Disruption. Disintermediation. Destruction. Those are de factos of life when technology rolls into town and throws a digital wrench into an existing industry. Travel reservation sites challenge travel agents. Digital content delivery strains local and chain booksellers. Algorithmically armored car services send traditional taxis on a one way trip towards a seemingly inescapable demolition derby.
Yeah, it’s like Uber for WTF, but that’s how business works. New technologies and strategies strain the old way of doing things; some survive, some don’t.
But news is different.
One can easily argue that traditional media properties are getting what they deserve after largely failing to adapt to the digital and mobile uprising; a shift that has been ferocious, but one that they could see coming for more than a decade. Adapt or die. Those are the options and many publishers have done too little of the former to avoid the latter. Consumers shifted their reading habits, marketers changed the rules of the game and added measurement to the mix, and now Apple is giving readers the option to block ads altogether.
It’s hard to feel sorry for the news organizations that have utterly failed to pay enough attention to the top story of a generation. It’s one thing to bury the lede. It’s another to allow it to bury your industry.
But if you can’t feel sorry for news orgs, then at least feel sorry for yourself. Because news really is different. The demise of reporting outfits is not only about the loss of jobs and the diminishing of fortunes, it’s a severe blow to society. It represents the potential silencing of the only voice many people have.
Consider Tin Lin Tun who was sold into a bizarre and brutal world of fishermen enslavement in Indonesia. Today he’s back home and explains: “I’m sure my parents think I’m dead. I’m their only son. They’re going to cry so hard when they see me.” Tin Lin Tun’s parents will see him again thanks to the reporting on this issue by the Associated Press.
Consider the Ohio reporter who helped convict more than 100 rapists by spending years reporting on the issue of neglected rape kits in Cleveland.
Need something closer to home? Consider the story of Volkswagen and the software that fooled emissions regulators and car buyers for years. Yes, it’s true that it was West Virginia University researchers who performed the tests and uncovered the deception. But that was a year and half year ago. Did you hear about it then? Nope. But you know about the story now because of journalists.
Consider a whole host of recent stories by the incredible reporters at Reveal. Organizations like Reveal and ProPublica can keep investigative reporting alive because they operate as non-profits. But they can’t do it alone. For-profit journalism, even with its flaws, is an absolutely critical pillar upholding the values of a free society.
So yeah, they might deserve it all. The ad blocking software, the new upstarts eating their lunch, the new economic demands for streamlined operations and more creative revenue strategies. But we don’t deserve it. And more importantly, the voiceless victims of atrocities and unfairness don’t deserve it.
Everyone who gets into any business knows the rules. But the rules have to be different when we’re talking about news. What’s the answer? I’m not sure. But I am sure that we all have a stake in finding one. That much, at least, is still a black and white issue.