Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Truth out of Advertising

I found the speech by Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, as posted on his blog, quite interesting. (I got there through mediabistro.)

He's basically going over the new media landscape - hardly anything new, but I think he phrases and identifies certain strains well. He explains that trust is the main issue in this age of blogs, and he envisions a world where blogs work with more traditional media - let's say, a large media producer, like... Reuters - to make traditional media more accountable. He asks,
What does the future look like in a world in which the consumer has taken over the printing press, the dark room, the television studio? What does the result of a mash-up of professional and “amateur” actually look like?

I continue to find the rhetoric worrisome - this concept of readers as consumers first and foremost. I know it's idealistic to think otherwise since media can only survive in this day and age if it's a successfully run business, if it rides the market successfully. But all the same, this rhetoric leads to this vision, then, of consumers taking over the editorial meetings and deciding content. This is what anyone in publishing anything grapples with. The consumer cannot stop consuming!! They're like goats, out of grass and chewing on the sheets! Save yourself!

So Glocer goes with this and brings up trust, asking the question I've asked: how do we know whom to trust in an age of blogging, when anyone can start disseminating information? He explains, "The comfortable one-way model of publisher to editor to journalist to reader has changed forever." And later, he admits, "we no longer have a choke-hold on the flow of information, whether technological, professional or financial."

He puts a positive spin on all this by celebrating "a truly engaged audience," controlling their media so it suits them and then revelling in it, really indulging in youtube videos and news headlines personalized to their interests. This goes back to the Future of the Book folks - this personalized media is creating an army of amateur specialists, if you will, well-versed in the areas in which they have a strong interest, be that wireless networking, romance novels, car engines, or antique dolls.

This army can then watch their favorite news sources closely - even Reuters - and call them out if something ain't right - as they did when a doctored photo appeared from Reuters. He goes on at length about this moment, which is admirable in terms of honesty. I like people who just point out the elephant in the living room rather than talking around it so as to not reveal a weak moment to people not in the know.

I like Glocer's idea, to have both traditional news providers with known standards who are open to criticism, but not control, from readers. To quote at length:

Our professionals bring something extremely important to a story. They write in accordance with a professional code and brand, and they are mindful of the standards they must uphold. They are trained to sift through facts and provide perspective and context, to provide insight without spin. And they are human beings born in places like Tel Aviv or Gaza City or Dublin or Belfast. They seek to leave their inherent biases at home, but they are human like you and me, and they also make mistakes – again like you and me.

Amateur content provides something else – they often bring immediacy that we cannot deliver, just like the tourist photographs of the immediate aftermath of the Asian Tsunami, or the London bombings on 7/7.

But in the excitement and enthusiasm of this new collaboration we mustn’t forget the value of trust. We mustn’t forget that our actions and ideas must remain guided by impartial accurate information.

I don't like all the rah-rah-Reuters that is inevitable given he's the CEO, and this might be a bit corporate, but I like how he states,
The real opportunity – besides more voices – is that in a world of multiple choices, brands become billboards guaranteeing an experience. If your brand stands for accuracy, for truthfulness, for trust, you become a beacon – a trusted source – a hub in a plural media universe.

I'm not a fan of the "branding" industry, but I think the fundamental point is important for anyone - authors, non-profits, anyone trying to get attention in the world these days. So a publisher establishes itself as a brand, builds trust, and then readers know. If readers want to point out a misstep, they can and they should and the publisher should respond. But in an age of corporate conglomerations controlling publishing and folks like Judith Regan pushing to ethical extremes - and did we all know that the writer hired for the OJ book was someone she met while working at the Enquirer, as the New Yorker reported? - there are no standards or accountability.

Rather than envisioning a world of online books that are actually just venues for discussions, I'd rather envision a publishing model in which the publisher, on all levels, is more accountable, providing a non-book venue for interactions with readers. Brands are more important, so maybe readers can start identifying the publishers they like - something only quite savvy readers do at this point, methinks - and going directly to those websites. The publishers should start blogs and have online discussions so the readers have a voice, but do not provide or dictate the content itself.

If publishers of all kinds, from newspapers to books, continue to rely on reader-provided content, the brand will fold. They are watering down their content by letting the readers provide it all, because in the long run, what is left? What is drawing the reader in? It's narcissistic, and readers will lose interest in their own content and then the brand if that's all that's being provided. The rich, unique content that built the brand and got the reader will not be as strong and new readers will not find it and it will be thrown out, like so much of our disposable culture.

I'm still working out the ideas here, but I think I've come to a point in this entry. It's kind of making me think of TRL on MTV - though, mind you, I don't currently have cable. I believe that's still on the air, and I don't really get how people can watch it. The high-pitch shrieks compete with mindless discussion. The success of TRL disproves my point. Despite it being more about the audience than original content - the videos don't play all the way through! - it continues to find new audiences, obviously. But it's a straw house.

Won't someone please, please blow it over? Anyone?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i don't know. huh. i find what you say really interesting.

i like the idea of making publishers stronger brands. you should be able to know a book you might like by looking at the spine: no doubt. i recently got a job at American Apparel, and the #1 thing they do is proudly sell that brand, and i can see how it is really going to work for them.

the speech stuff you quoted doesn't strike me as particularly inaccurate. i mean, what he says is pretty damn general, but i think dude has pretty much the right idea.

also, re stuff like the tsunami, blogs obviously provide a more extended view of the ways in which it affected individual people, versus the very short, heavily narrated clips you see on news shows. so it's more than just photos that makes it immediate. it is publishing, yes, but it is also a natural transformation of conversation.

love, math+