Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Distinguishing between methods and technology - what is a newspaper?

Oftentimes we get caught up in various technologies, and think that the technologies are themselves a solution to a problem.

Actually, they are tools that can be used as a solution to the problem.

Take newspapers as an example. On September 29, Duncan Riley wrote a post entitled "How the economic crisis will accelerate the death of newspapers." A couple of statements caught my eye:

Newspapers suffered a 14% drop in revenue in the first half of 2008, continuing a downward trend starting in early 2006. The biggest contributor to the decline has been the rapid disappearance of advertising, down a whopping 35.2% for the first half of the year…and this is before the current financial crisis. All the external factors in the economy suggest that advertising spending will contract in the second half of the year at a rate higher than the first half of the year, and heritage media, and particularly newspapers will take a huge hit. Advertising doesn’t stop in a recession, but data shows that advertisers get smarter with their ad buys, and search advertising is the biggest beneficiary.

In the same vein, Riley stated:

The classifieds market for newspapers contracted to $5 billion after a 35.2% hit, imagine them taking a 50% or larger hit in the second quarter; in the space of the next 12-18 months, the newspaper classifieds business may simply cease to exist.

But my favorite part is when Riley displayed a Wall Street Journal front page that loudly declared "Wells Fargo Eyes Wachovia."

I'm not sure if Riley's being overly pessimistic, but it's important to note what he is saying and what he isn't saying. Riley is speaking of a particular technology - the technology of taking pieces of paper, printing stuff on them, and delivering them to news stands and homes. He is not saying that professional news organizations will disappear; they'll just shift to a different medium.

And Riley is not saying "Bloggers rule, journalists drool." And even if he were, we need to distinguish between good bloggers and not-so-good bloggers. Here's what Steven Hodson said about the latter:

I just finished reading a post by Mark Evans that really sunk in a simple fact. There are some bloggers who have absolutely no respect for some of the most basic principals that journalists around the world have been standing by since the time of the first press pass.

He then quotes from Evans:

A little while ago, I was quoted in a blog post following an e-mail exchange.

At first, I was a little surprised because the exchange wasn’t an interview or a Q&A. But then I realized that I was talking to a blogger, and the rules of engagement are different. In the blogosphere, pretty much everything is on the record.

This concept elicited a comment from Hodson:

Unless told otherwise things like email and even IMs are by default considered to be private communications and damn it they should be treated that way.

Perhaps I should email Hodson, find out what he thinks about this post, and print it in a follow-up post. Then again, if you continue to read his post, you'll see what he would do to someone who quoted from his email without permission.

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