Are news organizations selling patronage?

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby
A hundred years ago, if you wanted to know what time it was, you had to make a significant investment–in a watch. Twenty years ago, Timex made it clear that if you merely wanted the time (not jewelry) it would be about $15. And five years ago, every kid with a cell phone got the time as a free bonus. And yet there are still watchmakers. Still Rolex and Patek and the rest. Some of them are having great years. Clearly, they don’t sell the time. They sell jewelry. Exclusivity. A souvenir.

This passage got me thinking again about how newspapers have failed to understand how people consume news. For ages newspapers were in the business of selling access to information through an ad supported platform. Your choices were simple: Television, radio, newspaper or magazine. Things were simple then and they worked well. Newspapers and magazines have always been a ‘perceived media’ whereas radio and television were ‘received media.’

When the internet became mainstream, it changed everything and the playing field was leveled. Passive consumers of media quickly became active publishers sharing blogs, photos and videos. They are now a part of the conversation and newspapers didn’t take notice of this.

In the day and age of everyone being a publisher or aggregator, what are newspapers selling? What’s their exclusivity?

The news organization of tomorrow won’t sell access to information as an exclusivity. News organizations of tomorrow won’t have to sell souvenir front page editions or highlight videos of your child playing football. No, the news organization of tomorrow will have to understand the balance between what news readers consume and how they consume it.

The news organizations of tomorrow will understand that it will take a massive about of data-mining that mixes consumption rates with location, devices and social reach that we haven’t thought of yet.

We live in an age when people buy water when they can get it from the tap for free; a time when growing a garden is cheaper than buying produce and eating out is more expensive than a home cooked meal. If this is the case, why are newspapers failing?