Much has been written about the threat posed to traditional news media by competing news organizations on the Internet. But there’s another side of the topic that’s often overlooked.
News organizations also face competition from sources that aren’t really in the news business, but are providing information that people used to get from news organizations.
Used to be, if you wanted to find out about the latest movies, you’d read a newspaper, a magazine or maybe catch an entertainment-themed TV show. Now there are sites like imdb.com and movies.com that give deeper, richer coverage of movies than any general news organization could hope to.
But the competition goes far beyond that, as information architect Stijn Debrouwere pointed out recently in an insightful blog post.
Review sites like Yelp diminish the tastemaker role played by traditional media. Car dealers and real estate agents increasingly provide information to consumers directly, rather than paying the news media to do it for them.
Then there’s Facebook, the most heavily trafficked site on the Internet. Every minute people spend on Facebook is a minute they’re not reading their local newspaper or watching the 6 o’clock news.
With so many alternatives, the traditional media have become just one more voice in a huge, cacophonous chorus.
Writes Debrouwere: “A movie review on Amazon is not Roger Ebert, and if you’d ask any avid reader, they’d all tell you that the one isn’t even comparable to the other. … Yet [using Amazon] is exactly what so many Americans are doing now. Nobody makes any sort of conscious decision to stop reading entertainment journalism and arts criticism. It just turns out that way.
“The entire point,” he concludes, “is that journalism is not being disrupted by better journalism but by things that are hardly recognizable as journalism at all.”
I’ve worked with organizations that are trying to raise money for important public causes, and I tell them that they’re not only in competition with other important public causes. They’re also in competition with abandoned kittens and Third World kids with cleft palates and religious missions and every other worthy activity to which people can devote their time, energy and money.
Similarly, the traditional news media aren’t just in competition with online news. They’re in competition with every site or service that helps people piece together bits of information to get through their day.
There’s still value in the traditional media outlets. Many of them remain profitable, albeit not at the levels of a decade ago. But each year their position erodes a bit more; each year a larger proportion of their potential audience is made up of “digital natives” who owe them no particular allegiance.
The dinosaurs died off after an asteroid struck the Earth and drastically changed their environment. The next decade will tell whether the Internet is the asteroid that kills off the kind of media organizations that thrived in the 20th century.