It appears some corners of the print medium don’t want to go down to Web 2.0 without a fight. Or at least a few whines and complaints. Whenever I see what we once called newspapers running articles kvetching about social media — posted on social media, no less — my first thought is the alternative headline could be: Ailing medium takes swipe at thriving medium.
For example, see the Wall Street Journal opinion piece on How Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships, employing the usual navel-gazing lunch-tweeting strawmen. Then the New York Times ran an unusually whiny op-ed — using anecdotes and nary a shred of concrete evidence — that Facebook was bound to become a ghost town. But wait! If you think this sounds familiar, it’s because Business Week predicted Facebook would become a ghost town back in April. In the four months since, Facebook likely picked up more new members than Business Week has readers.
Not all news outlets pouting more than Ally McBeal, however. Many have reporters who now happily blog (though back in the ’90s, many reporters were discouraged from blogging) and use Facebook and Twitter to post links to their blogs and/or stories that ran in the paper (if that’s the correct word). But often the adaptation was slow, the path meandering. One local paper started in the mid-’90s putting all content online for free, then having online content require paid subscription, then running just top news and sports stories (plus the ever-popular obituaries) for free, and now posts just the first two paragraphs for most articles, telling readers to buy the print version if they want to read the rest.
Around the turn of the millennium, I worked in daily journalism with responsibilities including online editor. During an editorial meeting, with a pivotal local election looming, I proposed we do live updates online on Election Night. Most people in the room found that insane. While most of the staff blew off the idea, I was fortunate to have two writers willing to call results in to build the story in real time (after the county’s results Web site crashed). This was complicated by all the people calling in wanting to know if we had results — I never knew if it was a reporter or reader, so I had to pick up everything (the days before everyone had cell phones). The publisher, to his tremendous credit, ended up handling phones so I could do some work, and we broke the mayoral and big-picture county legislature results online with a bit of analysis. Our Web traffic went through the roof. Now news orgs have teams designed to do such things; in those days it was a novelty.
Yet for years, the resistance of so many print outlets to use the Web to report live news — not wanting to potentially damage regular readership figures — persisted. The content was there, as was the delivery system, but the old-fashioned mindset was the outbound gatekeeper. The years organizations spent in denial and resistance to change could have been used to get in front of and adapt to current technology.
But the horse is out of the barn. For community papers, colleges and corner stores, currencies and communication experienced a sea change in the past decade. Now I find breaking news via Twitter or Facebook — albeit with links to those media organizations. The revolution wasn’t televised; it was Facebooked. Complaining about the messenger instead of dreaming of the possibilities just makes former print outlets look bitter, jealous and behind the times.