HomeIndustry Commentary

Fixing social media

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

I read the news”paper” most mornings, in quotes because it’s an on-line replica of the paper version that doesn’t require tree-felling, wood pulping, and ink-smearing.

In it I read an article about what Facebook is doing to combat the extensive disinformation it helps disseminate. Mostly, its plans sound a lot like trying to extinguish a forest fire with spit.

But not being one to criticize someone’s solution to a problem without having a better idea, I asked myself what my better idea was. Happily, I have one.

I have the solution. Not a solution. Not a partial solution. Not something that might make a positive impact but not much of one.

I have the solution! And because you’re a loyal KJR subscriber I’m going to share it with you. Not only that, I’m going to invite you to share it with everyone you know.

Bob’s Big Idea:

-> Read news and opinions in newspapers. Socialize on social media.<-

If every voting-age American would follow this simple guideline it would, in one masterstroke, neuter all actors, both foreign and domestic, who are trying to pollute our political dialog with their repulsive, fabricated, preposterous, divisive falsehoods.

Well sure, you might be thinking to yourself. Bob is a well-known liberal, so of course he’s going to recommend sources with a leftwing bias.

I’m not. Read the Wall Street Journal if you want to avoid the leftwing slant on things, and that’s assuming the print media as a whole has an actual leftwing bias — a debate I’ll leave to those who research and tabulate such matters.

How about cable news? That’s a gray zone, for three reasons.

Reason #1: No matter how much or how little that’s truly newsworthy is taking place, cable news has to stretch or cram it into its 24-hour news cycle.

Reason #2: Because cable news is such a visual medium, dramatic visuals crowd out the mundane, even when the mundane shows what’s typical.

Reason #3: Shouting heads are cheap. Reporting is expensive. A face on a screen making noises, even a well-compensated face, doesn’t cost very much. Inviting a second or third face in to offer their commentary is still economical programming.

Sending a reporter and camera crew to where news is happening costs a whole lot more … and that’s also in comparison to what it costs a newspaper to send a reporter there.

So on cable news, economics favors shouted inanities over reliable information.

All of which goes to demonstrate just how pitifully the newspaper industry has responded over the past 25 years to the threat to its existence that is the Internet.

Newspapers could have pooled their resources to provide local and national classified advertising. Instead, they gave up the field to Craigslist, Monster.com, Autozone.com, and so many other list services that would have had to compete with newspapers if only newspapers had decided to compete.

And that’s the revenue side of the industry. How about content?

Imagine newspaper companies thought in terms of competing for news consumers’ business. What might they do?

I’d think they’d advertise, offering engaging accounts of how they ensure the content they publish is both newsworthy and reliable … the steps they go through and the principles they adhere to before committing content to printing plates.

If they were even more bold they’d contrast their process to the vetting that precedes posting on social media. They’d portray, perhaps, a bunch of Russians laughing as they clink their vodka-filled glasses and click their mice, or perhaps a few deranged individuals with poor personal hygiene, popping pills and screaming into microphones as they click.

The fact of the matter is that most newspapers do adhere to a code of ethics, do have processes and principles in place to keep misrepresentations out, and issue corrections when their preventive measures fail.

Social media sources are the polar opposite.

What does this have to do with KJR’s mission of providing practical advice people in business can make use of as soon as they finish reading?

There is, unsurprisingly, a business parallel.

Just about every business function is, for those outside it, an arcane, needlessly complex, expensive waste of corporate resources. Few decision-makers outside IT understand why it’s so hard; likewise CIOs looking at Marketing, Chief Marketing Officers looking at Accounting …

Every business decision-maker and influencer benefits by understanding why what other parts of the business do is so hard. If the CEO doesn’t insist on this sort of information exchange, the rest of the executive leadership team should take the initiative.

The alternative? Look at how well social media works as a source of enlightenment.

# # #

Like this idea? Know anyone in the newspaper business? Please don’t hesitate to share this with them. Who knows — maybe someone will pay attention.

Comments (13)

  • It won’t work because it will take more effort than people will make.
    Fifty years ago, I worked for a promenat Atlanta TV station. We all knew then “If it bleeds, it leads.”
    Things haven’t changed.

  • Thanks for an informative piece. I pay for my local newspaper because it covers local news in some detail and seems quite reliable. They cover more stories that local TV does. I can’t perceive any tilt – left or right in their news. I enjoy their editorial page along with citizen letters that are real, verified people. I do get the tree killing version for convenience but also the on-line version. The crux of their survival are the local adverts which fund their ability to create news stories.

    I can’t afford the national newspapers, except for the WaPo on-line version, but that source has become too one-sided, even for straight news so I gave up. I can check out various stories from the nationals using various pay-wall dodges.

    So where’s the advice for getting ad revenue to starving locals? That seems the crux of the issue.

    • Are you talking about small-town papers? If so, the answer is, I don’t know but I wish I did. I’m guessing the solution is all tangled up with how strong a sense of community there is in the small town.

      If you’re talking about newspapers that serve a major metro area, in contrast, the answer is, I don’t know (I’m nothing if not consistent). I think it might revolve around a combination of being the best source of local information and being a reliable gateway for bringing in content from the national sources – reliable in the sense that it’s worth reading, with content that’s been verified and so on.

  • Bob,
    Unfortunately my “local” newspaper was bought up by a large national left wing paper pusher. They fired most of the local reporters and have an extremely liberal slant that makes me want to puke. I want my news with just the facts, from either side and let me decide what to feel about it. We sent in letters to the editor, etc. complaining about it and finally voted with out $$ and cancelled our subscription. The New York Times is not immune to this nonsense either, the cancel culture is forcing them to print the news their subscribers want, how they want, not just the facts. Fox News is of course at the polar opposite side and somewhere in the middle lies the objective truth I guess. Read/listen to both sides and try to guage reality in between them and then post.

  • ‘Read news and opinions in newspapers. Socialize on social media.’

    Good advice. Startlingly simple, which is good considering Americans’ (of which I am one) propensity for insisting on simple answers to complex issues. But given that so many Americans can’t be bothered to get off the couch and vote, what are the odds that they will go to more than one source for what they consider ‘information’? ‘Don”t get your news from Facebook’ has been sound advice for years, and also consistently disregarded. But, we can hope.

  • Many problems on social media could be reduced if you had to provide identification and prove who you are before you sign up.

  • I gave up on the local papers when they stopped reporting local news and relied almost entirely on the wire services.

  • Nice try but no cigar.
    The economic incentive is to make money.
    Over the last 40 years, the National Enquirer has been the most popular “news”paper in the US. I quote that “news” because it is not true. Bat boy doesn’t exist. Elvis is dead.
    But you already know that and I suspect you’ve never bought a tabloid.

    Advertising yourself as truthful isn’t as big a moneymaker as giving folks what they want to read is.

    And another sad but telling point. The very _last_ syndicated things local newspapers give up on is comics, puzzles and astrology section. That’s the most popular section of any local newspaper.

    And even the hoitiest, toitiest newspaper of all can’t escape that. How many folks do you know brag about doing the New York Times Sunday crossword?

  • My first time meeting you! My brother-in-law near Minneapolis sent this commentary and I enjoyed it. Since other’s comments describe their approaches to “news” exposure, I’ll share mine. Our town’s newspaper is small and contains local and national news, as well as letters and opinions. Because of the financial pressure on newspapers , our parer has excluded most syndicated opinions, and the physical paper is more a pamphlet than a paper ( I’m not sure how the delivery person can toss it more than 5 feet). I also have that paper online and the Washington Post and NY times. I can no longer tolerate the cable “news” channels, but I trust the TV approach to news of Reuters, BBC, and PBS Evening News. I love your idea about limiting social media to socializing. That would be the solution, if not for that pesky rule about free speech. Some of us of a certain age miss Walter Cronkite. It’s been nice to meet you. Gary N – Santa Cruz Ca

    • Gary … a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well. I hope you choose to subscribe (free, I don’t rent my list, etc.).

      I agree – we can’t legislate limiting social media to socializing. And in fact, in totalitarian nations social media help the opposition to organize.

      Everything is situational; I was thinking of encouraging this as a personal guideline, not as a legal option.

Comments are closed.