McGuire on Media

Notes and thoughts on "Incorporating New Media into the Traditional News industry"

Tuesday night I moderated a discussion for the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association. The organizers called the event “Incorporating New Media into the Traditional News Industry.”

The guest panelists were  Mike Coleman, VP Digital Media for azcentral.com; Russ Hill, VP Product Development for KTAR.com and Joe Hengemuehler, News Director for KNXV Channel 15.

I try to keep a panel like that engaged, engaging and moving briskly. This panel made that easy and I thought they got to some interesting points worth sharing.

I began with what I thought was a softball, but it yielded very different, telling answers. I asked, “As you sit here tonight, how are your jobs different from five years ago?”

Joe Hengemuehler said, “Deadlines are dead. The deadline is now!” Mike Coleman was struck that structure has changed dramatically in that when he started out in digital at a newspaper 12 years ago, digital was on the fringe. “Now we’re at the center.  There’s good and bad in that.”  The radio guy, Hill, said “the show never ends. Now, our personalities don’t stop when they are off the air.  They are on Twitter and  Facebook continuing the conversation.”

Deadlines are dead, digital is at the center of activity and the show never ends would be a great opening for a lot of books so I knew the evening was going to be interesting.

The panelists engaged in an interesting discussion about whether audience or content is now king. The news director, Hengemuehler, clearly felt content is still king because”content is the meal you’re serving, you are nothing without that.” Russ Hill disagreed, saying content is already out there. He argued there is little original content and differentiation is the key. He acknowledged journalists might cringe but said, “Opinions are how we differentiate.” He concluded audience is more important than content. Mike Coleman said”Content is important, but quality audience is what matters to us. We want the people with money to spend.”

Mike Coleman made a fascinating observation that I have been thinking about a lot.  He said when digital was on the fringe of the Arizona Republic operation they were very nimble. He observed that now that digital is at the center of the operation, “everybody in the organization has to be involved in every decision and I am afraid we are a lot less nimble.” Coleman could be sounding the alert for the entire newspaper industry. If newspapers are going to bring their old sluggish ways into the digital world, reinvention will remain a dream.  Nimbleness should be the holy grail of any digital newsroom no matter the legacy organization that birthed it.

Joe Hengemuehler addressed an issue a lot of legacy media people fear. He talked about the steady feedback stream that audiences provide these days. “It makes us smarter. ” He said his station used to rely on ratings and the feedback loop was slow and vague. “Now we know what people are thinking right now!”

Perhaps the most interesting discussion of the night came toward the end when I asked if mass media is dead. Hengemuehler didn’t think so. He believes enough change is afoot to save it.  Coleman was eloquent when he argued that right now the most effective way to make the cash register ring in Phoenix is an ad in the Saturday and Sunday newspaper. He did allow that is not the future and he also lamented that one of the biggest challenges is to figure out a way to sell more than ad adjacencies. 

Russ Hill was the contrarian.  He said without blinking, “Mass media is already dead.” He argued that the media fragmentation has begun and it is only going to get worse.

The panel moderator used his prerogative to agree with Hill. As I reflected on it overnight I guess I believe that the death rattles have begun. Mass media may not be dead, but call it fragmentation, targeting or hyperlocal,  the day of a dominant local or national news force has definitely begun to fade. Mass media is on the clock.