My Media Hopes for 2006
Hope # 1: Newspapers Learn to Make Revenue From Their Online Audience
With newsprint prices expected to skyrocket in 2006 and paid circulation in decline, newspapers last, best hope seems to be finding a way to cash in on the teeming masses who surf their web sites every day. According to some figures, about 31 percent of all Internet users read newspaper web sites (41 million people), and up to 60 percent of newspapers' online audience does not subscribe to the newspaper.
Considering that most newspapers don't charge for access to large portions of their web sites, they've been giving away their most precious product to online audiences for years. Getting advertisers to pay for access to this audience may be crucial in reversing the slow economic slide modern newspapers seem locked in -- staving off further staff cuts and shrinkage of the core product.
Hope #2: Commercial Radio Learns to Innovate Again
The shortcomings of commercial radio have been apparent for a long time: stodgy playlists, tired formats, too many commercials, a lack of local content. But the industry could pretend they were helpless to change -- before digital technology offered listeners a host of alternatives from satellite radio to downloaded podcasts, streaming audio and high definition radio.
Here's hoping Howard Stern's departure kicks commercial radio where it hurts, forcing a revolution in programming that goes beyond shock jocks joking about strippers and bodily fluids. More variety, more local content, fewer commercials and more daring material is necessary for commercial radio to avoid further marginalization in today's digital media universe.
Hope #3: Journalists Get Their Credibility Back
Yes, it hurt to see how compromised top journalists such as Judith Miller and Bob Woodward have become in the modern age. But there were signs in 2005 that top news outlets were getting their groove back: from the incisive coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to the revelations about secret CIA prisons for suspected terrorists, domestic spying in the U.S. by the NSA without court sanction, payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-American stories written by military staffers and more.
This is the kind of incisive, groundbreaking work which will earn back a little of the trust journalists have lost through scandals such as the CIA leak investigation, CBS' flawed story on the President's National Guard service and Newsweek's mistaken item on soldiers flushing copies of the Koran down toilets during interrogations. Credibility is hard won and easily lost, and it is time for news outlets to reclaim their status as watchdogs for a media-drenched public.
Extra Comment #1: As evidence the media sometimes can't win for losing, The New York Times now faces criticism from its own public editor over top executives' refusal to explain why they held the story on NSA eavesdropping for a year before publishing. Editor Bill Keller has intimated reporters initially believed the administration's contention that such spying was legal, only to discover through further reporting that the question of legality might not be so settled. Public Editor Byron Calame notes that the impact of the Times' important journalism has once again been blunted by questions the newspaper refuses to answer on its methods -- including the possibility that a forthcoming book by one of the story's authors may have forced the newspaper's hand.
Extra comment #2: I'll also join the chorus tut-tutting over Dick Clark's decision to co-host part of ABC';s New Year's Eve celebration, despite obvious difficulty speaking and counting. Once he decided to do it -- and Clark in private is a headstrong, no-nonsense guy who doesn't much resemble his easygoing on-air personality -- ABC had little choice but to let him appear (imagine the headlines otherwise: ABC Keeps Clark from Historic Post).
But his slurred speech -- and the promotional photo which featured a pre-stroke image of Clark photoshopped onto the image with his co-hosts -- was a sure sign he wasn't quite ready for a return (no matter how complimentary a chirpy Katie Couric was during the Today show's story this morning -- basically begging, DON'T CRITICIZE US FOR THIS STORY, WE REALLY LIKE HIM. Or something like that.)