Met with my advisor today. It was an informal deal — all I needed was a signature, and all he needed was a break from his latest project (proposal-writing. Ugh.). We had a nice chat.
I’ve mentioned many times that the level of ambient technology around this place is pretty stunning for a geriatric soul such as myself. The U runs on e-mail, but so does everyone’s personal life. The computer is at the center of the work we do, and takes up space once occupied by things like, oh, the stereo. And, I regret to say, the newspaper.
It’s like living in the Land of Early Adopters. My advisor, describing his news-consumption habits, says a lot about what editors are up against:
He just got TiVo, which allows him to watch stuff he can’t stay up for. Like? “The Daily Show,” the one that so many young people say they now rely on as a primary news source. And he sees why, because it’s really funny and imaginative, reporting and commentary all in one. He hasn’t watched a mainline network news show on a regular basis in years. He reads the national papers — NYT, WSJ — online. He dropped the Detroit Free Press a while ago, which was good for the Ann Arbor News, but not really; he estimates the time he spends with the hometown paper is down to 10 minutes or less. A zip through sports, the local columns, Page One. Features is mostly wire; little to read there. And lots of what he does read he already knew by monitoring online sources throughout the day.
If I were a newspaper editor, this would worry me. OK, terrify. Here’s a smart guy whose loyalty to his hometown paper is hanging by a thread — it can barely hold his attention — and he’s one of the good guys, the sort who stays informed because it’s his civic duty. The Daily Show won’t tell him about his local school board, but plenty of people in any community don’t care what the local school board does anyway.
And how do editors respond? Most papers are still squeezing payroll and staff in the wake of the 2000-01 downturn, doing more with less, giving less for the same price, and wondering where all their readers are going.
To The Daily Show, maybe? Here’s the other thing: We marveled at how fast the news becomes just another commodity for the audience to play with as they please. Remake the Howard Dean scream into an MP3. Turn the State of the Union into a comedy routine. Link to stupid newspaper stories on a weblog, add snark and enjoy. The audience thinks of your product as theirs (and they should; they paid for it), and is unimpressed by the provider. Which has always been true, but now it’s really true. When Janet Jackson showed her boob, she really gave it to the entire world.