Monday, November 17, 2008

Contempt and failure to bond

Do you still read your newspaper? Is there a 'pajama paper' in your life?

Murdoch to media: You dug yourself a huge hole

Rupert Murdoch said today as part of The Boyer Lecture Series: "With newspapers cutting back and predictions of even worse times ahead, Rupert Murdoch said the profession may still have a bright future if it can shake free of reporters and editors who he said have forfeited the trust and loyalty of their readers."

He continued: "My summary of the way some of the established media has responded to the internet is this: it's not newspapers that might become obsolete. It's some of the editors, reporters, and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper's most precious asset: the bond with its readers," said Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp. He made his remarks as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Australian Broadcast Corporation."

"Murdoch to journalists: Shape up or risk extinction: Murdoch, whose company's holdings also include MySpace and the Wall Street Journal, criticized what he described as a culture of "complacency and condescension" in some newsrooms."

"The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly--and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted. The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception."

I have seen this attitude over and over. It permeated so deeply in the newspaper of my former town in Maine that I started a competing paper just so we could get real news, unfiltered of bias and unadorned with derision. The paper, called "The Gray News" had been a monopoly in town since the beginning, which, by the time my paper rolled around, was over thirty years. The paper had failed to continue to bond with it readers, having become so far out of touch and so insular that they thought the community view was represented in the few hangers on that were still involved with it. That is a deadly attitude. Newspapers must strive to remain fresh and keep up with the times of their communities as they evolve and grow.

They had also been extremely contemptuous of readers, even resorting to tit-for-tats from the editor against those letter-writers who tried valiantly to present a differing point of view. Eventually they became tired of being berated in print and they ceased to contribute, thus cementing the one-sidedness and narrowness of the points of view the paper did publish.

As I went along, I noticed that this tendency was not contained to my town but to many weeklies, especially those volunteer-run or having lower professional standards. Now, Murdoch is telling us, that tendency has "graduated" to larger papers who should know better. No matter how small or how large, the failure to bond with readers and the failure to treat them with courtesy and respect spells a death knell every time. The difference nowadays is that when a paper folds, there are so many other news outlets to revert to that mourning the bygone weekly hardly merits a tear.

Newspapers can still prosper, if as Murdoch said, "papers provide readers with news they can trust." Ain't that the truth. Give them news, gain their trust in the credibility of that news, and encourage hearty and civil debate about that news. It is a winning combination that never fails.

Good newspapers around the world, I salute you.


Anonymous said...

Ah what ever became of dear sweet Ray?


Elizabeth Prata said...

the staff of the paper wasn't really invited to the new company that bought them out and the eventually were shut out of active writing and even participation in the background. Time moves everything on I guess...