Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Shrinking Mass Media Masses At Googleplex

Posted by Tom Foremski - December 8, 2008

Monday evening I was at Google's holiday party for the media. It's one of my favorite events because I get to hang out with the Google comms teams and also catch up with my colleagues in the media. It's nice and relaxing.

But every year the number of press people attending gets smaller. The holiday party used to be held in a much larger space but moved to a smaller room a couple of years ago. At the rate the mass media is becoming micro-media Google can clean out a large broom closet and hold next year's party there.

It is extraordinary what is happening in the media industry, especially with the recent news of the Tribune bankruptcy filing and New York Times borrowing a quarter of a billion dollars.

I first spotted major trouble for the newspaper business when I left the Financial Times in mid 2004. I quickly saw that the economics of the online media business model would not be able to support the cost structure of newspaper companies.

Online revenues would not be able to support newspaper companies with all their legacy costs, pension plans, office buildings, trucks, printing presses, layers of admin, journalists, editors, sub-editors, web masters, IT departments, HR, security, lawyers, ad sales people, etc. I could see that there was no way that online publishing would generate enough money to support media businesses with such large costs of operation.

I started writing posts around the theme "you can't get there from here." It's a wonderful Yankee expression that makes perfect sense when applied to the established media industry.

There is no way that the media industry can transition to the online world without totally reinventing itself. And that will happen too slowly. That's why new media companies are better positioned, such as the Huffington Post, because they are built from the ground up on the current economics of the online publishing market. It's never easy to cut back to grow. It's always easier if you are what I call a "new rules enterprise," you don't have legacy thinking and a legacy cost structure to deal with.

So what do we do? We need professional journalists to sort out the information we need as a society, otherwise we are headed for a damaging period of disinformation.

Media is how society thinks, it is how we collectively decide on important issues. Without a professional media class we are left with an army of citizen journalists who don't have the same access, don't have the same experience dealing with information "spin," and who don't have to get up every day and be professional journalists.

Creating a business model to be able to pay for the professional journalism we need is a number one priority for our society, it is even more important than sorting out the current financial crisis, IMHO.

Stork to visit the Kranes . . .

Anyway, it was good to catch up with people at the Googleplex. The Google comms team is a little upset at being called arrogant by some sectors of the media but that's not news. The only Google person that I saw looking down at most of the media in room was Brian O'Shaughnessy, but that's because he's 6'6" :-)

I found out the stork is making a third delivery at the David Krane household very soon (congrats!). And I also met the new head of Google communications and public affairs, a British lady, Rachel Whetstone. She used to work in London running Google's European communications team, she is also the former political secretary to Michael Howard, a senior British politician.

I googled Michael Howard and found this on the Daily Telegraph site:

Convicted drug dealer 'bribed former Home Secretary Michael Howard for early release'

A convicted drug dealer claimed that he bribed former Home Secretary Michael Howard £400,000 to get an early release from prison, a court has heard.

By Caroline Gammell

Last Updated: 8:32PM GMT 31 Oct 2008

Working at Google should be a lot less problematic than working with British politicians and the skeletons in their closets...

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