Twittering, Network TV and Newspapers

As the dean of the school of journalism at Southern Methodist University spoke to our governing board in a classroom on campus about the state of journalism, the announcement was made that the Rocky Mountain News was shutting down. We also talked about the decline of network television, and in another session about the value of Twitter and social networking, and when we continued our meeting on Saturday morning, the NY Times carried stories about Twitter , audience erosion in network television and, of course, the Rocky Mountain News .

It was a mind-bending experience. As we talked about “new media” and how it is changing business models, culture and our relationships to each other, it was happening around and to us. We were not merely studying it, we were experiencing it and, therefore, living it. We were twittering each other as we met and social networking as we put up digital photos and video of the meeting; sharing knowledge in person and flagging issues and questions online for discussion later.

I will hazard a guess here. My hunch is this was the most contemporaneous and relevant meeting of the General Commission on Communication of The United Methodist Church since its formation in the 1950’s, and also the most transparent.

The Commission is the governing board of the church’s communications agency. It met at SMU and heard from faculty in journalism, business and theology. We spent an afternoon with senior communications executives at the general offices of Southwest Airlines talking about corporate uses of new media. And we heard from a panel of students majoring in communications, marketing and journalism about how they use new media.

Our attention and the coverage wasn’t coincidental, of course. All who use media, which means most of us in the U.S., are affected by these changes. And for all kinds of reasons we use different media in different ways for different purposes. That became clear as we discussed several of these heavy-duty questions in depth.

I’m going to put some of this discussion into posts the next few days and I invite your reactions.

2 Responses to “Twittering, Network TV and Newspapers”

  1. Jackie Campbell March 2, 2009 at 8:30 am #

    Did your discussion touch on magazines? The 3/02/09 Sports Illustrated is the thinnest I’ve ever seen. Few ads (although it follows the swimsuit issue). Obviously, to some degree, survival depends on the focus of the publication. Any thoughts on the future of denominational/Christian periodicals?

    • Larry March 2, 2009 at 8:43 am #

      Hi Jackie,
      We did discuss magazines. Magazines are one medium that young adults and older adults are using. They are niche vehicles, as we’ve come to understand. The mass circulation news magazines are struggling. The small specialized publications that focus on unique interests or lifestyle concerns are (mostly) flourishing. I think your point about focus is a key factor. If they focus on audience needs and fill that space in a way their competitors don’t, magazines seem to be able to hold their own, even with a youthful audience that is also using new media.
      As for denominational and Christian periodicals, I think they will have to adapt to the audience in the same way. That will mean, probably, more lifestyle, less pushing out institutional agendas. The largest circulation periodical today, according to the dean of the SMU School of Journalism, is the AARP magazine. That’s a lifestyle publication targetted to a large but niche audience. I’m watching how its editorial content evolves as more Boomers reach AARP membership age. The Boomer population is multigenerational, so the challenge will be to hit a common lifestyle spot and keep them reading and using the products.
      Can a religious periodical do approximately the same? Can it start with the reader’s needs for spiritual information and provide it in a lifestyle format? Does it have the mass to sustain the model? Is there a sustainable business model that can be applied? We’ve got to find answers to these questions, and find them soon.

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