The Fourth Estate

12 Aug

The canned laughter and cheesy jokes are not my cup of tea but it is what prompted the letter I wanted to share.  In all honesty, I read the letter before I saw the video so it can probably stand on its own.

Here is the response

Dear John,

I’ve been thinking a lot about your brilliant satirical riff on the state of the fourth estate and felt compelled to write this letter to thank you for raising the awareness of how serious these issues are to the future of democracy.

After Sunday’s episode, and the commentary that followed from the industry, it was made very clear that there are two kinds of people working in publishing: those who truly understand the root cause of our problems and are working tirelessly to change the course; and those that sadly don’t get it.

The industry is in dire straits; this much is clear. But as much as I laughed out loud when you said…

“… And I’m talking to you, the person watching this segment on YouTube using the wi-fi from the coffee shop underneath your apartment. You’re killing us!

…in all seriousness, consumers are not killing us; we’re killing ourselves by continuing to try and hold on to archaic business models that once made us rich. The consumer behavior we’re seeing today is not new; we’ve witnessed it many times before.

For example, for decades the telecom industry charged exorbitant fees for long distance communications. Today long distance is virtually free and no amount of lobbying by telcos for regulations to control Voice over IP changed the inevitable. Did the telcos suffer? Absolutely, but they finally found innovative ways to capitalize on internet technology rather than fight it. AT&T is a good example ─ in 2008 it was worth US$12 billion; today it’s the most valuable telecom brand in the world valued at US$107 billion.

Now you may argue that telecommunication is just a utility and can’t be compared with journalism, and you would have a point. But what about the music and video industries? Producers’ self-serving business models drove millions of consumers to Napster and torrents, and eventually spawned the likes of iTunes, Spotify and Netflix. Why didn’t they evolve with the times, embrace technology and invent streaming media themselves? Hubris, pure hubris!

Many local and regional newspaper executives share that same affliction by continuing to overcharge and underdeliver when it comes to quality journalism. When profits took a hit, instead of cutting operational costs related to print, they decimated their newsrooms and are now paying the price. It’s no wonder so many once-loyal readers are abandoning the drivel they were getting on paper for what they can now read for free online.

Too many media execs have their proverbial heads in the sand and don’t want to know the facts. But the fact is this: the internet has turned the power funnel upside down. In the past publishers had total control in terms of content and distribution; readers were at the bottom of the food chain with little choice on how, when or where they got their news. The internet changed all that. People are now in the driver’s seat in terms of what they choose to read, how they read it and how much they’re willing to pay for it.

I know it sounds trite, but you really can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

That being said, I, like you, passionately believe that quality content deserves fair compensation. I just don’t believe individuals have to be the ones paying for it.

Tens of thousands of businesses in the hotel, airline, cruise, taxi, library, healthcare and telecom industries (to name just a few) see quality journalism as a value-added service for consumers and are willing to pay handsomely for that content on behalf of their clientele. This is a distribution and monetization model thousands of publishers have learned to appreciate, but there are still those who want it “their way or no way.” And, if I may steal from you, those publishers “are all going to pay for it.”

Anyway, as much as I have a lot more to say on the topic, let me close with this…

Contrary to what other people say, it is not your job to find solutions to the industry’s problems. You have created awareness at a massive scale and we thank you for that. Now it’s our turn to do our jobs and find innovative solutions to protect and proliferate quality journalism in a new digital reality.

Keep dishing it out, John! We can take it.


Nikolay Malyarov

Chief Content Officer, PressReader


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