I wrote earlier about some views I have about mainstream media. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I also wrote it in a bout of anger about what I believe is a case that someone stole the premise from one of my stories. I wrote from the frame of mind that blogging is where it is at.
But the reality is I dither back and forth on my thinking. The mainstream media has the responsibility to serve as the fourth estate of the government, keeping it in check. They have a responsibility to check their facts, be accurate, and be learned. We’ve definitely seen a deterioration of that with the scandal at the NY Times with Jayson Blair, and what seems to be me to be an increasing conflicts of interest. It decreases people’s trust of MSM, and they become undifferentiated from much of the market.
Let’s be honest, conflicts of interest are rampant with bloggers. I know writers who get on the list for concerts, befriend chefs, and plaster their faces all over the place. (Not to say that there aren’t an enormous number of restaurants and diners who don’t know what WaPo critic Tom Sietsema looks like – even in disguise.) But it has a lot more to do with the fact that bloggers get paid a pittance or nothing to write about their opinions, and most feel the need to take advantage of perks. Good ones will disclose any freebies/special treatment they’ve received. I know some people who insist on not getting freebies, but will get exemplary service because they know every person in the place.
So let’s focus on the alleged strengths of mainstream media that those publications should work on.
1. Being the article of record. Checking, verifying, not lying. Multiple visits. Giving the complete story. Thorough research. Know your beat, extremely well. Read as much about it as you can get your hands on. Mainstream media has the resources to look into history and utilize their own archives. Link to your own stories or in print place information about archived related articles. More web views = more money. Duh!
2. Be above reproach. A lot like being the article of record. Down with all these scandals. Down with all these conflicts of interest. This is what is bringing MSM down. What makes you better than a blogger? Honesty. Hiding your identity! Using resources to mine information from other sources, and for chrissakes linking to them. Add value to your work! The reality is hiding from bloggers and not linking to them will not make them go away. You can only enrich your content and bolster your own work by supplementing your work with good, trusted sources.
3. Interpretation. Bring a higher level of knowledge and interpretation. The Economist thrives on this. People still buy The Economist despite the lack of glitz and glamor. They’re not afraid to give a thorough analysis and HOLY CRAP! give an opinion about something. They come down hard on one side after presenting all the information. This does not only pertain to politics… this pertains to meaning. No equivocating. Pick a side and argue for it HARD. It’s good? It’s bad? I want to know.
4. Findability. This pertains to MSM websites, but OMG, could you make it any harder for me to find something? The Washington Post’s search is an abomination. The navigation is less than intuitive. And did you try testing your site on other browsers? Why do I always get a huge blue gradient across the bottom? And the presentation of search results requires me to take a nap after getting through two pages. The New York Times site is even uglier. But most of the recent week’s content is up front. Figure out how to deal with your glut of information. Maybe then more people will access it, hence more money.
5. Throw out the concept of hard bound sections. Why should I wait until a certain day of the week to find out about travel or food? Some of it has to do with print advertising, but why hold on to those old traditions when you’re no longer profiting from them? Publishing a little of each type of content every day of the week will have readers visiting the site every day rather than perhaps only on the day that a certain section is published – something I definitely do.
I have some other thoughts than this. But it’s interesting because MSM could solve their problems with two totally different routes. By choosing to play to the traditional strengths – the journalists of old, or to compete with new media.