J-prof Kelly Toughill on how technology-driven fragmentation of the audience is hurting traditional mass media — and she frets about the social costs of that.
It is the fragmentation of the marketplace that is hurting newspapers most, not new technology. Very few general-use products are created these days. Even toothpaste and toilet paper are marketed to niche groups, as are everything from house paint to cereal and custom vacations. The problem for a newspaper is that all of its targeted sections (Life, Business, Sports) are delivered to everyone, which makes the paper very expensive to produce.
When a targeted magazine or Internet site promises to reach the same niche audience for a fraction of the price, what advertiser is going to turn it down?
That is why even newspapers with increasing circulation (and yes, there are some) started losing ad revenue long before the recession arrived.
Network television is suffering from the same problem. Why advertise on a network when you can place your ad for less money on a specialty channel that caters to your specific market?
The big networks in Canada haven't made a profit since 2005, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, but they have made money with their gaggle of specialty channels. In 2007, the same year that the big networks (excluding CBC) lost $4 million, YTV showed a pre-tax profit of $42.5 million and kept 47 cents of every dollar it took in.
Newspapers may end up following the niche model. That trend has proven lucrative in India, where small newspapers cater to tiny pockets of culture, language and class, and the industry is booming.
If so, many of the journalism jobs now disappearing could be saved, and the new, tightly targeted newspapers could resurrect the public service journalism now slipping away.
But they won't create the community-building function of mass media. When readers look for a sports story or a horoscope in a newspaper, they browse through all sorts of content they wouldn't necessarily choose to see on their own. The same thing happens with local and network news; viewers must wait for the stories that interest them, and learn about other things in the meantime. All of that wasted time is actually part of building community, a way to make us listen to each other.
And people found that approach to community-building so great that they're abandoning it in droves! :)
My analogy has been that newspapers (and newscasts) are department stores in a boutique world.
The department stores that thrive in this day and age focus on market segments. They are either high-end or low-end, but generally not mid-market (I'm generalizing for effect).
They may well have “communities” of shoppers, but they will almost always be of the same socio-economic strata.
People are not only okay with that, they welcome it. As I mentioned to a friend recently, when do you ever see people in Toronto from two visually different groups sitting together and having a coffee? IMO, not very often.
The question Toughill must ask herself is whether the “community” that she pines for was an artificial construct created by the monopolistic power of old media.