I must admit, I have a slight fear that the makers of Idiocracy have a point. With the downward spiral we’re facing in the economy, and craigslist shredding the news media’s business model, it can feel like we’re rapidly losing brain cells. News is read in twitter-size bites and less time of the day is spent contemplating, analyzing, arguing intelligent points. Are we really that far away from the sluggish people-blob caricatures in the movie?
I thought The New Yorker had a really interesting point in the article “News You can Lose,” by James Surowiecki.
Papers now seem to be the equivalent of the railroads at the start of the twentieth century–a once-great business eclipsed by a new technology…a focus on products rather than on customers led the companies to misunderstand their core business. Had the bosses realized that they were in the transportation business, rather than the railroad business, they could have moved into trucking and air transport, rather than letting other companies dominate. By extension, many argue that if newspapers had understood they were in the information business, rather than the print business, they would have adapted more quickly and more successfully to the Net.
The article continues to argue that the second major problem with the decline of newspapers is that today’s consumer wants a high-quality product (well-reporeted investigative news-which is highly expensive to produce) at absolutely no cost through the Internet.
The argument “The consumer made me do it” has been used to excuse all sorts of media failings, most notably the reliance on “if it bleeds it leads” to drive front page stories. A lack of innovation regardless of what the masses seem to want surely is another reason for the dropping circulation numbers.
Surowiecki concludes with an ominous warning:
Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.
I just hope we can stop ourselves from turning into machine-driven morons.