Fixing Media: New Unit Of Analysis

As discussed ever since the advent of the Internet, media has changed. While newspapers and magazines have seen the full brunt of the shift, television has been a casualty as well. It’s a shift, or transition if you like, that I have debated, researched and pondered for years. Being in local media from 2000-2006 and then in sports entertainment with the UFC for seven plus years, I have been on the front lines of this change. I think there are some answers emerging on how to make these sustainable businesses in a sea of content. 

A New Unit Of Analysis

The Internet has disrupted everything from travel to finance. One of the biggest industries that has been disrupted is media. Newspapers and TV stations are struggling in the sea of content that bombards consumers on their phones, tablets and everywhere else in between. While the creation and consumption of media has changed, the metric’s newspapers and TV stations measure themselves by haven’t. That has to change.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen is one of the foremost business thinkers. Watching a lecture he did at Google earlier this summer I was reminded about something, the customer maybe the wrong unit of analysis. He gives an example of the New York Times and his propensity to buy the New York Times. In short, it’s not his characteristics or attributes but the job that needs to be done (check out around the min mark).

Media companies, in particularly newspaper and local television conglomerates, need to stop focusing on the profits and instead focus on the job that needs to be done.

For example, voter turnout for midterm elections is around 40% on average. That is embarrassingly low. These elections can have very important local issues on the ballot, electing school board officials and also sending a representative from the voting district to the House of Representatives. There is no electoral college involved. It’s based strictly on yay’s and nay’s on issues and people who directly effect you and me.

Newspapers and TV stations cover these of course but there goal shouldn’t just be to show up to speeches and PR events but to also get people out to vote. Candidates shouldn’t be the ones doing ‘get out the vote’ events, it should be the local media. The metric for the local newspapers and TV stations success should be how many people they got registered to vote in the area and voter turn out at the polls. That along with getting info about the candidates and issues out to voters are the jobs that need to be done.

As much as I love the country of Canada, I am a bleeding heart capitalist. I know that in order to do the above takes money. But there are other ways to raise it besides selling advertising which is what newspapers and TV stations have been doing it. Times have changed and they have to change with them. With the abundance of content, the square hole of profits has become round and yet newspapers and TV stations are still trying to jam in a square peg. I propose an about face.

Steve Case co-founded AOL, was there for the disastrous Time Warner merger and has since moved on to write what might be the business book of 2016, The Third Wave. He has also been garnering a lot of attention for his Rise of the Rest tour. He makes a point in his book about B Corporations. B corps or Benefit Corporations as they are sometimes called, use a different set of metrics to measure success instead of just profit and loss statement. As it states on the web site, “B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency”. 

Here is where I piss off the establishment, why not take local media, even in it’s conglomerate size, and change the metrics so that it’s not just about profit and loss? Who decided this is how a local newspaper or TV station should be judged anyway? Would a more prudent metric be it’s impact on the community or region? The metric for success shouldn’t be a profit and loss statement but instead how many jobs have been done to go back to Mr. Christensen.

Metrics could include engagement in community such as getting voter turn out up. Others can be attendance at school board meetings, state and city legislature hearings. Provide these hearings via podcasts and on demand video streams. Is air pollution down in the area, are more people using public transportation, etc.

These may not seem like the domain of the local media but I would argue that they are. The local media has always been and always will be the gatekeeper of information for their communities. Why shouldn’t they be held accountable for people engaging in their community? Why should their only metric be profits?

This is easier said than done and I understand that. While changing the metric’s are vital they are not the end all be all. There are other things that newspapers and TV stations can do. Some may work for one and not the other but there are options if they are willing to think differently. An stable media is vital to any community. The change in metric’s will help that and give the members of the community a media that they can inform in the modern era.

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