December 15, 2012

The Punctuated Revolution

Back in the 1980s there were dire predictions of global climate change and warnings that in less than 100 years the planet could be thrown into environmental turmoil. The gist of it has proven true, only it's taking place much faster than expected.

The same is now true for the fate of traditional media.

Change is not linear and consistent, it's punctuated by events of great disruption. One year you're buying CD's from a "record store", and the next you're complaining about download speeds while sucking an entire series of TV onto your iPad.

We're still getting word from the old boys in the Main Stream Media that it's time to look seriously at the threat posed by the internet. Actually that threat was obvious at least 5 years ago and what they're now watching is the tipping of an ice berg. It starts slowly at first, with a few groans and pops, then suddenly the entire mass of ice is rolling forward like an unstoppable boulder the size of Uluru.

More recently the twitter-sphere has erupted with derision over the manifest failure of #MSM (Main Stream Media) to deliver even remotely reasonable journalism to a knowledge thirsty audience. The problem with this model is that we no longer have a Main Stream Media. All that is left of the daily papers and nightly news bulletins are marginalised entertainment units that have to scream increasingly loud to get attention.

Real news apparently doesn't sell enough advertising any more, so extreme news is used to boost the numbers. Trouble is that each time the editors jump the shark they push away a little more of their old audience and set the bar for indifference even higher. It's a spiral of death where advertisers cut their spend accordingly, journalists get the sack to keep the business profitable and the cycle spins ever tighter into itself.

At first the spiral into oblivion for a newspaper is slow and broad, resembling an editorial shift over many years as good journos are sent out to chase bad stories. The tighter the spiral descends the faster the collapse, signalled by ever more dreadful excuses for journos being given ever greater column inches. In some cases even a TV show.

We're in the final phases now, where the future of mastheads can be counted in months instead of years. Don't blink, you just might miss the moment of truth. Only a few titles will survive the wash up, and they won't be the ones that sacked all the proper journos either. Who needs to pay $2 a day to read newsprint filled with rumour and fiction, when you can jump on Twitter and get it for free?

The old boys in print are equally keen to boast that "social media" doesn't have any real journalists so what good is Twitter when you want to find out the truth. Irony is lost on them and so is mathematics. The biggest circulating newspaper in Australia claims 100,000 copies a day, which puts it narrowly in front of Annabel Crabb and her 70,000 (and growing) twitter followers.

Sure that's not 70,000 daily readers, but there's a hundred Annabels out there and each of them are eminently retweetable. The numbers scale quickly and in a targeted fashion. For all the hoo-ha over Alan Jones and his "influence", his greatest gift to the media landscape is to act as a human warning to others.

Annabel has the added advantage of offering 100% informed opinion without the distraction of advertising. A single reader can follow a few hundred news sources and tap into a network of information that is orders of magnitude greater than anything offered by every Australian newspaper put together. Put that information gathering ability behind some nice apps on your iPad, such as FlipBoard or Zyte, and you have a far superior experience in every possible way.

You can even send feedback directly to the source to let them know if they hit the mark or not. The reader is in control, not the editor. That is the revolution. Newspapers don't fear unqualified journos on Twitter, they fear being accountable to their audience.

Recent news events such as the infamous misogyny speech by Prime Minister Gillard and the Ashby conspiracy to depose the Speaker of the House failed to get due attention in the #MSM. Thankfully overseas papers like the Guardian provided newsworthy accounts of both for Twitter followers in Australia.

But the #MSM is not really main stream, it's actually the fringe. They just haven't realised it yet and neither have most of the people who object to their scale of bias. These dying mastheads are like a school yard bully, if you ignore them enough they will simply go away.

Given their rate of rabidity and desperation over the last 12 months they will be going away even sooner than anyone could have predicted.

Newspaper Death Watch

The Failed Estate / Jim Parker

Let The Great Unhinging Begin / Scott Steel

Prissy Shrieks of Fear and Loathing / Mike Carlton

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