Magical Digital Paradigm Thinking

So much stupid crap happened this week that I was completely unable to process this until now: 

The news industry could use some inspiration from Disney.

No. Just … no.

Our industry is scared. We’re scared we won’t survive. We’re scared our sacred mission to serve the public is being corrupted by egos and falling into the wrong hands. We’re scared we value cheap clicks over substance.

We got owned by a scumbag who gutted a profitable company, loaded us up with massive unnecessary debt, and then when the whole thing collapsed, we had to listen to ahistorical jackasses talk about how it was our customers’ fault for not reading enough.

Our industry is not “scared.” Our industry is “corrupt.” Twas ever thus, of course, only back in William Randolph Hearst’s day, we didn’t have the internet to blame it on.

We must take calculated risks. Leaps of faith. Acknowledge that a solution to a problem often is a progression of experimentation and failures, and not just one simple step.

That’s why I’m betting on Tronc.

Oh honey.

The reaction to “tronc” wasn’t fear of experimentation. It was mockery and frustration at corporate bullshit and buzzwords masquerading as a plan. There’s a huge difference.

We need to be inspired, revived, reimagined. If only there were more tech entrepreneurs like Michael Ferro and The Washington Post’s Jeff Bezos willing to invest in the survival of an independent press to leverage our credibility in a crowded media space.

Leverage our credibility in a crowded media space! Or, you know, do the fucking news, take money from paying customers, and use that money to do more fucking news. I know that’s not as exciting as leveraging your credibility in a crowded media space, but put your back into it for once, why don’t you?

In case you’re wondering if this is a person (“Editor’s note: Anne Vasquez is the chief digital officer of Tronc and a previous contributor to Poynter.”) sucking up to the boss, why:

In the short time I’ve known Ferro, I’ve become a fan. He’s an idea-a-minute guy who doesn’t mince words and oozes energy. A lot of energy.

He oozes, you guys.

You know who else has a lot of energy? My two-year-old. Let’s put Kick in charge of tronc. It’ll be nonstop videos of cartoon kittens, which sounds kind of like what they’re planning here:

Invest in technology. A lot has been said about artificial intelligence and machine learning. They sound like scary terms. They’re not. Both can enhance journalism. How? By visualizing the content. Machines can be taught to find graphics, thumbnails, photo galleries and videos faster and better by using AI. The goal is to make the work of journalists easier and more efficient, so they spend more time conceiving and pursuing stories.

As many people pointed out there are a thousand companies doing this already. Why do you have to reinvent the wheel and jerk yourself off about it?

Collaborate. Acknowledge the great work others are doing and not be too proud to say it out loud. Rather than build a new content management system from scratch — which is what Tribune Publishing would have done in the past, and it would have taken years — Tronc is working with The Washington Post to explore licensing its sophisticated CMS.

That’s not “collaboration.” That’s “buying something.” Which is completely okay, I mean, do that, but don’t sell it as a revolutionary new thing. Collaboration implies there is something the Washington Post would get out of this besides money. By that measure I am “collaborating” with my dry cleaner.

Respect journalism. Foster a content-first culture that capitalizes on the credibility of professional journalists — and reward them. Ferro has announced pay raises in the third quarter for journalists throughout the company. Tribune Publishing has won a combined 92 Pulitzers, and Tronc understands their value. It also understands that great journalism can take many different forms. Making journalism more accessible and visual is not sacrilege; it’s smart.

Journalists have been screaming for years about making journalism “more accessible” by delivering it to the people who pay for it. News organizations have steadfastly refused to do that by cutting distribution, staffing circ with minimum-wagers and idiots, dicking around with prepaid home delivery schedules and screwing people out of something they’ve already purchased, and then whining that their customers don’t love them anymore because those customers are stupid.

Journalists have been noting that their companies’ websites are trash fires, that internal search engines are a joke, that archives are offline or riddled with linkrot, that ads are poorly targeted, and that sites are running syndicated content behind paywalls that can be found by a two-second Google search.

Respecting journalism isn’t just about respecting the people who do it, though THAT WOULD BE A GOOD START. It’s about respecting all the ways people want to get information and not making it impossible to do any of it. It’s about learning how the internet works, and about how newspapers work.

It is not about bowing down to incoherent press releases and re-“brandings,” and by the way, I will believe this bunch knows what it’s doing digitally when they lock down all the social media accounts for their company’s new name BEFORE THEY ANNOUNCE THAT NAME.

This isn’t about fear and it isn’t about reluctance to address digital trends. Newspapers have been showing their tits for every digital trend they see for the past two decades. What they’ve never done industry-wide is focus on the news.

Maybe they need some inspiration from Disney for that. 


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