Clear Signs Where the Future will Not Be

My world this summer- as I would like to keep it...

“Postmodernism is a change-or-be-changed world. The word is out: Reinvent yourself  for the 21st century or die. Some would rather die than change.”

– Leonard Sweet, cultural historian –

Lot’s of stuff happening in my small world. Seems sometimes so chaotic and endless – lots of the signs lately have been so negative – and I am not enjoying it. Like I guess everybody, I’d like to keep my world nice, clean, organized – small, even.  In two words: under control. No wonder I enjoy being in a sailboat so much…And landing on this turmoil called Finnish media scene after a beautiful summer on the islands has been quite a shocker.

But suddenly I am realizing that there might be  some hope after all. There are some intelligent people out there – asking the right questions – and sometimes providing answers as well. Intelligent conversation, smart comments – amidst this “how-do-I-get-more-eyeballs-and-somebody-to-pay-for-it-with-minimal-investment” -BS that everybody in the mainstream media seems to be focusing on.

Peter Forsgård wrote a very good and  interesting post (in Finnish only) and it is absolutely worth reading. He discusses this current trend the publishers have of demanding all rights for past, present and the future work, no compensation for this, legal responsibility to the photographer for all the mistakes that might lead to litigation…

Basically, A-lehdet (a major publisher in Finland) is offering  – no, demanding – the same BS Aller introduced in the summer (as I commented in my Sleazeball -post). A-lehdet tops the demands of Aller by requesting that you could not work for anybody else without their permission (a clear violation of our present laws of what constitutes an employer/employee -relationship vs. a b-to-b relationship) and they also demand full disclosure on the fees paid.

In plain English: “We want everything:  past, present and the future. We will not pay for it accordingly. You will not work for anybody else unless we say so. And you shut the f… up or we sue your ass.”

Nice. Good starting point for a fruitful business relationship… I suggested the “Sleazeball prize 2010” to Aller, but A-lehdet is doing good job as a runner-up. Remains to be seen what SanomaNews comes up with – as they surely will.

A comment in my “Deathwatch of Our Daily Print” inspired my headline. This person (who is not working in media) had heard rumors about these “deals” offered and concluded his comment by saying: “Quite a clear sign where the future will not be“. And he nailed it with that.

Talking of great commentary, Adam Monaghan’s comments on Art and how it relates to e.g.  this  annoying and despicable copycat  problem I was describing  in my previous post are  a true gem. Adam has a way with words and his sincere passion for art and understanding the importance of original work is beautifully expressed.  Thank you for sharing that – I truly appreciated it.

The Journalist 15-2010: click to read the referred article (in Finnish only)

But one of the nicest surprises I’ve had lately was opening Journalisti (The Journalist) yesterday evening and finding the article by Katri Porttinen called Pieniä Puroja (Small Brooks) , discussing the present situation of our traditional media and the web in Finland. Lots of hard work done for the background  investigation, lots of research, several people interviewed, and ample data to back it up. For the first time ever, I see such in-depth writing about this in Finland –  I immediately sent her a “thank you” -note for a great job done.

A small comment, however: I disagree with the implied focus of the article – or should I say with the false presumption it makes by not stating it: that this is somehow a playground only for the “traditional print”. Our second biggest and succesful portal is  MTV3 – (originally) a TV-channel. MTV3 has the asset that they do not have the excessive weight of an archaic print product on them and thus they don’t have to try to push the abridged “the-500-words-plus-a-horizontal-shot” -version of the print article  into the web.

Nonlinearity

One important point is also worth noting: compared to e.g. MTV3, the  print has presently (- but only presently -) one huge asset which is often neglected and nobody writes about: Print is  nonlinear by nature.

For decades, the print has been “educating readers” to read non-linearly. Headlines, pics, leads, graphs… Every reader has a choice to make on the array of available media/chunks/approaches as to what to focus on. Some prefer text, some pictures, some graphics, captions, etc. This sets – or has set – the print apart from e.g. TV.

A sidenote:  think about  how TV is often used nowadays, i.e the phenomen of channel hopping? Is that the desire for non-linearity trying to find a form of existence?

And then, see  what the print does – or did: when the time came a couple of years ago to think what would be “the thing” to do in the web they come up with, yes:  VIDEO – the most linear form of narration  there is(actually, you should call it HOMEVIDEO – as the quality is so below par in most cases).  More about this later – but my point being: the print would have had a good shot had they acted accordingly; presently, the print still might have a shot…. but each passing week, each passing month,they are losing it more and more.

“Sanomalehtien johdossa ei ollut ymmärrystä siitä, miten  mediamaailma kehittyy”
“The CEOs of our print did not understand  the development of the medi
a”

– says Turo Uskali, a researcher, as quoted in this Katri Porttinen’s excellent article. But: yes, they did not understand, that is obvious – do they now?

I’ve heard couple of interviews of some the top CEOs and their quotes on the new “iPad-era” – as they call it – and frankly, I would not hold my breath.

The article further quotes Pasi Kivioja from the National Association of Newspapers saying: “No, we are not going to do anything drastic – we have been looking into this for 15 years, but there is still no clear answer” .

He is simply stating the status quo. Yes, AND?  Hello? Wouldn’t you agree that it is about the time to actually  do something – at least to try to do something?

Tuntematon Sotilas” (The Unknown Soldier) is a book I guess almost everybody in our country has read – with the possible exception of maybe these CEOs? Remember the line “Ei saa jäädä tuleen makaamaan! (Don’t just lie still when you are being shot at)?”  This is what the print is doing… which is sort of irony of the words,  as the print – with a very few exceptions –  is NOT doing anything.

The Print is Immortal?

This still seems to be the prevailing attitude in Finland. To somebody (like me) coming from psychology background, that is about as clear a case of  classic freudian denial as you’ll ever see. See the stats of circulation in Finland for the past four years: HS -11,2%  IS -24,4%  IL -9,1%  Keskisuomalainen -9,7%  Kaleva -7,8%  TS -4,6% AL -3,1%  etc.

Hmm, now… Is it only me, but maybe – just maybe – like NOW would be a good time to actually DO something?

Arthur Sulzberger Jr (owner and CEO of  The New York Times)admitted to Huffington Post in September  that in the printed form The New York Times would cease to exist in the future. How about that Helsingin Sanomat of ours?

Compared to NYT our HS is a very, very small. And thus downscaling HS is much harder – if not impossible – if one wants to maintain any standards. The steady decline of  minus 11,2% in the past four years is really, really drastic. For NYT it would mean – yes, a lot more money lost, but it would not touch the “vital organs of existence” –  if you allow the strong figure of speech – but for HS, it does.

I set my Deathwatch to 2015 and 2020 couple a weeks ago. As we are approaching the end of September, you could call this a quarterly check: I will definitely not take it back. On the contrary, I would actually like to hasten the clock a bit.

Surely Hesari (HS) cannot go… I like my paper and the coffee in the morning, surely it cannot…” Guess how many times have I heard that? From middle-aged people like me. But: here’s the catch: there are less and less these people every year. It is a matter of relatively short time.

Read that sentence again: “Surely HS cannot…”

I remember my undergrad English teacher  explaining me the difference between the words “certainly”  and “surely“: “You know, Kari, with “surely” there always remains a certain element of doubt“.  Each and every comment I have had on this, it has always been with “surely”, not “certainly “(or the Finnish equivalent) – and a tone full of doubt.

We all sense it – the majority is not just ready to admit it. Denial ad infinitum… or ad nauseam, as one of my favourite professors in the university used to say…

Let me finnish with a brilliant quote from Terry Heaton’s PoMo (it makes always excellent reading – today I also owe my opening quote by Leonard Sweet to Terry):

“Assumptions drive much of the way we think. Whenever assumptions prove false, like many of those associated with advertising, entire belief systems can change in the twinkling of an eye, even though the die has been cast for a long, long time. This is my fear for traditional media, and it forms the basis for medias’ real doomsday scenario”.

I am sad to admit but I so totally share his fear.

2 Comments

  1. adam
    September 25, 2010

    Does the Helsinki Sanomat have the same following as the NY Times? A friend from NYC and I were discussing this the other night… with regard to online news charging for access to their service. (A step which is clearly a reaction to decling paper sales and an acknowledgement that they’ll eventually go).

    Currently, I would NEVER pay for online news. There’s simply too much other stuff out there. Not to mention the fact that the BBC are obviously massively subsidised and completely tilt the perspective of the market. (Much to the annoyance of Sky; but then anything that annoys Rupert Murdoch has to be quite good. No one perspective should control ‘news’ to that degree).

    But my NY friend said he’d happily pay for the online NY Times since it was a basic institution of his entire life. Not just a paper, but somehow the backbone of his, and many hundreds of thousand New Yorkers existence. (As I understood it, there was some deal so that if you paid for a paper subscription, you then got the online version too; which makes sense. His view was that his Mum could go on getting the paper delivered and he could access the online service. Again, totally logical).

    But does the Helsinki Sanomat have any such clout? Does it have a loyal readership to that degree? (These are not rhetorical questions! I genuinely don’t know…)! :)

    I met another chap last night who works for Sky – and he inevitably made a number of good points about suitable business models for such a service. His argument being, quite rightly, that all the other papers only offer free online news because if they chraged no one would read them because there’s always the BBC which is free.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      September 27, 2010

      Thanks for commenting –

      good that somebody does – I guess the denial I mentioned twice in the post is reflected into the abundance of comments as well… ;-)

      Depends what do you mean by “same following”? Clearly NYT is huge, and the market it is playing on is of totally different ballpark. Finland being something like 5,6 million people and there is 11 million living on Manhattan alone says a lot.

      The two papers however share the fact that they somehow constitute “a backbone” – as you said – of news for loads of people. They also in a way write or document the history of the nation – and seeing them (most likely) to go leaves a void not only in our daily news, but also a large empty space into the documented history as we’ve lived it.

      “News-baseline” is a term often used; in Finland it might mean that if you engage yourself in more or less civilized conversation, you can more of less safely assume that your co-locutor (is that English…?) occasionally has read HS and seen the YLE news – even if not on regular basis. But when this baseline becomes thinner and thinner, intelligent conversation and debate on common issues in the society becomes harder and harder…

      Something will replace it – in the (still hypothetical) situation of the HS print gone – it might be the HS online version which will take its role – time will tell. But it’s scary to think that the baseline – or common shared level of the news – is based on eg. MTV3 or IL…

      I underline immediately that I do not condemn these two in any way – I’d just like to have a bit more substantial baseline…

      Murdoch’s paywalls are proving to have severe consequences: 90% drop in readers, 50% drop in advertizing… no exact figures are available as News Corp is very protective of this info. And paywalls in general have other issues as well… but maybe I save that for another post one of these days.

      K

      Reply

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