What Media “Magic Bullet?”

Recently, the phrase “magic bullet” pops up when journalists discuss the industry’s next business plan.

The story has been told again and again: print is not the ad-selling, cost-efficient, information-spreading medium it used to be, but online distribution does not fill in the money gap. In short, news consumers have grown used to information being free, but news providers can’t provide this free service and still put bread on the family table.

So perhaps it’s natural that the phrase “magic bullet” has come up. This refers to a quick cure that ends all ills without a catch.

Truth be told, a magical cure-all for anything would be wonderful – but as reality goes, that is rarely the case. Therefore, in a plane of existence where journeys are complex and take many loops and nauseating turns before the finish line, let’s look and see at some of the progress journalism is currently making.

From The Wall Street Journal, media meister Rupert Murdoch grimly addressed the topic during an annual cable industry gathering in Washington D.C. on April 2:

Murdoch said the proliferation of content available online for free is breaking the industry’s business models.

‘Nobody is making money with free content on the web except search,’ said Murdoch, noting the trend is particularly worrisome in the newspaper publishing, where News Corp. owns a variety of assets. ‘People are used to reading everything on the net for free, and that’s going to have to change.’ “

Funnily enough, the majority of that article is available by subscription-only members.

Regardless, when one of the largest and longest masters of the media industry delivers such grim news, it is difficult to ignore. Still, there’s frustration in this call for change, but a lack of substance. It seems that journalism needs a new business plan, but what is it? Who is working on it? How soon?

All these driving questions lead to a hopeful answer via MSN Money, written April 3:

…efforts are afoot to create an “e-reader” or “digital newsbook” that would combine the breadth and depth of newspapers with the portability and convenience of hand-held electronic devices. Partners in the Digital Newsbook Publishing Project include The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.”

This news comes from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, which is based at the University of Missouri. Its goal is to reconnect journalists with readers using the very technologies that derailed the industry to the nail-biting point it is now.

In other words, this new endeavor may just be brilliant. It seems to follow the age-old military strategy of observing your enemy, and adopting its best strategies. Much like the childhood phrase, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

But there is almost an irresistible smile that comes with a serious mention of e-readers, which was a technology that sprouted nearly a decade ago with eBooks. The whole idea of translating all paper books to a digital format earned little more than a chuckle up until the last year.

Perhaps this has to do with the recent release of the Amazon Kindle, and its fascinating E-Ink technology. Suddenly, e-readers aren’t quite the laughing stock they used to be; they may well become a large market competitor in the coming months should desperate newspapers, magazines and other print mediums seize e-readers as the only chance.

Still – the absolute, definitive, cure-all media “magic bullet” does not exist. Yet.

Nothing is certain or set in stone. The RJI is working on several projects, but it certainly is not the only think tank out there that is working around the clock on this problem. There could easily be an unseen technology that will arrive and drastically change the future.

Or – in another scenario, the future of journalism may be riddled with bullets. In a good way, that is.

The original title photo by user Zsolt Vajda was retrieved from Flickr. Image was adapted in accordance to the original’s Creative Commons license. All credit goes to the original photographer.

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Filed under 2.0, journalism, media

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