I’m always intrigued by the way journalists rework interviews to give them a ‘shape’. Sometimes this involves weaving quotations in ways that are (perhaps unintentionally) misleading. So some time back I resolved that I would put up a transcript of every interview I gave, just for the record.
Below is a transcript of an email interview I’ve just given to a journalist on a New Zealand publication.
Q: Blogs are constantly being talked of as being “on the verge” on mainstream influence. Yet, outside a few cases in the United States (Dan Rather’s “memogate” etc), they don’t seem to have lived up to their promise. Is 2007 the year of the blog, or the year the blog boom finally busted?
A: Silly question — typical of old-media journalism. The significance of blogging isn’t measured by the emergence of publications which have the same clout as old-style media outlets (though the Huffington Post seems to be doing that too), but by the profound change in the media ecosystem brought about by thousands of editorial voices that would hitherto never found a voice or a means of publication. This is a different world from the one in which most journalists were conditioned. So forget the “has blogging peaked?” line; it’s a bit like asking “has oxygen peaked?” The real question is: has old-style print journalism peaked?
Q: Will blogs become (or are they already) recognised news-breakers?
A: Blogs and mainstream journalism have — and will continue to have — a symbiotic relationship: bloggers lack the resources and training to be major news-breakers; what they are good at is informed comment and keeping mainstream journalism honest (see the Trent Lott and Dan Rather cases) and up to the mark.
Q: The Guardian (the UK paper I read most online) seems to have co-opted the blogging model quite well – at least with sports coverage and breaking news like the tube bombings. Can we expect to see more of this cross-pollination by newspapers?
Yep. But the key determinant of success or failure will be the extent to which proprietors and editors understand the profoundly different ecosystem in which they will have to operate. The trick — as the Editor of the Guardian puts it — is not to be ‘on the Web’ but ‘of the Web’.
The most threatened journalistic species right now is the highly-paid, opinionated newspaper columnist. For many of them there are people out there on the Net doing it better — and more cheaply! Note how Time Magazine ‘bought’ Andrew Sullivan’s blog.
Q: Newspaper circulation has declined (according to year-on-year November ABC stats) by another 5 %, on average. To what extent is this due to readers migrating online, and how much is due to a net loss of readers? How ugly do you think these figures will look next year?
A: I’m not an expert on circulation, but the picture varies with different cultures. In Western societies, newspaper circulation is in inexorable decline, mainly because — for whatever reason — young people don’t buy or read papers. My understanding is that newspaper readership is holding up well in Asia, but — as I say — I’m no expert.
Q: Can newspapers and, to a lesser extent broadcasters, make up their lost advertising revenues through online operations?
A: To some extent, but only to some extent. The central strategic problem for print publications is that their classified ad revenues will all be sucked away by the Net. If they were smart they’d have built online advertising businesses like Craigslist years ago. But their managements were too dumb and/or ignorant to understand the threat. They thought it was all about news. It wasn’t and it isn’t.
Q: How much of a threat does YouTube pose to traditional television networks?
Traditional TV networks have their own dire problems — broadcast TV is in inexorable decline because (i) its audiences are fragmenting (because of channel multiplication) and (ii) increased competition for people’s attention from other media and sources. YouTube merely adds to the broadcast TV problem. It might even be part of a solution for some: a few smart TV broadcasters are trying to harness YouTube to widen the ‘reach’ for their products.
Q: And predictions for 2007?
A: If you want to know the future, go buy a crystal ball.