Whither the Mainstream Media?

In the big-media world, the turmoil continues. At Market Watch, Bambi Francisco describes how the revolt among news consumers has impacted the economics of news producers:

Not only are some consumers not paying for content, some are displacing those heretofore assigned to create it and others are affecting the economics by their online-sharing behavior.
That additional power given to the audience is evident in the financial results of many companies.
In the magazine industry, advertising pages at Time Warner Inc.’s Time magazine were down 23.8% in 2006 from 2000, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Newsweek’s ad pages fell about 17.6% in the same period.
In the newspaper industry, the New York Times has been halved since trading above $50 in 2002.
In the music industry, sales of CDs have been declining in the last seven years and fell 20% in the first quarter of this year. And a significant distribution channel of music in the last two decades — retail outlets — saw 800 music stores shut down in 2006.

Some news outlets are responding by moving further in the direction of opinion:

In order to compete, the monolithic traditional magazine, newspaper and television networks appear to be relying on reporters to move up the value chain and become brands themselves to attract the audience. Why? It’s not a one-size-fits-all media world. The audience is learning or becoming conditioned to identify with a personality or expert or show, rather than one big institution. So each reporter/columnist must provide more analysis, more insight and more dedication to his or her trade to outperform and outshine the crowded stage of free stuff.
Regarding Time, the Wall Street Journal writes: “In addition to the new look, editors have invoked the Economist as a role model for the new Time — less of a news digest, more of an opinion journal.” It goes onto to say: “It’s a risky strategy for a mass-market magazine. If the appeal is too narrow, circulation could suffer, bringing advertising down with it.”

This strikes me as exactly the wrong approach. Commentary is, if not easy, certainly plentiful. The unique advantage of the traditional press is its ability to fulfill the primary news gathering and reporting function on which all else depends. Increasingly, though, that’s not what reporters and editors want to do. It is the loss of their reputation for reliability, not their “boring” devotion to fact, that has caused consumers to cancel their newspaper and magazine subscriptions and turn off the evening news.
The New York Times has more, via InstaPundit:

For newspapers, February was the cruelest month. So far.
Revenue from advertising was in striking decline last month, compared with February a year ago, and were generally weaker than analysts had expected.
At USA Today, the nation


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