28 April 2008

Commodify Your Media, It's Good For You!

Many have lamented that the 24-hour news cycle, created first by cable news and consolidated on the web, has caused a noticeable drop in the quality and accuracy of reporting. Outlets rush to be the first to report a story, and even if some of the facts are off, missing or just plain wrong, they can post updates later to clarify or correct. That's why this weekend's On The Media story about a cooperative effort among Ohio newspapers agreeing to share headlines and content was so heartening. Sadly, the whole conversation was a bit short-sighted and played into the "Old Media is shriveling up and dying" meme, but between the lines was some real hope.

The conversation started to head in an interesting direction when interviewer Bob Garfield asked about the "commodification" of local news and therefore, the weakening of the individual newspapers' brands. Though Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Susan Goldberg only got the chance to answer briefly before moving on to cover other aspects, I think it opened a window into the benefits of this commodification. When a scoop headline becomes a shared resource, the only way to grow your brand is through deeper and more insightful reporting. Further, by creating a cooperative/collaborative group, you free up journalists to do this sort of in-depth reporting and follow-up. Each paper no longer has to send one of its own reporters to every fire, car accident or homicide; that burden is spread around, leaving the other 11 reporters who would have been hanging around, jostling for tips and access, free to pursue other stories, hopefully spending more time on each one.

Obviously, that is the most positive outcome of such an arrangement. In many cases, this type of cooperative arrangement can really only act as a stop-loss, given the slashed staffing at most local newspapers. But even there, it has a great deal of benefit - again, allowing the smaller staff to continue to create a true local newspaper with quality reporting.