I doubt if the result of a hypothetical survey done to measure the reader’s sympathy factor for declining traditional media houses will go in favor of media outlets. We all get newspaper_is_dead messages everyday, more from the blogs than the mainstream media. And that is in a way obvious because bloggers feel they have a new megaphone which doesn’t need any political or financial supervision for it’s existence. Bloggers operate from alarmingly narrow focus and near-zero reporting cost and don’t get any significant trust value. Which is not the case with mainstream newspapers.
Besides technological changes forcing newspaper to re-evaluate their business models, I think the bigger issues affecting them is that readers have stopped trusting traditional media outlets as an impartial news provider.
They lost the trust battle.
Scandals and corporate nature of these media houses have made them just another shop with more advertorial than the news. No wonder when in a recently business conference one smart advertisement industry executive confidently asked India’s finance minister about the high service taxes his industry has to pay. To this Harvard-educated minister promptly replied that there is more ads in newspapers nowadays than the news so government has to take that stand. There was a touche’ touch to that reply.
Most of the print media is suffering from this credibility issue right now. Sample these two images from leading Indian newspapers. One is a leader in English language and another a big giant in Hindi language journalism:
Times Of India using it’s distribution clout to push their new TV news project. By mixing their own ads right on the top of the page and not having a basic decency to mark it as “Advertisement” or “Paid by such and such” they are deliberately confusing the reader into believing their blatant advertisement as a news. It’s what I call attention by deception. Similarly Dainik Jagran is misusing the whole splash page for selling snacks in their news format.
Now these two are just few of the examples where print media is going overboard in monetizing their distribution power. As if they can see the writing on the wall and very well envision a niche nature of the print media. Every future media will start in digital format and then will get distributed into different end-products.
Using the corporate lingo – focus will be on the product mix and demographics chase. Online, TV, Mobile (largely SMS) and Print will play an incestuous game leaving readers wondering about the real news content.
It’s still very early in the game to tell which strategy is going to win but I will side with the model where reader’s trust is honored, maintained and shared with the reader.