Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fight the Real Enemy, So to Speak

What was it that started depressing newspaper circulations? It wasn't the Internet.

What was it that killed afternoon newspapers? It wasn't the Internet.

What was it that sapped newspaper leaders of their raison d'etre for years because they no longer broke news and didn't really know what else they were supposed to do? ....

As Bill Powers makes clear in looking at this election cycle, it's still all about TV.

Now what follows is pure opinion unbuttressed by inconvenient facts.

Since the 1950s, it's always been all about TV. TV is the default choice. As Powers writes: "On a really big campaign night, when you want to know what's happening right now, where do you go? And what do you find yourself talking about the next day? Yup. Against all odds, TV is still where the action is."

You can read, or you can watch TV. Yes, you can do both; easier to do with "CSI" than "Lost." But it doesn't matter how you read in the end, on paper or on a screen. TV is the basic organizing principle of leisure time, a fact that newspapers have tried their best to ignore for 60 years, probably because media elites, to use that awful term, are among the few small groups for whom TV isn't the basic organizing principle of leisure time. The biggest foe to print newspapers in the morning isn't Internet newspapers. It's "AM Your City." Turning it off is not the same as putting it down.

The rush to have newspapers put videos on their Web sites is because that makes eyeballs stick longer. TV is linear. You stay with it or not, if you have a recording you can jump around, if you're on the Web you can click in and out, but you can't absorb it at your own pace. You absorb it as it unfolds, and it fills up your time. It's easy. Then you say, gee, where did all the time go?

As Mario Garcia noted, the biggest threat to any of us in communications is that there are only 24 hours in a day.

TV on the Web is still TV. Can newspapers really succeed in the TV business? Can newspapers ultimately succeed in a venue (the Internet) in which text and TV are two competing applications on the same screen?

Powers quotes Tom Rosenstiel: "I think our media consumption over time is going to become more event-specific, the platform shifting to meet the need."

What platforms will be most successful for us? How do we make our traditional platform pay off for us?

TV is asking itself the same question, of course. And TV has one big advantage over us in the Internet world.

Its traditional venue -- a rectangular screen -- looks an awful lot like what I'm typing on this second.

No comments: