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The Wall St Journal’s article on the demise of the 30-second spot, and the NY Times’ story on how the Internet, and particularly bloggers, are challenging traditional journalism, are very closely related. Both lament the death of message control.
Journal: 30-Second Ad’s Demise
The Journal notes that advertisers have finally noticed that nobody is responding to the ways they hawk products and services. The Times bemoans the fact that story subjects are talking back to journalists by posting transcripts of interviews, and other source materials, online to prove that media have taken a biased view. The bottom line of both stories: corporations, agencies, and media need to listen actively to consumers or pay the often sizeable consequences.
“Audiences are splintering off in dozens of directions, watching TV shows on iPods, watching movies on videogame players and listening to radio on the Internet. All these activities cut out the usual forms of sponsorship and take place when and where consumers — not media executives — choose.” says the Journal.
The article goes on to detail some of the new, still largely clueless, ways that Madison Avenue is trying to clobber consumers with product messages.
Times Kvetches About Subjects’ Back Talk
The Times kvetches that citizens talking back to the media “has led to a very uncivil discourse in which it seems to be O.K. to shout down, discredit, delegitimize and denigrate the people who are reporting stories and to pick at their methodology and ascribe motives to them that are often unfair.”
The fact is, that biased reporting has exactly the same impact! Having a way to talk back has shifted the scale back to greater balance. Posting primary souce material is becoming both a PR tool and a practice of online journalism.
The way subjects of newspaper articles and news broadcasts fight back by publishing taped interviews, e-mail exchanges, and notes from phone conversations on their websites, the Times complains, is a “new weapon in the media wars [that] is shifting the center of gravity in the way that news is gathered and presented, and it carries implications for the future of journalism.”
Oy! Those Bloggers!
The Times article is particularly miffed about blogs and whines that the “power of blogs is exponential” because blog posts are available, free, forever. Newspaper archives, it notes, often disappear into a pay-per-view library which is less likely to be seen.
Former CNN anchor-turned-blogger Rebecca MacKinnon is quoted: “If you’re one of a growing number of people with a blog, you now have a place where you can set the record straight.”
Who’s Got Time for all That Reading!?
MacKinnon predicts that traditional journalism and the art of distilling information are not going to vanish. Most people don’t have the time to read all the source material for hours on end, and want a knowlegeable summary.
I believe that the skill in reporting is in the distillation of a great deal of material into a couple of hundred words. That’s what journalism is. But transparency is valuable — and here to stay.
In general publishing all source material is sheer overkill. But when controversy arises, being able to access the sources allows readers to make up their own minds, based on real information. Undoubtedly that’s more than a little scary to those who are used to shaping public opinion. But here’s the bottom line: message control was never more than an illusion.
So why is it taking corporations, agencies and mainstream media so long to get used to the fact that there is no longer such thing as a passive audience. Goodbye and good riddance to managed messages.