Old Media Vs New Media may well be a war of the ages

Old Media Vs New Media may well be a war of the ages

Media | Judette Coward-Puglisi

August 5, 2009

When Lenny Grant, one of the Caribbean’s leading editors/journalists, presented this paper to the International Association of Business Communicators (T&T) last month, I know immediately it had to be shared. 


It speaks directly to the whole new media vs old media debate and contains wonderful regional newspaper insights. Warning, it’s long. It’s brilliant. 


Now go get your cup of coffee and savour.  



"We are engaged on the question of "New Media Vs Old Media," on a day when an old-media flagship like the Express is celebrating its own victory in the MFO poll newspaper readership ratings.


In T&T, the media "war" is not, or not yet, between new and old media, but among old media-or, at another level, between all media and the Manning administration-to the extent that the Media Association has called for peace talks.


Maybe I am looking at things with the eyes of a wishful-thinking newspaperman, rare survivor of an extinct species.


Maybe I didn’t notice when the war was declared.


Newspapers are being devastated, as we speak, in the United States where, in the first five months of 2009, one hundred newspapers shut down and 9,000 jobs were lost, and where one in five newspaper journalists lost his or her job since 2001. And where The New York Times which, in 2007, had called Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim a robber baron, last January was reduced to borrowing from him $250 million, at 14 per cent interest.


As seen with all these well-entrenched and famous titles that have delivered all the news that’s fit to print on hard copy, the reality looks worse than grim. By one estimate, if The New York Times were to shut its presses, and become entirely web-based, the revenue it could expect would support only 20 per cent of its present staff.


Here, in the Caribbean, the Jamaica Gleaner Company, in business since 1833, that is, before the NYTimes, has reported to what they called their worst financial results in the company’s history–"a loss of J$444.69 million for 2008, after having made a profit of J$98.2 million in 2007."


This result came despite the fact that Gleaner circulation revenues rose by 13.8% because they increased the price of the paper. The Gleaner now plans to focus its efforts online. The paper projects its Gleaner’s online usage rate to double by the end of 2009, as the management finds newsreaders are moving away from the paper edition.


Something is happening, when the Gleaner declares its future in new media. But this is not yet being heard as a wake-up call in T&T.


All T&T daily newspapers doubled their cover price last April. And you might have noticed the Express report that profit of OCM, which includes two major newspapers in the Express and the Barbados Nation, was down 33 per cent for the first quarter of this year.


Still, the present looks to me, standing here before you at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, as not yet the dawn, but the fo’day morning of a new era.


To apply a historical analogy, New Media Vs Old Media resembles the Second World War. It began in 1939, but the war didn’t quite come home to Trinidad until the Yankee invasion in 1941. And things have never been the same. So all for now, we’re still in the phony-war phase of New Media vs Old Media.


Before anyone can announce, or foretell, the death of the old media, we must first concede a debt to the old media. The old media, including their websites (which may be called old media’s new media), are still where most people get their news.


I can discern two movements, which are both ideological and technological.


Ideological, in the sense of the Technological Determinism which teaches that technological change will completely reorder the world as we have known it, and that the Internet is the ultimate technological Armageddon.


One movement is going under the banner that "Information wants to be free."


That the costs of bandwidth, processing and storage are coming down so low that you could give away the information that technological advance makes available.


So I used to pay a subscription to read the NYTimes on the Net; but now and millions of others read it for free. This is a kind of digital utopia, in which you can get the best that’s being thought and said, and even sung and played, for free, free, free.


Information wants to be free. That, said Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point and other famous titles, is not just an ideological conceit, but even also a business plan. He calls it an iron law of digital economy. But Gladwell concludes in an article last week that "the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws."


Information has a cost–in acquiring it, in verifYing it, and in transmitting it.


And this was the issue of an exchange between Ariana Huffington, the high priestess of freeness (famous for The Huffington Post), who doesn’t believe journalists should be paid much, and NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen who argues that news consumers get what they pay for.


Referring to the Twitterers in Iran and in China, sending messages to the world she said:


"New media is not replacing the need to ‘bear witness’, it is spreading it beyond the elite few."


In other news, the Associated Press, the 163-year-old news co-operative, is trying to capture new sources of revenue to offset the reduced income it is receiving from newspapers and broadcasters, whose ad sales are shrivelling dramatically. AP’s four largest online deals are now with Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and AOL.


In still other amazing news, Amazon is offering to give newspapers 30 per cent–and keep 70 per cent–for the right to put newspaper-supplied news on its portable Kindle tablet.


To some extent, the battle is between those who argue, like Chris Anderson (whose new book is called "Free,") that "Crap is in the eye of the beholder" and others, like Philip Meyer, who uphold "the culture of truth-telling and fairness that enabled the best news givers to prevaiL"


None of that is quite making itself felt here yet. Though I notice that the Student Press is available online free, but you have to buy the Guardian to get the GIE magazine, both addressed to the same youth market segment.


The second movement in the Old vs New media is the demassification of the media. The umbrella newspaper, catering for everyone and all interests, is a disappearing act. People go where they find specific content fast, if not also for free.


In a blend of new and old, a new kind of media no longer want to be "mass."


It’s content to be "niche" and to service those who need and want to pay for it.


The Pew Centre have reported last month that "a new Washington media have evolved, but…This new Washington media cohort is one substantially aimed at the elites, often organized by industry, by corporate client, or by niche political interest…. Today it’s the niche, not the mainstream, media that provide blanket coverage of Congress and other important arms of the federal government."


These trends are taking their time to appear on the horizon here, and to become anything like a new status quo. It’s as if T&T remains largely outside a world hurricane belt of communications.


Certainly, part of the reason is the still-marginal presence of new media, in relation to the broad masses of people.


The Student Press runs a column, entitled "They don’t get tech," which mostly ridicules parents as "Techno Tards" or technological retards, who can’t tell Facebox from Facebook, and who don’t know the difference between Blackberry and Raspberry.


Old Media Vs New Media may well be a war of the ages, of the generations."




2 thoughts on “Old Media Vs New Media may well be a war of the ages

  1. We speak of war ….have we all forgotten that convergence is a key element in the New Media. It’s not one or the other, when we have accepted and realized this only then can we truly make a true effort.

  2. Lenny was speaking metaphorically of course.

    Convergence and co-existence of course is the only course forward but Lenny is born and bred in the old ways of journalism just like my father and so I hear him when he says: "Before anyone can announce, or foretell, the death of the old media, must first concede a debt to the old media."

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