The future of newspapers II: of shock-jocks and self-made media-stars

Who you looking at, pig-dog?Journalists know real excitement: of being first to cover a news story; of offering the critical insight that unlocks events and brings down corrupt elites. Competition between journalists and media companies has been the stuff of compelling drama for generations.

Now the vast range of media channels has been extended by the rise of the Internet. In the second part of our interview with Gavin O’Reilly, we continue our analysis of the future of the mainstream media. O’Reilly is the Group Chief Operating Officer of Independent News and Media, and President of the World Association of Newspapers, which is holding its annual congress in Cape Town from 3 – 6 June.

“It’s not about the Internet or newspapers,” says O’Reilly, “rather it is about complimentary media. The New York Times increased its audience by 12% after it created a website. The new media allows companies to reach new people through a variety of channels and then funnel them towards their printed content. The newspaper is becoming the ultimate browser, aggregating information that is just too vast for one person to comprehend.”

Like the music industry, news has become about brand management; both of their banners and of the writers who become sub-brands within media companies and attract attention by virtue of controversy, talent and astonishing communication skills.

In the past media companies have been like venture capitalists: searching for people who appear to have talent and then investing in them over a period of time. That person may become outstandingly popular and lucrative for the media companies they work for.

An example, O’Reilly says, is Jeremy Clarkson, a motor-news specialist, who writes for the UK Sunday Times and The Sun, appears on the BBC show Top Gear, and produces his own blog. Another example is Robert Fisk, one of the Independent’s journalists, whose controversial opinions and coverage of the conflict in the Middle East has turned him into a media celebrity.

These expensive personalities are being overshadowed by new upstarts from the Internet. More than 14 million online journals now compete for the hearts and minds of Internet junkies. Blogging superstars include Arianna Huffington of the left-wing political Huffington Post, Seth Godin who writes on modern marketing techniques, and Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing who collects odd stories.

These self-made celebrities offer a glimpse of the future of media.

Media companies still own something that, no matter what they say, cause all these bloggers to dribble with jealousy: international access to their channels in magazines, newspapers, radio and television and a share in the advertising revenue that goes with it. The Internet will only get you so far.

Future musicians, journalists, and expert analysts will have to earn their celebrity status by creating online followings and proven audiences. Media companies won’t have to risk and invest in creating stars, they’ll just offer contracts to the best and share in advertising revenue.

Those of you wondering why anyone would dedicate so much time and effort to writing outstanding copy for no money now know. Bloggers are just like those who invested in quirky dotcoms in the hopes of being bought out.

For as long as you are popular you can share in the fun. Like Don Imus, a US-based “shock jock” who recently got fired for going too far in casting racial epithets at his public, if you stuff up, you will be gone and replaced by the next self-made star.

For the general public this offers an ever more competitive and rising standard of talent and ability. Media companies now have an almost limitless ability to aggregate talent and reach a fragmented and widely distributed audience. Along the way they will find new methods of selling advertising.

But there will always be music, and there will always be news.


6 replies »

  1. If I may rephrase so I’m sure I understand, newspapers in general will ultimately survive and prosper because they have access to the sources of news and because they won’t have to spend millions of dollars over the long haul to creat a Maureen Dowd or a David Broder, and the Internet will help the traditional news organizations that survive the Great Culling by providing smart people with a built-in following and who need the traditional news outlets to do their actual journalism for them?

    If you to see what I consider to be an excellent example of the Web working with the traditional news source, check out National Public Radio. NPR is radio, so it’s severely constrained in terms of what duration of stories, multimedia (audio-only), etc. So if a story you hear over the airwaves or streamed to your computer isn’t detailed enough, you can go to the website and see the photos that go along with it, listen to an expanded version of an interview, and follow links to massive amounts of additional information and related stories.

  2. I’m doing all this build Brand Slammy, pretty much.

    What is so fascinating about all this is as he says – you have the interplay of Big Brand with Individual Brand, people like us using all the tricks at our disposal to attract attention, drawing on associations with bigger organizations, then lending that cred out to new orgs, etc. It was a big deal for a big company – Sirius – when they landed that pondscum Howard Stern, and there are smaller cases all around.

    The ecology has changed dramatically, in other words.

  3. So let me see if I’ve got this straight – what this is REALLY about is the hegemony-of-access that Big Media has and the new paradigm that allows them to use that hegemony to decide who gets to be stars based on individuals’ abilities at not just music, writing, or (insert “talent” here) but at self-promotion, marketing, and “branding” without any real financial risk to themselves. I’d think hard about that last word’s multiple meanings if I were you….
    We’ve already have seen this in the music industry with the rise of college rock in the 1980’s where do-it-oneselfers like REM rose through the ranks to attract the attention of big Music industry – and became rock stars as a result. What has evolved, however, is that “rock stars” rarely make money anymore because the contracts that they must sign to get the all important access that you all so blithely refer to make them pretty much slaves to the hegemonic access controllers. Most rock bands have to stay on the road 50-52 weeks a year to make a living….That may be your idea of stardom, but it ain’t mine….And this will happen in every other creative endeavor where access controllers can write themselves favorable contracts that allow them to rake in revenue while the so called “stars” scramble to remain in their precarious posts so that they can scrape a living from constant work…. Yeah. Sounds great….
    You might have a good contract and think you’ve made it, but I predict that the dicks who own the access will continue to work their devious little machinations so that eventually every creative endeavor is the indentured servitude equivalent of that blight upon human civilization, American (or Pop or whatever they call it wherever one is) Idol….
    We need a new system – or maybe we just need to reshape the system to serve us creative types, not assholes whose only claim to “talent” is old-boy connections….

  4. It’s not that simple. Imus will come back. But this really is about freedom of speach and control from Big Brother/Big Sis.

    It’s Hillary behind the Imus scandal.