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Monday, July 20, 2009


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Journalists used to have real world experience in other jobs--stevedore, bartender, longshoreman, Marine, etc. Now, all they know about work is that other people do it. J-schools, with very few exceptions, don't require shoe leather reporting. Mediabistro ran a column by a Columbia student who claimed to be "too shy" to do interveiws. WTF?

Alan Mairson

I don't know about newspapers, Dan, but I can tell you this about National Geographic Magazine: The decline in the Society's membership has less to do with the "pace of change" and more to do with Jay's repeated riffs on "the view from nowhere." Or as he phrased it in a recent tweet: "'Here's where I'm coming from' is more likely to be trusted than the View From Nowhere."

Thirty years ago, NGM had a POV—and readers got where we were coming from. In fact, they loved it: the Society had more than 10 million members at its peak in the 1980s. Today, National Geographic Magazine—published in 30 local language editions—has assumed a "view from everywhere," which is a lot like Nowhere but with more linguistic color. Current membership: Around 4 million, a 60 percent drop.

The short-term upside of global expansion: Wider distribution on all sorts of cool new digital devices. The medium-term downside: Readers can't tell who you are anymore, so they leave.

The problem isn't that some of us embrace "novelty," and others don't. The problem is the "technological class" are doing their Flash-y digital "Nowhere" dance on a global stage, while lots of folks at home are thinking: "I'm sorry to interrupt—and yes, I love your iPhone, but... where exactly are you coming from, again?"


I still tend to agree with the "disconnect" argument, although I have to admit that we've been talking about this for years and it becomes less satisfying to me every time I make it.

I can relate to that shy student. I wasn't a "natural" reporter and had to learn ways to cope with the requirements of the job. So I would argue that this could be an example of my point: "Shoe-leather reporting" is one of the old job requirements, but given all the changes that we've been through in communications, I'd say that getting young reporters to go out and talk to people is the least of our problems.

In terms of expanding our theory of the press, wouldn't it be more important that we train our veteran journalists to think more responsively about things like objectivity, transparency, perspective, interaction, competition, cooperation, bias, firewalls, news judgment, ethics, etc? Because the context in which these concepts exist has changed, but our theory of the press generally has not changed to keep pace with those developments.

In the same way that shoe leather was (and is) a job requirement, so too are updated versions of the concepts I just mentioned new job requirements. And that's how I see our profession flummoxed by the pace of change.


Alan: Yep, The View From Nowhere is death. It's out-dated press-think.


I understand that the woes of the media are front and center, but the pace of change affects far more than whether readers like media's identity.

The issue of pace is not limited to content. 20th century models are disentegrating. Yeah, media may have The View From Nowhere" problem, but they also share the screwed up mindset of other industries. They leap at change like life-rings rather than taking a comprehensive look at how to adapt.

One reason? Their bottom lines are disappearing so fast they don't have time to do studious research on where they are failing. So they contort themselves to exploit every innovation that comes down the pipe -- and the pace of that is mind-blowing -- then denounce it as useless hype when it doesn't save them.

Many businesses have not only failed to change their products but their mindset. They still have contempt for their clients: unilateral contracts; advertising gimmicks substituting for quality; and complete patronizing dismissal of their customers' criticisms.

Businesses that are engaging with their customers to understand what they want, what can be improved, and how to best serve their needs are the ones who will survive.

Welcome to the 21st century.

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