At least that's how I read the results of the 2008 PRWeek/PR Newswire Media Survey. Here's the telling stat:
When asked to identify the most important aspect of their work, 91% of respondents say "make my publication successful by creating appealing content for its audiences" -- ahead of "educate and inform the masses," "break news," and "chronicle events as they happen." This finding, says the survey, suggests a significant level of commercial awareness on the part of journalists.The re-education of the newsroom is nearly complete, it seems.
For years, such brainless think tanks as the Readership Institute and Newspaper Next have attempted to convince reporters that they are part of a sales force. All we had to do was shed our ivory tower thinking, and our arrogant aversion to commoners, and we'd discover that people walking the sidewalks or shopping at grocery stores would provide the wisdom to save our industry.
Apparently, our cloistered ways were the reason people weren't reading the paper anymore. It wasn't that a new class of newspaper owners didn't believe in their products and openly predicted the newspaper's death. It wasn't that having fewer reporters left us chained to our desks in a daily desperate act of filling the paper. It wasn't the call for constant online updates that made that chain even shorter. It wasn't lowered pay and lowered standards giving us lowered quality. It wasn't the death of institutional knowledge, the disappearance of locally owned publications, or the increasingly fragmented community the Internet was supposed to bring together. It was us. Our original sin was idealism and it somehow had to be cleansed from our souls - preferably in conjunction with a baptism in the church of business.
So, where do we find this appealing content? Apparently there is a dark hole in which we've failed to look:
Empty the newsrooms for a week or a month, and have reporters and editors - and even ad sales people - connect with people in the community and talk with them about their lives and what they say they want and need.Oy.
Civic journalism has already been tried. It was a whole movement. It didn't save newspapers. Turns out the same people who aren't reading papers don't participating in civic life, unless prompted to do so by some specific event.
The thing is, very few journalists in this country work in giant buildings cut off from the community. They attend local events, they go to city council meetings, they walk down local streets and eat in local restaurants. They have conversations with local people on the phone and in person; their office phone numbers and email addresses are printed at the end of their stories.
I'm not arguing things can't be done better. I'm arguing that we're being asked to start a car that's been stripped of its engine. And if this survey is to be believed, newsrooms are suffering a blood-borne disease that no amount of quackery can cure.