Posts Tagged ‘information

06
Jun
08

I have met the enemy and he is me – pt. 2

In the old newspaper world readers lived in cages. Every day someone would slide a variety of food through a slot and they, those rather domesticated readers, could take from it what they wanted. Usually there was a bit of meat, a few potatoes, veggies for those who liked that stuff, a few sweets, and a lot of fluff. Take what you want, leave the rest.

Me, I read the newspaper cover-to-cover every day. I discovered worlds I never knew or even imagined in the nooks and crannies of that newspaper. But I was fairly unusual. Most people discarded 80-90 percent of the newspaper every day. Some were simply carnivores; they only wanted sports scores or stock tables. Some were just vegetarians, so they had a bit of world news before seeing what they could glean from the living section. Some just liked sweets, so they stuck to the entertainment section and lived for the comics. Those who who thrived on fluff just wanted the ads. The cross-over was small in those different groups.

But that was OK. What choice did they have? Unless they were willing to buy the New York Times at a news stand, they took what news nutrition they could from the local paper. Sure they could wait for Time or Newsweek, but those were for analysis (roughage?) — not news. Yeah, there was nightly television, but that required one to be in front of that TV at a specific hour and then you only got what the networks decided were the top stories of the day. TV has always been something akin to a liquid diet. Pureed news. You wanted movie reviews, stories about musicians, an early morning chuckle? Chances are you needed the paper. You lived for classifieds or coupons, there was no way to get that fix without buying your daily dose of pulped wood.

Choices were limited. For the voracious consumers of information, like me, you took what you could get and you chewed it down to the bone. Everyone else fumed over how little of what they really wanted could be found within the dirty pages of the local rag.

Today’s readers are not prisoners. They live in a vast information landscape. It isn’t just a Serengeti, there are huge grasslands, mammoth hunting preserves, candy mountains that dwarf Everest, veritable forests of fluff that can be sorted and sifted to one’s hearts desire, and waterholes of every ilk dotting every environment. Few have time for foraging amidst all this bounty. Most gravitate towards the information habitat that come closest to providing them what they want or need. And they populate the water-holes most traveled by those closest akin to their kind. They now live in an all-you-can-eat world and the only price is their time and patience.

While the printed product does not easily translate to this new freedom, except perhaps as a sort of daily map, the digital versions of newspapers need not be limited by that ink-on-paper motif. They could be whatever they want to be — whatever they need to be. So why do they insist on trying to force their online products almost exclusively into that old mold? Newspaper people have made a living for centuries off of surfing cultural trends, so how come they can’t see that the cage doors are open and the animals roaming free? In fact, the cages have been torn down entirely and the animals are headed off toward the raw food sources of their choice. Some newspaper sites look like they are being run by Laurel & Hardy. They’re still trying to figure out why the lock doesn’t work anymore.

It isn’t that there is no longer a market for the processed and prepared food newspapers have been providing. It is largely that people want only the type of nutrition closest to their needs or desires and, they would like to participate in the preparation. Had newspapers recognized this five years ago there might not be quite so much hand-wringing over red ink these days. Sure things would probably still be less rosy than the good old days of endless 30 percent profit margins — hey when the animals are caged you can feed ‘em what you want and charge whatever they are willing to pay. But newspaper executives might see a future that didn’t involve so much blood being spilt.

Today, newspapers are beginning to recognize that everything has changed and they need to adapt or die. Some newspaper leaders are starting to realize that they have seen the killer of their industry every morning in the mirror. I have met the enemy and he is me.

Now, what am I going to do about it?