There is an excellent article in TechCrunch today by Robin Wauters in which the author takes a well-reasoned swat at the concept of micropayments as the savior of the print world. “Paying for quality” in this fashion, as a way out of this crash in demand for the printed word, is, according to the author, a band aid on a gushing wound.
As a guy who still likes to touch paper, I fear she is correct. The more I think about it, however, the more I am starting to realize that my fears are unwarranted. The key fear that I share, apparently, with many others is that we will be reduced to taking our news from the uninitiated, ill-informed, biased sources that are the Mongol hordes besieging the traditional news media. This is, in reality, unlikely to happen as it ignores all human experience, human taste and behavior and the lessons we have already learned from other periodic assaults on the media status quo.
Yes, there is a LOT of drivel out there. That said, has the print and broadcast news world been devoid of its respective share of the same? I have two thoughts. First, people vote with their eyeballs and ears. Second, we forget that there is market segmentation when it comes to content demand. As the digital world evolves, why would those fundamentals of human behavior change? The platform is really going to alter who we are, what we want, and when we want it in such a drastic way? Really?
My first point goes to the quality fear. Why do we assume that quality won’t rise to the top? Why do we assume that the experienced professionals we hold dear won’t adapt, move on to other platforms and figure out a way to evolve their business? The entire content space, right now, is a bit of a wheat field and, of course, we are still trying to figure out a new system of sifting the wheat from the chaff. But that does not mean that we are eons away from new models that allow intelligent choice and the development of a pecking order when it comes to digital media sources. There is a Murrow out there–and I am betting more than just one.
Secondly, it is not like the public has en masse, always turned their attention to the in depth, detailed reporting that most say they will miss. The market has always been segmented into the New York Times Crowd, the USA Today Crowd, The Star crowd and all of the nuanced mini markets in between. There is no doubt that the dust will settle and the audience will self-select similar segments to which they will throw their support. For those who want “journalism”, there will be journalists and quality content. For those who like the brightly colored pictures and care little about fact checking and objectivity, there will be plenty to go around.
When a guy like me (a paper toucher) finds himself checking news online, on my phone, etc. then you know times are a changin’. As in all things, I think the news delivery / quality issue will find a new equilibrium. Everyone will get what they want—only now there will be no more waiting for the paper to be tossed under the lawn sprinkler on Sunday morning. I think we will all be ok with that.