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The news business’ best days are ahead 3/24/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in News.
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If it’s always darkest before the dawn, we should be hearing from the news industry rooster any second now — that is, if the bleak picture painted by the NY Times is accurate. In an article “Newspapers’ New Owners Turn Grim” we learn that those who bought their way into the business recently now have second thoughts. “I’m an optimist, but it is very hard to be positive about what’s going on,” says Brian P. Tierney, new owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. “The news business is something worse than horrible. If that’s the future, we don’t have much of a future,” says new Tribune owner Sam Zell. “The near term and medium term at the paper [are] more negative than what we expected,” says the new parent company of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

But, how can one possibly be bearish about the news business? “What’s new?” must be history’s most frequently asked question — critical to mankind’s safety, survival, relationship-building, and entertainment. Looking on the flip side, the urge to tell is equally insatiable — everyone has stories they want told. There’s also the urge to sell — advertisers who need to tell the stories that sell their products. And finally, there has always been a need for those who can call our attention to what is newsworthy, among the infinite number of possible news stories and angles. In the past, news outlets have served as searchlights, pulling these stories out of the darkness so we could see them. Now, they will need to serve as laser pointers to bring them to our attention among the infinite number of stories the Internet brings into the light. Mox nix.

So maybe newspapers were not the best place for these entrepreneurs to place their bets. We now know that when news consumers have been asking “what’s new?” they would have preferred to have heard it from voices that conformed to their worldviews, lacked the pretense of always being right or objective, had an engaging style, satisfied their prurient interests, and didn’t dwell on the public sector, a place where most of us do not live our lives. Maybe these entrepreneurs were investing in businesses where the staff’s urge to lecture exceeded their urge to tell — or at least to tell stories that amused their audiences. And, maybe we’ll just have to wait a bit until advertisers get so discouraged by the falling value of Old Media as an advertising vehicle that they’ll send their dollars New Media’s way.

Biblically speaking, the transition from the Old to the New Testament was a story about a people engaged in increasingly fallen practices, with some ritually going through the motions, followed by bad times, a new paradigm, death, rebirth, inspired leadership, and “Good News.” History is about to repeat itself.

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