Yesterday a new book was born.  The fact that we can still write that with a common conviction that we know what happens when a book is launched is one enduring phenomenon.   The fact that the book, which describes in loving detail the end of the line for one species of news media, the newspaper, while narrating the scenarios within which a new type of news exchange in our society is being created, is another  stereotypical experience.  In short, we use the old media to describe the exit of the old media and forecast the birth of the new –  in old style.

Sometimes these books are scarcely worth reading.  Especially in America, where more banalities on business are pressed within hard covers more quickly than in any other place on Earth.  If you think this when you see “Newsonomics” by Ken Doctor in your bookstore, pick it up and read it.  This is something quite different: descriptive prose and fresh insight about the news business by someone who knows how to interview, can argue a case in lucid English, and writes with the sympathy of an insider and the distance of a practised analyst.  This is no accident.  Ken did more than 20 years, man and boy, before the mast in newspapers, and latterly in the now defunct Knight Ridder, where he had the helm in digital enterprises  in San Jose.  Here at least they took the approaching digital tsunami seriously, even if elsewhere they were unable to ride out the storm.  Ken then became a celebrated news media analyst, both on his own Content Bridges blog and for Outsell.

So this should be good.  And it does not disappoint.  Here you will find a good analysis of what happens in a media segment when the classical gatekeeper editorial role becomes diminished in Authority.  You can see here an industry contracting and consolidating as cyclical change becomes structural.  The growing disaffection of readers is matched by the inability of news providers to come up with any recognition of what their readers now want, and the people who read that disaffection most accurately are the advertisers, who quietly head off elsewhere.  Meanwhile new aggregators re-intermediate with new solutions, turning the old suppliers into secondary sources – and sometimes free sources at that. Meanwhile, readers are becoming newsmen, local is being reborn, and community in the network begins to recreate news forms which in print had taken two hundred years to evolve.  Reporters get to be bloggers, niche is more important than general and everyone is Editor.  A new form of marketing is born around viral distribution, which begins to suggest new roles for news media.  This is a great story, and it has not been told in a better analytic style than here.

By the time I came to the end I almost shed a tear for old Rupert M, struggling on past pension age to feed the family and make sense of all of this.  Ken’s analysis makes it clear to me that you cannot buy your way in (My Space-style). You have to build it and know it, experiment through failure to success.  And you cannot postpone it with a paywall, or hope that television will be immune.  In some ways the visual world of the web will sap the defences of television news more rapidly, aided by the filtering of Twitter and the super-distribution of YouTube.

By a glorious irony, Ken’s publisher is St Martins Press (Macmillan) the global super-publisher who forced little old Mom-and-Pop digital corner bookstore Amazon into a price deal that they did not want in the public interest despite the fact that it increased their margins.  This should mean that the eBook version should be out now too, but even if it isn’t, order this on Amazon or ( ISBN978-0-312-59893-8).  Worth every penny of whatever John Sargent tells Jeff Bezos it is worth.


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