ABC Downsizes & the Revolution Gathers Steam
More digital reporters- sharp young people who make a lot less money, shooting their own video, filing for the web and probably soon to be appearing on World News. There will be extensive training of all news staff with an eye toward the one-man band approach in which correspondents, producers and probably anybody with two hands and two eyeballs shoots their own video.
Disney is doing ok but the ABC Television division is not as plummeting advertising revenues continue taking their terrible toll on the news business. One can look at stuff like this and CBS’ recent 100 layoffs and be cynical about the kinds of priorities that are being set by the parent companies of these news organizations. Or maybe all of this is simply inevitable and we are headed toward a radically different mainstream media future and we just have to learn to deal with it.
These are but the latest convulsions in a rapidly changing media environment. The business model that held up for more than half a century has been torn to shreds. The advertising market for radio and television and newspapers has simply collapsed. More and more dollars are flowing to the internet. Major sectors like the automotive industry that used to provide about a fifth of all broadcasting ad revenues are gone. Add the worst recession since the Great Depression to the mix and we have arrived where we are today.
We are in the midst of a revolution. It is happening before our very eyes and for those of us who ply our trade in this business, it feels like an earthquake; like there is no safe place. Revolutions have happened before in the media business. Gutenberg and his printing press put town criers out of work. Radio didn’t kill newspapers but it was the dawn of a new age in communications. Television didn’t kill radio but it changed the nature of the medium from a tool of mass communication to a niche form of broadcasting that attracted advertisers for its ability to reach narrow and specific demographic groups. And now the digital age and the new egalitarian nature of multiple consumption choices it has spawned is changing the nature of the television business.
The positive thing about revolutions is that they lead to innovation. The negative is the terrible price that is paid by hard-working, generally altruistic people who pursued what they thought were solid career paths now suddenly having to recalibrate- everything. It is sad in so many ways. But it’s also the cruel and Darwinian nature of a free market-based economy.
What does worry me a great deal is that these aren’t just jobs we’re talking about. That aspect alone is bad enough. But these are people who used to bring us the news. How does a democracy function if the stakeholders no longer have the depth of information they need to make decisions about the course of their lives, their communities and their nation? Will pared-down Radio and TV networks, thin newspapers and the internet and its iterations really fill that void and perform that essential function?
I don’t know. But I sincerely hope our new information world is more than 140 characters in length plus the occasional link to You Tube.