How to Bring Back Journalism

Journalism is not dead, if you follow this formula.

Between the time you're first labeled a Nazi and accused of Fake News, there comes a time when combatants of all stripes bemoan the fact that "journalism isn't what it used to be."  They're right, of course.  Most, if not all of what passes for journalism today would have failed Mrs. Johnson's seventh grade English class for rambling discourse, lack of structure, editorializing, misspelling, bad grammar and inappropriate use of the Oxford comma.

People like to think journalism isn't the grand Fourth Estate as it once was.  The mourn how the bastion of impartial reporting has long since crumbled into a juvenile, biased free-for-all, in which readers never get past sensational headlines written by media salesmen motivated by generating clicks.

But how much of that is even true?

The reality is that ever since the invention of the printing press, mass media has hardly lived up to its romantic ideal as the source of objective fact-gathering.  In 19th century America, for example, virtually every important newspaper -- including the illustrious New York Times -- railed against businessmen, politicians and socialites with reckless abandon, accountable to nobody for anything they published.  The inaccurate reporting got so bad that more than a few of the media victims countered with the defensive strategy of purchasing controlling interests in competing publications in an attempt to level the playing field.

So the devolution of ideal journalism has always been something of a convenient myth. When you add the sad fact that an internet allows anyone, anywhere (including me) to publish anything on a potentially international platform, you eventually land in a swampy quicksand of bad information, fueled by the flight of professional old school reporters who simply can't survive on the money publishers are paying 20 year-old kids living in their parents' basements.

Quite the conundrum.  If, as I suspect, the American public would choose objective, sourced news reporting over click-bait, baseless editorials, how could a journalistic enterprise take advantage of that market in a digitally viral age?  I submit the answer is deceptively simple:

I'm a branding guy, so when everyone else zigs, I prefer to zag.  And in the field of journalism, the big zag is taking the business offline.  That's right, I'm talking about going back to good old tree-killing weekly or monthly publications delivered by U.S Mail.  Sound absurd?  Read the next paragraph and see if you don't agree.

In the first place, scooping your competition by reporting news first is no longer winnable or even relevant.  Everyone pretty much gets the same news at the same time, which means those trying to win the "first to report it" war will never win that battle.   Second, digital delivery is another myth that counters all business sense.  Since people don't need to get most of their news immediately, there's no need for an "instant, updatable resource," especially in a market when most news is reported before it's even fact-checked.  Third -- and this is critical -- going back to paper returns bulletproof ownership of reader data to the publication.  No hacks. No "denial of service" attacks on their servers. Fourth, a pure paper play offerstime delay, in which the publication never rushes out an issue, instead delivering thoughtful, considered content that delivers real value.  Finally, going back to pulp ensures there's only one way to obtain the publication's content.  No screen shots.  No sharing of posts.  Oh, I suppose a few cheapskates could scan a few pages here and there, but it's not like illegally downloading an MP3.  In the model, everyone who plays, pays -- like real businesses do.

Does this mean journalism eschews all things digital?  Certainly not.  It just means recalibrating and downsizing their digital presences to a few pages:

1.  How to subscribe to the print edition
2.  A list of topics covered in this week's issue
3.  A directory of back issues for purchase.

That's it.  Simple. Easy. And probably effective.  Of course, I doubt the current generation of business illiterates will comprehend it, but if and when they do, believe me: You'll read all about it.

 

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