Speaking of eyes, the mag's back-page "Shoptalk" piece is an eye-opener. Written by business professor and media consultant Robert Picard, the article headlined "A Church-State Trap" calls for demolishing the traditional wall that separates editorial and advertising sides of the media.
Picard's piece does seem a little dated in today's online world in which the Federal Trade Commission is demanding that bloggers and Twitterers identify sponsorships when blogging or tweeting about the next big thing. Good luck with that one, FTC.
Picard wants reporters to get rid of the quaint notion that they are part of a profession, do-gooders insulated from the sordid business side of a news organization. In his view, reporters and editors are expected to dirty their hands, fighting for ad dollars and subscription cash.
The professor also is not too crazy about unions like the Newspaper Guild, which has encouraged members to become adversaries rather than partners with management. He does offer a slight tip of the hat to unions for their effort to gain better working conditions and pay for their members.
Today's reporters, in Picard's view, do have the option of practicing their craft and pursuing the "noble work of journalism." That, however, is the quickest way to the unemployment line in today’s cutthroat media environment.
Picard's journalists are "engaged as journalistic entrepreneurs with a serious attitude toward its business issues." Picard faults journalists for tending to "overestimate the value of news for the public." Most people, in fact, actually want "less, not more, news."
If journalists want to earn a living, "they need to provide value that will extract payments from readers and advertisers." They will "have to engage staffs in marketing and advertising activities, not merely news provision."
Picard believes many journalists and editors were laid off because they lived in somewhat of a fantasyland, denying "responsibility and involvement in business decisions." It's up to reporters to create a new structure and establish new relationships so news and information delivers the value necessary to support high quality journalism. If they fail to do so, “it will be impossible to create sustainable news organization for the future.”
Picard says the idea of the separation of church and state in the media arose from the "anything goes" approach to news during the late 19th and 20th centuries. That mentality aimed to increase street sales of paper through "sensationalism, twisting the truth and outright lies." That same "anything goes" attitude, however, exists in todays Wild Wild West of the Web. There is a need for gatekeepers, the role of traditional journalism.
The good professor's main point is that journalists have let the number-crunchers determine the fate of media companies. Their first call is to cut and then cut and then cut some more to gain a decent return on investment for shareholders. But that's the price of corporate journalism in America today. Journalists are treated as an expense, not an asset. It’s all a matter of dollars and cents, regardless of the vital watchdog role that journalists play in keeping government in check.
Picard's piece nicely sums up the state of the world in which a a broad swath of today’s media face 24/7 pressure from the Internet. It will be jarring when the day arrives that reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal pull double-duty as ad salesmen.