Feb 15, 2008

The capitalism that killed competition

The newspaper industry has let slip the veil of goodwill and donned the bold mantle of cash-starved corporation, more interested in a good ad buy than a good story.

When you hear of cutbacks and restructuring, of innovation editors and cross-promotional opportunities, of New Ways of Doing Things and downward trend lines, of Web hits and multi-platform presentations, of Joint Operating Agreements and MOJOs, think only money.

Whatever bright ideas there are out there for using the Internet to "transform" news, or for saving newsrooms from the vulture-frenzy of mediocre business managers, they are all sublimated by one controlling factor: People who made money want to keep making money.

So how has this played out for newspapers? Poorly. Every experiment in innovation I've seen has been about lowering costs or raising money, not creating a better product. Every promotion I've seen is about getting someone in place who is comfortable with lowering the bar of excellence (and usually incapable of surmounting the bar that was set before him or her) and in tune with the type of innovative experimentation called for above.

Greed and avarice rule the day, and bad ideas masked as good ones follow in their path.

Which brings me to today's news that the Orange County Register, the pink lady of Republican town, is entering into a content-sharing arrangement with Media News, which owns the nearby Daily Breeze and Press-Telegram - and just about every other newspaper in Southern California that isn't the L.A. Times.

If news is merely a commodity, then such a deal makes perfect sense. Why be redundant? If news is held to be doing something more, then the move is a goofy one, since it squashes competition and limits choice. Indeed, the great tool of communication sitting before you seems to encourage sameness more than diversity, but that's a blog entry for another day (welcome to the rhizome!).

In the end, this is all about saving money and selling ads. Cutting the overall number of reporters streamlines the entire operation, allowing for fewer editors, copy editors, paginators, designers, etc. (It also lowers the competition that leads to higher salaries, another good thing if you're worried about that all-important bottom line.) And sharing pages means higher circulation numbers when selling ads.

What do the readers gain? Nothing. Sure, there are a few boring columnists who might be ousted in the deal, and there's an opportunity to redesign some stale pages, but self-immolation isn't the only path to enlightenment. The only benefit I see to succumbing to the advancing blob that is the Media News empire is that it's terribly designed Web sites have some magical power to defeat my pop-up blocker.

I now return to my day job in radio.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that as voices in the mainstream media become fewer and weaker, blogs are proliferating. More chatter, more expression, but about what? Some bloggers, like our friend Gary here, are former print journalists, but others could never get anyone to pay them to write.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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