From sea to shining sea.
From Seattle to Boston from Tampa To Detroit.
Poynter is trying to keep up with a list of bad news about the news right now, as they attempt to collect layoffs, furloughs & closures of newsrooms across the country. It’s a task that’s a laundry list long.
“Coronavirus has closed more than 50 local newsrooms across America. And counting.”
Long time employees, who’ve dedicated most of their lives to one newsroom are coming to work and finding their things packed for them—with no warning. I received a message the other day from a woman, who had put half her life into producing television, who was told on her 50th birthday: “We won’t be needing you anymore.”
Newsrooms that date back to the post-Civil War era. Gone. Newsrooms that survived a Depression, wars—but didn’t stand a chance against a pandemic, coupled with increasing technology.
Small weekly newspapers are taking a big hit. Those are the people that go to the school board, planning board and city council meetings. In losing them, communities lose transparency and accountability. No more reporting on the news that most affects you on a daily— the things happening at the local level.
It’s hitting local newsrooms hard, but no one is immune. Larger newsrooms have also been impacted at BuzzFeed, New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have cut back.
And, there’s uncertainty for the ones still with a job.
As with office workers across the country, journalists have been forced to work from home. But, now the very real possibility they make not ever work in a physical newsroom ever again has presented itself.
Tribune has informed journalists that the newsrooms of five newspapers will permanently close. Affected are the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, which was already still reeling from a mass shooting that took five of their colleagues only two years ago, and New York Daily News, The Carroll County Times of Westminster, Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel and the Aurora, Ill bureau of the Chicago Tribune.
A newspaper with no newsroom.
It’s like baseball with no dugout.
It’s like football, basketball & hockey with no locker room.
Newsrooms are where bonds are created, where chemistry and collaboration begin, where the day’s playbook is written.
As a former local morning television producer, I booked 75 segments a week for a live, 6-hour, Monday-Friday show. Our little morning show office was my happy place, filled with quirky, but brilliant people. I’d float an idea and the people in the room would take it to another level.
It’s where you found the missing piece of your puzzle.
It’s the magic movies are made of: All The President’s Men, Broadcast News, The Post, Spotlight, Network, Citizen Kane…
On television from the Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Newsroom to The Morning Show. By the way, Jennifer Aniston deserved every bit of that Golden Globe.
That kind of drama. It all happens in newsrooms.
Now it’s the newsroom itself that’s the center of drama.
I’m nostalgic over the loss of the newsrooms I see in the news.
Without a small weekly newspaper that gave me a job while I was in college, I don’t know that I would have spent more than 20 years in television after that. I googled the newspaper I used to work for today. I’d moved 1,000 miles away soon after I graduated from college, so I had no idea the paper folded just a few years after I left. That was more than 20 years ago.
It hurts my journalistic heart to the core.
But, for those of you looking for a job, contemplating a new job, there is hope. I own a social media content creation business now, and I know this to be true: Your skill set isn’t tired. It’s wired.
“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity—not a threat.” -Steve Jobs
Small, medium and large businesses NEED journalists right now.
They need people who can write and communicate effectively. Media is no longer just relegated to a newsroom, if you’re still lucky enough to be in one. It’s EVERYWHERE.
That’s because the business of building brands is becoming more and more like a newsroom.
Companies need content in perpetuity. They need content produced en masse. It’s a fine art. And, you’re the artist.
Every company is a media company.
Even school districts are hiring storytellers and journalists.
Stories are the essence of communication.
It’s how we relate to one another. It’s how we make decisions.
Entrepreneur and best-selling author, Gary Vaynerchuk says this: He believes there’s a scenario where “Chief Marketing Officers” will be an old phenomenon. He wouldn’t be surprised if down the line, the major brands in the world will have, instead, an Editor-In-Chief.
So, maybe you’re not going to work for a newspaper, a TV station or your favorite magazine. But, what about your favorite brand?
Great storytelling never goes out of fashion regardless of the platform.
How do companies build credibility? They don’t sell. They tell.
Vaynerchuk goes on to say: It’s not hard for Nike not to mention their product in an ad. It wouldn’t be difficult for a coconut drink to talk about health and wellness without mentioning its drink, too.
But, they don’t…
“This is why I want them to hire journalists. You hire a marketer, they’re going to want to sell. You hire a journalist, they’re not going to want to sell out.” -Gary Vaynerchuk
Nothing will ever replace the collective power of a newsroom. No zoom call. No phone call. No text. No email. But, there is a way you can still do what you love & quite frankly—it’s at your fingertips. It’s called your phone.
New Era, Same Mistakes
We talk about the bias of stories and bias of news but we don’t think about our own place in the world.
As we approach another presidential election, we’ve seen a lot of discussion about avoiding past mistakes, specifically the election of 2016 and the inaccurate predictions of Hillary Clinton becoming the next president. While the times have certainly changed since then news media has largely stayed the same. Rather than recognizing how news coverage affects discussion and taking a more balanced approach, it is steering towards attention-grabbing headlines creating a more stressful and hostile environment.
News Media has done a poor job prioritizing which headlines to focus on in the past. The majority of Black Lives Matters Protests have been peaceful but because violence broke out at some of them.
“About 93% of racial justice protests in the US since the death of George Floyd have been peaceful and nondestructive, according to a new report. The findings, released Thursday, contradict assumptions and claims by some that protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement are spawning violence and destruction of property.” (CNN)
Because news media had failed to take a nuanced approach, only covering the protests in which violence broke out, opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement have been able to characterize all protests as being inherently violent, prompting actors like Kyle Rittenhouse and The Proud Boys to take matters into their own hands.
“In 2016, Trump stoked nativist fears, placing his electoral chances as part of an activist strategy to limit non-white immigration. In 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests attempt to change the structure of America’s racial caste system, he is cultivating a “law and order” fear in frightened whites”. (NBC News)
By deciding which stories take precedent, News outlets steer the national conversation in a certain direction. When the person in the driver’s seat steers news towards stories that produce a profit, the consequences can end up being very real.
As with the Black Lives Matter protests, Trump’s COVID diagnosis taking precedent over the revelation about his taxes, steers the conversation away from the president’s crimes, moving it towards what drugs he’s taking, and how the president’s opponents should be reacting to the news.
Our president is committing tax fraud. Did everyone forget? Before Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 a New York Times Expose revealed that last year the President paid a total of $750 dollars in income taxes. That would be a lot for me, but I’m also a recent college graduate living during the second recession to happen in my lifetime. The New York Times bombshell report was released on September 27 a mere five days before Trump announced his testing positive for COVID 19.
While the Coronavirus is an ongoing issue, with more than 7 million contracting the disease resulting in 210,000 deaths, the news cycle continues to move forward covering the presidential and vice-presidential debates and how these diagnoses will affect the future debates. Unfortunately, these updates have not affected how the U.S is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, the president maintaining that the Coronavirus is not a real threat.
Trump’s COVID diagnosis has become the first “October Surprise” of the 2020 campaign season. The concept is self-explanatory, a month before the election some revelation comes out that puts a different light on the presidential race, throwing into question all predictions preceding it. In 2016 there was a flurry of surprises in the month of October, the infamous recording from Access Hollywood in which Trump casually admitted to sexually assaulting several women, to the Comey verdict on Hillary’s emails a week before the election.
The October Surprise has a tendency to cause a stir in the News, pundits speculating on how it affects polls, pulling attention away from other headlines.
In another universe where Trump did not contract COVID, we would be talking about how the president has repeatedly used the office of the presidency to promote his own brand, used taxpayer money to travel back and forth from Mar-a-lago to the White House, and passed a tax bill that put millions of dollars into the pockets of large corporations. The president is not only using the office to enrich himself and his family, but he is also using it to escape the law.
Several figures are still focused on the NYT’s expose. Allan Sloan, a columnist from The Washington Post reminds us why we shouldn’t lose sight of this story.
“Our leaders are supposed to set an example, both to help cover the costs of the benefits they get from the government and to encourage tax compliance by regular citizens.”(The Washington Post)
News Media not focusing on Trump’s taxes excuses his actions and contributes to the disenfranchisement of Americans taking place in the political system. “He can get away with it because he’s rich and that’s just the way things are.”
With the advent of streaming and social media, people can pick and choose which news they get. Network News is now competing against online publications, news radio, and podcasts, but we’re finding out that those sources have nefarious motivations, social media websites letting suspicious characters post fake news to their followers. Podcasts and websites being backed by big money and big politics.
We expect the news media to take an unbiased approach, giving us the hard facts. The truth is that the headlines we see, the stories we hear, the people reporting it, are in front of us because someone cared enough to share it. Most people know this. Fox News, Breitbart, and The New York Post are associated with the right side of the political spectrum, while MSNBC, Huffington Post, and The New Yorker are on the left. From the examples, I’m using for this article you can guess where my views lie politically. In a much broader perspective News media in the U.S. has one huge glaring bias that most Americans aren’t even aware of and that is our America-centricity.
We talk about our media bubbles as either being conservative or liberal but whichever political ideology our media bubbles sway towards they are almost always located in America. This is where I think the issue starts. We talk about the bias of stories and bias of news but we don’t think about our own place in the world. I think if we want to do something about bias in media, we should talk about the self centered-ness of the media. Learning about the world, and how it affects us. To have a more holistic media atmosphere Americans have to think more holistically as a society first.
In order to see something different, we have to do something differently. When you repeat the same behavior and expect a different result, it’s called insanity. What would happen if we changed the way we define news? What if we didn’t separate world news from domestic? News media, in its current state, is on track to make the same mistakes as it had in the past.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Paywall
The advent of in-car smartphone apps and Wi-Fi have given people easy ways to access commercial free alternatives to the advertiser saturated content on the dial.
I was talking with a former radio colleague of mine a few months ago. We got into a rather lengthy discussion about online radio listening and on-demand content.
We segued into a discussion about subscription-based services.
“It’s shocking to me why radio operators don’t put their content behind a paywall,” I said.
“Hell no,” he replied. “We could NEVER do that!”
“Why not?” I queried.
“People would never pay to listen to our shows. If we started charging them money to listen to our content, they would just go somewhere else!”
That line gave me a EUREKA moment. What my former colleague said is perhaps the radio industry’s biggest problem- they don’t have enough faith in their own content.
A someone who spent nearly three decades working for terrestrial radio stations in eight different markets across the country, this pains me. Radio is missing out on a golden opportunity to break open new revenue streams that they desperately need. The solution has been sitting in their studios the entire time.
Radio’s biggest asset is their content. And more operators need to double-down on that. Company to company, market to market and station to station, radio still boasts the biggest portfolio of local and syndicated talent in the country. Yet, they don’t maximize the revenue from this talent. Instead of putting a dollar value on that content, they’d rather give it away for free and make money the way they have for 100 years…spots and dots.
Radio’s efforts to generate new revenue streams have been mixed, at best. I’ve seen first-hand the dabbling into things like e-commerce, e-mail marketing, SEO and website building. Eventually every new fad I’ve witnessed championed has, for the most part, fizzled out within a year or two. Why? Because nothing they come up with is innovative. Everything I’ve seen radio get into had already been done by the Groupons, Go Daddy’s, Googles and Amazons of the world…and those companies did (and continue to do it) it far better.
Radio is using an antiquated revenue model, relying too heavily on selling ads to survive. One problem, spot revenue has been on the decline for well over a decade. Advertisers are seeing higher ROI by investing in more non-traditional campaigns to get their messaging out.
What’s worse, radio has seen serious listener erosion for a long time. In large part because younger consumers have grown tired of having to soldier through 20+ minutes of commercials in a given hour (or even one of those damn “Kars4Kids” spots).
Time and time again, consumers (younger ones, in particular) have proved with their wallets that they will pay a few extra bucks for quality commercial free content, on virtually every platform. Hell, its as if they’re conditioned to do so.
Netflix Revenue in 2019 was over $20 billion.
Disney+ managed to gain over 60 million subscribers in less than a year.
Spotify did almost $7.5 billion in revenue in 2019.
SiriusXM is now a $2 billion company and has already swallowed up competitors in Pandora and Stitcher.
Huge multinational corporations like Apple, Sony and Amazon are pouring cash into developing original audio content.
And the list goes on and on.
The advent of in-car smartphone apps and Wi-Fi have given people easy ways to access commercial free alternatives to the advertiser saturated content on the dial.
Everyone has already left for the party and radio is still in the bathroom fixing their hair. The truth is, they look fine and should have been at the party hours ago.
There will always be room for ad-supported content in the audio world. But the reliance on it needs to be drastically reduced and a big part of the needed shift should include the building of paywalls to support subscriber-based content.
As I prepared to write this column, I did a little-self exercise. How many commercial-free subscription services do I actually have?
Here’s my inventory:
You Tube Premium
Amazon Prime Video
New York Times
NFL Sunday Ticket
Crunchyroll (my husband is a big fan of anime)
World of Wonder
That’s a lot. And by the way, as anyone will tell you, I ain’t rich! But what’s an extra $15 dollars a month if I get to see John Oliver and Bill Maher every week? What’s an extra $25 a month if I can listen to Stern?
And to be honest, if my favorite terrestrial radio talent were pushed behind a paywall, the decision for me would be easy.
As a die-hard (and constantly suffering) Detroit Sports fan, I’m an almost daily listener of Mike Valenti’s on 97.1 The Ticket. His Monday shows after Sunday Lions debacles are must-listens. If I can get the Radio.com app to NOT crash on me, I make a point to be logged on to his live stream.
That being said, If Entercom were to tell me that I’d have to pay $5.99 a month to listen to his show online, get commercial free access to his podcasts (and maybe some additional bonus content), I’d sign up without even giving it a second thought. I’m guessing a decent chunk of his nearly 200,000 weekly listeners would do the same.
Even if say, 5% of his audience (10,000) agreed to pay that subscription fee, that’s $60,000 in revenue. How many radio stations would turn down a $60k annual these days?
All is not lost. There are some operators who are moving in the right direction. No one does digital better than iHeart. Yes, they have the largest scale, but they have also invested more than anyone else in top tier talent as well as the technology to deliver it. In 2019, their podcast revenues alone were about $100M. A big reason for that is because they’ve approached things fearlessly. Sure, they have ad-supported content online. But they also created a space for the paywall as well. iHeart Radio Plus and iHeart Radio All-Access are upgrades to their digital content services that unlock different features such as ad free artist radio. On a smaller scale, Good Karma is starting to do the same as they continue to grow their footprint.
Radio has, for the most part been far too conservative. They’re the guy at the poker table that gets bluffed easily, may win a few hands, but would rather fold than call. At some point, they’re going to have to push all their chips into the center of the table. Otherwise, like that overly cautious poker player, they’ll continue to slowly hemorrhage money until it’s time to call it a night.
America Exposes the Media
The media, as a whole, is not fair and balanced. News is not really news. In actuality, news is now a reflection of a point of view.
America is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of unity. Agreement is everywhere, spanning across political, cultural and geographic divides. Among all issues, there is one on which Americans of all stripes can agree – the media should not be trusted.
On Friday’s Ingraham Angle, Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Raymond Arroyo hosted a panel of swing state voters in Columbus, Ohio. This panel of Republicans, Democrats and Independents voiced a common concern – they do not trust the mainstream media or big tech.
During a discussion about the newly-uncovered evidence and corruption charges against Joe Biden, a panelist named Deb pointed out that many viewers most likely hadn’t even heard about the uncovered laptop and email allegations.
“What bothers me is our news has become so personalized, that if you’re a Biden supporter, you’re not getting that side of the story,” she said. “If you are a Trump supporter, you are, so the Trump supporters are going to continue to believe that this is a Joe Biden corruption piece, and the people who are Biden supporters are going to believe that this is a bunch of hooey.”
NPR – partly funded by Americans’ tax dollars – blatantly admitted they would not even cover the new revelations about the alleged pay-for-play scandal engulfing the Democratic nominee.
“We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories,” NPR announced as it’s reason for not covering the shocking developments. “And we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.” Interestingly, there was no such blackout during many similar stories that, while lacking evidence, targeted the president over the last few years.
The truth is, the veil has been lifted, and America no longer believes in or counts on the media. According to Gallup in 2020, only 40% of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of trust and confidence in the mass media – such as newspapers, TV and radio – when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly. On this, there is a large degree of national unity. Some Americans believe this media deception is purposeful, because forcing us into our respective camps is good for business.
“The response of the media and the press is symbolic of what it takes to create the system that we are under,” said Sadie, a self-described Independent. “The divisiveness is just advanced and supported, split, that’s exactly what democracy requires under a two-party system, and they did it very effectively.”
Americans knew something was wrong when, last decade, the media as a whole refused to look into a presidential candidate’s web of shady ties and anti-American network of friends. They knew, of course. They just felt it was their solemn duty to keep their audiences uninformed. As Sean Hannity has repeatedly, “2008 is the year journalism died.”
Then, in 2016, the same media went from celebrating and glorifying a cultural icon, only to do a 180 and go into full demonization mode once he announced a run for president. Same guy, same media. Americans watched the flip, which validated what they’ve always suspected of the mainstream press. As a result, that year saw only 32% of Americans admitting they had trust in the media’s truthfulness – a record low. The charade is over.
Regarding the current scandal, some voters admit they don’t care about the content or the media’s motives.
“This is actually, for Democrats, a non-issue, a non-story. It’s not being covered like it is on Fox, and quite frankly I’m kind of tired of it,” said Lauren, a Democrat. “I don’t believe that it’s a thing, and even if it is, it doesn’t matter.”
“She’s right, it’s not being covered,” responded Kevin, a Trump voter. “The question is, why? Why don’t you see it on NBC, ABC or CBS? That’s the question we should be asking.” Proving the point, a Democrat named Mark admitted that, even though the initial email and laptop revelations had been made many days earlier, this was the first he’d heard of the allegations. How can Americans agree on anything when we don’t all hear the story or get the facts?
Americans of all stripes know the truth. The media, as a whole, is not fair and balanced. News is not really news. In actuality, news is now a reflection of a point of view. If you agree, you like it and gravitate to it. If not, you are drawn to the opposite media view elsewhere. In some circles, this philosophy is referred to as “advocacy journalism,” which is short for picking a side and anchoring your “reporting” accordingly.
Ingraham wrapped up the segment, asking the live panel, “How many people out there think a media outlet, again regardless of who is in the White House, should regard stories about our adversaries funneling money to family members of a sitting president, that’s not a story. How many of you think that’s the way a media organ should react?”
Not one member of the panel raised a hand. Democrats, Republicans, Independents. Not. One. Hand.
On this, Americans are unified.