Friday, December 12, 2008

The single essential failure

"If the automakers' difficulties can be traced to a single, essential failure, it is their belief that they could avoid change."

-- Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 8, 2008

There's been a lot of ire in the journalism world about Jeff Jarvis blaming journalists for their current fate. But I have to agree with him. Newspapers' difficulties today can be chalked up to the same essential failure as the carmakers': The belief they could avoid change.

The difference, mainstream journalists will argue, is that journalism was producing a quality product. Unlike Detroit, which kept producing gas guzzlers when the tide was turning toward more fuel efficient vehicles, the mainstream media kept producing important, democracy-foundational journalism.

I will argue that the difference is not so great.

Both have continued to produce products that customers increasingly don't want. In journalism's case, the mainstream media may continue to be producing "important news," but it's not in the form readers want. The same way Detroit continues to produce "transportation," but not in the form drivers want. So this is the point: It doesn't matter how "valuable" your product is. If your customers don't want it, your future is limited. To survive, you have to evolve.

This is how the traditional media failed. They believed they didn't have to change, because their product was so valuable. They were wrong. The world does need what they produce. But we need it in the form in which we'll consume it.

Photo courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal. Creative Commons license.

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