P.T. Barnum, among many others, is credited with saying: “I don’t care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name right!”
Barnum knew it wasn’t important what people said about him as long as they were talking about him. Only the noise level about Barnum mattered.
When I saw this chart from The DataFace measuring the newspaper media coverage of the two presidential candidates, it was eye opening. It mattered little that most of that coverage was negative. What mattered was they spelled “Trump” correctly.
Once upon a time, news came from journalists who worked for newspapers, radio and television stations.
Then along came the iPhone and social media.
Now the same device that could receive text, voice, pictures and video could produce it too.
Social media platforms provided mass distribution without a filter (aka an editor).
This provided the perfect storm for the production of fake news. A cottage industry in some parts of the world, some American citizens soon learned that producing internet stories that would get lots of clicks could be profitable.
Radio & Fake News
Even syndicated radio host Sean Hannity got snared in the volume of fake news being generated and had to apologize for using fake news stories to attack Obama.
Ad Supported Media Fight for Survival
In an effort to make a little coin, trusted media sources began accepting advertising that would lead their readers, listeners, viewers to unaffiliated sources that would serve up this fake news. In so doing, they inadvertently now wore the stink of the fake news creators. The public quickly could not discern the researched and sourced news from the made-up variety.
One PM Central Standard Time
Radio and television journalism didn’t always operate this way. PBS produced an excellent documentary about the coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The program was called “One PM Central Standard Time” and it covered how “the most trusted man in America” Walter Cronkite waited until Kennedy’s death was confirmed by multiple sources before going live with the news to the nation over the CBS radio and television networks.
The Being First Obsession
Things changed when things started being published digitally. In this world, advertising paid based on clicks. Quantity beat quality. Sensational beat facts. Going viral meant big money to these new media folks. Plus the concept of “native advertising” means that advertising copy is presented to look like editorial.
All of these little changes contributed to consumers becoming less and less able to tell real news from what was fake news. Which has led to many not believing anything today’s media tells them.
And that’s a very sad state of affairs for journalism.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
21st Century Business Model Challenge
Starting with newspapers, then radio, then TV then digital, the business model has been one of ad supported media. The model is broken.
Disruption first destroys the old ways of doing things before the new ways are discovered and take root. We are living in that destruction period of disruption.
Our challenge lies in building a business model that will support solid journalism, quality entertainment and community service.
What others have shown us is that in a 21st Century world it will take a collaborative effort from people from all over the world to help build the new way.