July 10, 2009

You gotta do better than that

My father only listens to all-classical radio (my parents have never owned a TV). He once told me that the brief news summary at the top of the hour told him everything he really needed to know about the "news" (solid-state physicists do tend to be eccentric like that).

The local Fox affiliate runs its late-night news an hour earlier than the competition, and does a recap at the top of the hour to keep viewers from switching to the other stations. As I've grown older, I've found that on most days that recap tell me everything I need to know.

Hand-wringing aside, much "professional" news content is being devalued because it's useless. The Internet makes that obvious. For example, Daniel Gross (a fine person, I'm sure) traveled to Japan and in 750 words manages to say nothing. As one commenter noted:

Wow, Mr. Gross flew all the way to Japan, went straight to the Roppongi district in Tokyo, and saw a lot of American chain restaurants there. Ergo, the Japanese love American fast food.

It's rather like analyzing "America" by hanging out in Times Square and eating at the Hard Rock Cafe. As travel writer Rolf Potts observes (read his far more insightful analysis of the international McDonald's experience here),

I'd wager that the contempt sophisticated travelers hold for McDonald's has less to do with ethical principle than the fact that fast-food franchises ruin the fantasies of "otherness" that are an inherent part of travel.

As a result, Gross completely missed the bigger story, namely that

McDonald's and other fast food establishments, rather than providing a symbol of the exotic foreign or non-Japanese other, have become ubiquitous establishments that serve important needs and tastes of the Japanese within their own culture.

Even more surprising, "many Japanese, and especially younger Japanese, are unaware that McDonald's is not a Japanese company."

In any case, Mr. Potts notes that "McDonald's (and other fast food) is easy to avoid." Anyway, it's hard imagining a Japan-based blogger being this boring on purpose. Basically, Mr. Gross was being glib and lazy and his editors let it slide. Those tough journalistic standards at work.

Read, for contrast, Japan newbie Orson Scott Card describing (among other things) dining in Tokyo. He gets off the beaten track. He tries different stuff. He observes. Card is a professional writer, but his blog is exactly the kind of "free" that Chris Anderson is talking about.

The Wall Street Journal can charge for content because it provides valuable information (that is at least perceived as such) that can't be found elsewhere. And like Fox News, its conservative perspective makes it "unique" compared to the rest of the MSM.

As Mark Cuban puts its succinctly, "When you succeed with Free, you are going to die by Free." There's no "more for less" when you start at zero, and you can't charge more--in money or attention--for more of the same when the "same" wasn't worth anything to start with.

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# posted by Anonymous Dan
7/10/2009 8:25 PM   
Good post, Eugene.

Bloomberg did even better than the WSJ. His Bloomberg Terminal became the defacto portal for financial data and analysis. Providing a proprietary nuts to bolts solution helped make Bloomberg a billionaire many times over.

The biggest failure of the mainstream media is the assumption that quantity was an equal substitute to quality. Cable news was the beginning of the end for the networks. Not only did it provide saturation of whatever story was leading the headlines but it pioneered the notion that it was OK to be openly partisan. The worst assumption being that having two partisans argue about a topic was an adequate substitute for accurately reporting on the subject.

The Internet drove the stake through the TV news hour and news papers and publications in several ways. (1) News could now be acquired on demand. (2) Individuals could get a lot more detail and perspectives on a story than they ever could with traditional sources and (3) The diverse viewpoints on the Internet made it painfully clear how poor a job the "professionals" were doing. Dan Rather & the CBS phony document meltdown being just one of many examples.

Customers will still pay for good reporting. The challenge for the legacy media is to actually get back to doing more of it.
# posted by Blogger Joe
7/11/2009 12:05 PM   
The quantity problem isn't given enough attention. The explosion of news outlets diluted the talent pool of any given reporting organization. The major point being that your average reporter lacks genuine curiosity, is unable to follow a story logically and, above all, isn't a very good writer.
# posted by Blogger chosha
7/12/2009 9:27 AM   
I can't imagine getting all the news I need from Fox (or their affiliate). Plus they make me want to throw things at the TV.

Funny the comment about young Japanese thinking McD's is a Japanese company. I have fond memories of trying to convince various Japanese people that the 'we're closing, go home' tune was originally a Scottish song called Auld Lang Syne that people sing at New Year's. :) They think Hotaru no Hikari is sung to an original tune. More fun can be had by explaining that tempura originated in Portugal.