The New News Cycle

I'm sick and tired of the media elite bitching and moaning about their diminishing role in society. There's lots of blame and finger-pointing going on at big media these days: people don't watch network TV news "because they work long hours"; newspaper and magazine revenues are down, which is "the advertiser's fault"; and everyone's favorite scapegoat—blogging—is "not real journalism." That's the world according to traditional media.

I disagree. The news cycle has changed, and with it, so must many of the rules of the game. With Web-based access to information, consumers have real choices for how they learn about the world around them—alternatives to the filter of mainstream media. As the biggies fight to keep expense accounts for their two-hour power lunches in midtown Manhattan, others are innovating.

In the old days, businesspeople could remain current by reading three things: a daily newspaper, a general business magazine, and their industry trade press. For research and analysis, a good online database service allowed for archival searching. Pre-Web, breaking news was found on the radio and TV ("We interrupt this program to bring an important news bulletin . . ."). A daily newspaper and the six o'clock news provided an overview of the most recent 24-hour news cycle, and weekly and monthly magazines added commentary and perspective. It's all changed.

Think about the news cycle from a different perspective: that of the corporate communications person. Not too long ago, the only way for corporations to influence news was for their PR people to issue a press release (intended for media only) and then hit the phones to talk up friendly journalists. Editors and reporters were in a power position as the filter between organizations and the public. With the old news cycle, everyone knew the rules: the ultimate goal was to get some magazine or newspaper to write a positive story that appeared weeks or months later. Then the happy corporate flack put the media hit into a clip book to prove their value to the organization.

No more. Control is decentralized. The best PR and marketing pros know that Web-based communication delivered directly to their constituents is highly effective. Now press releases appear in real time on millions of desktops. Bloggers comment on product announcements immediately, and smart communications pros treat these "unreal journalists" with respect. Of course, magazines and newspapers are still vitally important, but in the new news cycle that value has shifted to adding context to the news and identifying trends. Corporate PR people are beginning to understand what the new news cycle means to their communications efforts and are harnessing the power for their organizations' benefit.

Other content industries are going through changing cycles too. Consider music: back in the days when I waited for the next Grateful Dead album to come out in vinyl, musicians and labels had few options besides pushing content on the radio and through touring—after the record's release. Today, music videos play on MTV, and online and individual songs are available for download weeks or months prior to an album release; soundtracks are available before the actual movie; and ring tones are big business.

With the new news cycle come opportunities and risks for the econtent business. To keep on top of their work, people need real-time access to searching and browsing of not only premium news services but also alternatively generated content like blogs. And just as the role of the media elite is diminishing, so is the significance of news and information repositories. If an aggregated content product or a corporate news portal delivers only a subset of what people need, that product's or portal's days are numbered.

Big media is fighting back, if oddly. More than ever, traditional journalism (even the business and financial press) fixates on stories that include elements of celebrity, religion, death, or legal woes giving us continual loops of media overkill. Yet as big media sends hundreds of reporters with microphones and klieg lights to camp in Martha Stewart's front yard, thousands of interesting independent voices whisper from the shadows about important topics.

Our collective industry challenge is harnessing the independent voices and making sense of them for millions of information consumers around the world. Company executives want to know what's being said about them—not just in magazines but in chat rooms. Fund managers want an edge on the market—not just from sell-side research but through specialist blogs. Scientists and engineers want to know the latest, not just raw data.

Can we give our econtent market what it wants? Can we adapt to the new news cycle like millions of consumers already have? Sure. But it will take innovative thinking rather then clinging to old models of success.