So we’re having a little fun over on Twitter parodying Chris Brogan’s Memphis visit with the #fakebrogan hashtag. It came about because my friend Leslie mentioned being annoyed by all the Brogan tweets and retweets that were flooding her timeline thanks to this Brogan dude being in town and presenting to a bunch of marketing/PR people who were listening to him and tweeting (and retweeting and reretweeting) his soundbytes.
I’m not trying to be a jerk or anything, but so many of the soundbytes I read ranged from the silly and obvious (“First thing to do in social media : do something you like”) to the completely insane (“Instead of collecting recipes, try opening a restaurant… just do it”). Obviously a lot of people got something out of the seminar because there are hundreds of tweets about it, so hooray for that and hooray for them.
But when I see things like “Social media humanizes the web. People do business with people!” and then I watch the echo chamber that is these marketers who are clogging up the tubes with this worthless pablum talking at other marketers who also are clogging up the tubes with the same pablum, I want to punch Social Media in the mouth and tell it to come correct or I am going to quit it. Can we give marketers their own private internet so they can talk to one another about marketing and how awesome it is to talk about marketing away from the rest of us?!
Here is what terrifies me: These people, these SELF-MADE SOCIAL MEDIA GURUS, are being looked to in some circles as tastemakers, as the people who have Something Important to Say about the future of publishing. And that is absolute and complete insanity. I’m sure Chris Brogan is a nice dude, and I bet he’s sharp as a tack (he’s made a career out of telling people things about the internet they likely already know), but for him to utter ANYTHING about the direction print media need to go in order to “make it” makes my blood absolutely boil.
Someone tweeted that Brogan said, “For paper media: Circulation is out. New model is content integration.” I’m sure that’s paraphrased.
But what the crap does it mean? No, really. What does that mean? Why would content integration need to exist independently of circulation? Is he using “circulation” to mean what it means in the news business?
Here’s a fun fact for those of you who don’t generally give two shits about newspapers but who like to pontificate about what newspapers need to do to “survive”:
People are content-hungry these days. People are consuming more information than they ever have before. People are reading the news that papers put out, and newspapers are struggling to keep up with the demand for relevant information while having their staffs gutted by short-sighted corporate overlords who refuse to look at anything other than the bottom line.
People are reading news on news websites. Yes. And people are discovering news via social media outlets. Yes. But newspapers aren’t making substantial operating money off of the web yet. They are making operational money — STILL — off of their print run. Specifically, the ads in the print run. Sure, it’s not boatloads of cash like those golden olden days, thanks in part to this tanked economy in which historically reliable major advertisers are being tight with the purse strings, but it’s enough to run an organization and put the paper out every day. Web ads do not bring in enough money to run an organization (unless you’re the L.A. Times, which is the only major newsroom I know of that claims its payroll is supported by the website). They just don’t. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the ad pricing model, maybe it’s the community being slow to want to advertise on the web, maybe Google really has fucked us, maybe we are not thinking outside the really annoying web ad box, maybe it’s a hex placed upon the future by the first person to ever witness a Blue Screen of Death. I don’t know.
But people want content. They are desperate for content. And we are fighting with all our might to give it to them, but the goal posts keep moving based on the whims of these random social media daydreamers.
If we keep monkeying with the way we treat content (blurring lines between advertising and news, cutting newshole way down, burying important yet unsexy stories, etc.) because we think the content is responsible for the lack of money made in our industry, we are dooming ourselves. I am not saying that the way we do content is perfect or doesn’t need work. I am saying that it’s possible — nay, likely — that in a better economy (that didn’t also hit at the same time as a total paradigm shift in information transmission), we would not appear to be in the throes of death. Because people would be advertising as robustly as ever, people would have extra cash to spend on internet experimentation, our space wouldn’t be shrinking and therefore making it look like we don’t have things to put into the paper, etc. etc. etc.
Looking to social media and its cheerleaders to make up for and fix what we have lost AND take us forward to a better place? Absolute madness. And, mind you, this is coming from a person who is all over the social web and has actively campaigned for greater newsroom attention to and interaction with the useful parts of social media. But let’s keep some perspective and not treat social media or its mavens as the publishing panacea, okay?
Oh, hell. Don’t listen to me (you weren’t anyway, I know). I am a dinosaur and I don’t know how to fix anything. If I did, I would have already fixed it and saved myself and my co-workers years of turmoil. And I’d finally have that goddamned intern I am always talking about.
What I DO know that it is absolutely criminal to be parroting some nonsensical wonkspeak about how the circulation model is out. That is not the reality of the situation in this moment and it smacks of intense ignorance to even float that idea. It’s not even radical; it’s just stupid.