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Crisis in American Media and its impact on the Global scale

Crisis in American Media and its impact on the Global scale [1] [2]

There is a crisis in the American media landscape. It is a local crisis that has global implications but the crisis levels may be different across geographic locations. Major media institutions are closing their foreign bureaus and calling home their foreign correspondents. Local newspapers are declining or completely disappearing from the newsstands. Community radios are heavily impacted by the financial crisis. Print and broadcasts media are in crisis.

For a largely geographic country and a widely distributed population such as the US, this crisis has grave implications. One of this implication is the challenge of having a national newspaper. Technology would and could facilitate the distribution mechanism for newspapers across the country, but technology may not be the solution to problems of context, culture, locally relevant news and ownership.

The US operates a federal system. This means that decisions are implemented at a state or local level. If the information channels are not available or they break down due to financial implications, as they currently are, then the result is a seriously diminished capacity of citizens to use their rights to inform decision making at the national and local levels. Conversely, the citizens fall into an info drought as the flow of information from the nation to local or state is equally affected.

The break down of information flows and the collapse of the media may not be attributable only to the financial crisis but a ferocious and constant blow that social networking and new media forms continually exert on the media landscape. Are we seeing the end of the newspaper (or traditional media) era? Is the newspaper dead?

The newspapers and its institutionalized infrastructure defined a foundation of professional journalism. Broadcast media extended the same. The ethics of unbiased investigative reporting of large media outlets becomes a challenge with the recent supreme court rulings unbanning political spending by corporations. This leaves room for large media institutions to become partisan. Is this the solution to the crisis?

In the meantime, jobs have been lost, and much more.

Local media, ie. Local newspapers and TV have been the primary sources of providing local news. The news departments used to be the profit center of any media institution. This has changed. Local media suffers from an onslaught of pressure from cable companies completely eroding locally relevant news. The media institution is consolidating, resulting in no locally owned or operated media institutions except for a few local radios that may be ailing.

On the other hand, large media institutions like MSNBC and CNN may be thriving but may also be suffering economic loses as a result of fervent competition between themselves and against their own (CNN vs. Headline News) plus, there is the Fox News effect.

The newspapers have also suffered from the Internet. The Internet has killed newspaper advertisement and has challenged traditional financial models. Craig’s List and Google have defined new ways of online advertisement that have stripped revenue from these media institutions. The newspaper will not survive today without advertisement revenue. And in response to this onslaught, the traditional newspapers lifted the ad model, priced it according to its paper version and placed it on the Internet hoping it would generate the same response. A case of old wine in new wineskin. Google redefined advertising, innovatively introducing “click throughs” rather than impressions that the traditional ad models were crafted after. Ad supported journalism is different requiring a re-definition of business models.

The public media is not spared the rod.

While this crisis has hit large media, there is a mushrooning of citizen journalism. Community blogs sprout to fill the gaps of local news. A DIY mentality to news gathering and production. The citizens have taken the bull by the horn by providing for themselves a solution to the crisis. News production has become cheap, decentralized and local. Micro-blogging such as tweeter produce instant news summaries, flickr and other online photo galleries fill in the gap for photo journalism. The birth of citizen journalism is announced and social media is exploited to fill in the gap left by large conglomerates for local news productions. We have seen these numerous times lately, the recent Haitian earthquake and the Iranian crisis where citizens blogged, twittered and flickred images even before large media could parachute their foreign correspondents where they once had bureaus. Citizen media is instant, realtime and may cover areas where mainstream media may not be interested.

Will mainstream media support this onslaught? What are some immediate solutions?

Media would need to adjust to new paradigms. Besides the possibility of public funds (in trickles) to support local, traditional media, there may be need for participatory media. A new form that allows interaction between traditional and citizen media. A volunteer model needs to be built into traditional media. Media needs to embrace open technologies models such as would encourage participation. Listeners could themselves become journalists in reporting local news. The reporter would become a part of a network of informed citizens. Participatory media will improve accountability and democracy.

But one challenge still remains, who will take the info from off the news grid and place them on the grid. Who will do the investigative journalism bit if media takes after the participatory citizen models? How can citizens uncover stories against people with deep pockets and large monies? Are institutions still needed to fulfill the fundamental role of news. Or should the formal institutional model challenged by citizens give way to more citizen decentralized institutional models?

The news industry may require wild experimentation, allow trial and error business, reporting, aggregating, distributing and content dissemination models, celebrate failure, and encourage innovation. This may be the solution in the current murky storm of a media landscape plagued by a financial crisis, social media and user generated content.

—–
[1] From an Open Society Institute panel discussion on “The Future of American Journalism”, held, in New York, January 27-30, 2010.

[2] In lieu of missing my weeklySeminar in Educational Technologies, I have made this posting in agreement with Dr. Hlinka’s recommendation.

3 Comments

  1. Mike wrote:

    This is fascinating stuff, Ben. Very timely and important in light of this course too. Lots to talk about here, but I will chip in a few comments. The changes to all media is and will be huge. We have seen great impacts of technology (& the financial crisis) on the music industry for years. Now it is newspapers as people get their news online. Magazines are suffering for the same reason. Television is suffering as well. In Brandon the local TV affiliate (CTV) was closed up, leaving Westman with either the Brandon Sun or radio for local news. Even the Brandon Sun has shrunk over the years. The large 24 hour cable news stations are taking over, and, as you point out are becoming more partisan (especially in the US, but here too). An example is this recent clip from Fox News, perhaps the very worst in this regard (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/). Some say the Apple iPad (& no doubt similar devices like it) will help save magazine/newspapers since they can be very interactive and include various media types. The industry does have to change to survive, hopefully they can do a better job of this than the music industry. I do know one thing – I hope I can continue to listen to radio news in my many commutes and continue one of my favorite activities – cup of coffee and a newspaper sitting in my favorite chair on a Saturday or Sunday morning – but if I have to use an iPad, so be it. 🙂

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 16:20 | Permalink
  2. Paul wrote:

    Great article Ben. I really don't see this as a "crisis." It is just change that we could see coming.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 16:40 | Permalink
  3. Garry wrote:

    An excellent reflection, Ben. Will talk later.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 22:20 | Permalink

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