Some people ask why has free Open Source software got such a broad foothold in so many markets? Because at the price of free its protected against “cut off the oxygen” zero pricing tactics by Microsoft, Oracle and other major software players while providing the decided competitive advantage of allowing customers to see and fix the source software as required. It is a contemporary phenomena – call it “Smart” Disruption. Likewise people ask why are major newspapers, magazines and other media falling on such hard times? Well undoubtedly the move to online advertising is playing a major role. But let me posit another proposition – the Major Media is part of their own problem. The Press has become either irrelevant with its emphasis on Infotainment and short term ratings or they have become spokespeople for narrow interests. In the US, Fox News is really FoxGop Rants & Ravings. MSNBC has catapulted Jim Kramer to fame as a stock guru who was at times mighty ineffective as Finacial markets tumbled. And newspapers like the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Tribune are wavering or going into bankruptcy.
Need for effective News coverage – There is no shortage of substantial stories for reporting and analysis. For example, the World has seen major brands being ruined and the Press has barely raised the tough issues and the elephant truths. Think of North America consuming 20% of the World’s resources but having less than 5% of the World’s population. Think of Microsoft ruining its Windows brand with Vista while the IT trade press generally sang and continues to sing the praises of Wow Vista and now Windows 7 without tracking some of its continuing major shortcomings. Think of the US besmirching its “Beacon on the Hill” image with a false folly war, reverting to the politics of fear and reckless partisanship, and spreading a greedy financial and economic contagion around the world such that the World has to endure great hardship at the behest of American Financial greed and mismanagement. And the Press is at best and “after-the-horses-cleared-the-barns” observer of the scene and pretty biased at times on that as well – just read the Wall Street Journal, PCWorld, and Forbes on the above problems. Which leads to my little parable.
The Economist and the Somali Pirates. Now I have read the the Economist for at least 20 years and rely on it for being a frank, comprehensive observer of the political as well as economic scene. I count on the Economist to supply me with a broad set of facts on the issues that it discusses. I expect it to get all the critical factors in the case and quite often not “shy away from dissenting evidence and counter intuitive facts”. Most importantly of all I expect the Economist to minimize the sins of omission that have plagued many major media and Press sources. So now I ask you to take a look at the article here about the Somali Pirates. Any mention of the important rest of the story issues of European Waste Dumping in Smali Waters, Ravaging of the Fishing Troves by Somalia’s neighbors and Europeans, or rampant poverty and food problems in the country? Unfortunately – no. Maybe there is a hint of the last but certainly not the complete story I had expected. Now this is not the first time – just look at the Economists coverage of the Financial Crisis and the Need for Financial Reform in recent issues – almost an apologia for a Finance Community that tried to eviscerate itself and dumped the Globe into a 2-3 year recession and a nearly total financial calamity. I could cite omissions on disproportionate consumption in the developed countries and reluctant looks at Global Warming … but let me just say that the grain of salt I examine Economist stories is much larger than ever before. And like the trust that evaporated among banks and financial institutions, a pillar of the Economic Press proves to be wavering.
Summary – So the rest of the story on the Press is that through their very own fault, the mainstream media have surrendered credibility to the Web , wikipedia, and finding out the facts yourself. So why pay for partial and/or biased information? Why pay for the “Party Line” or Consensus Viewpoint? Why pay for incomplete information which one has to do a good deal of searching and confirmatory work to substantiate? So is it any wonder that the 5th Estate is hurting?