texts on stone (eg, tombstones, memorials, building names) — in fact, whenever the relative advantages of stone over paper are required — longevity, resistance to weather & fire.

  4. andrew

    Maybe not on paper? This overlooks the fact that reading a newspaper is culturally enjoyable in a way that accessing electronic media is not (or not in the same way). There are personal rituals associated with the reading of newspapers that give a meaning and significance that goes beyond the acquisition of facts. The pleasure of reading a newspaper may command a premium price higher than the current mass circulation pricing model, but I would guess there will be a market for paper news long into the future.

  5. Peter

    I forgot to mention the other consumer benefits of newspaper and magazine delivery of content, in addition to the reading pleasure which Andrew mentions. I considered using my i-pod for some of these other functions, but so far without success: lighting fires, lining birdcages and catboxes, wrapping glassware, making aeroplanes, etc!

  6. Auto

    raw data,

    didn’t microsoft tout e-books about 5 years ago? i seem to recall some device to read them that mimicked a book.

    personally, i think the cost and functionality of books make them hard to beat.

    my sense is that the people pushing e-books are themselves not readers. at least not people who read for pleasure.

    e-books are a distribution channel in search of an audience/market. i doubt their commercial viability.

  7. Raw Data

    auto,
    i think you might want to look into the situation in a few months when these devices come to market. i am not vouching for them and as everyone states, the bar is fairly high.
    but their advantages are so enormous that my bet is that we’ll have some pretty good readers in a few years.

    you might want to read this article by Terry Teachout:
    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB113779027926552261.html?mod=todays_free_feature

    as to people who are intrigued by the possibility of ebooks not being readers: judging by who is writing about them with enthusiasm in the blogosphere, that statement is invalid.

  8. Tom Guarriello

    Music aficianados still eschew the CD and prefer tube-based audio equipment. Similarly, I believe newspapers will be niche products in the future. Ask people under 30: how often do you purchase and read a newspaper? I find it startling how few do so. They’ve simply grown up using a different channel and don’t appreciate the romantic charm of newsprint holds for so many of us, ahem, over 30 types.

  9. Raw Data

    I’m 59 and I am puzzled by the charm of paper when compared to the freedom from weight which the eBook will offer (eventually.)

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