Way back Wednesday
Book Review first appeared in Spring 2017 Farming Smarter Magazine
Mass Disruption – 30 Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution
Author: John Stackhouse
Image Caption: Cover of Mass Disruption - Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution by John Stackhouse
By C. Lacombe
I think everyone should read this book. Seriously. If you want to understand how we got to Fake News, Food Babe and mistrust of journalists and journalism, read this book.
In the spring 2016 Farming Smarter magazine, I talked about how the internet was as disruptive a technology as the printing press. John Stackhouse, a life-long journalist that rose to Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail, confirms all my suspicions in this book.
As always, it’s about the money. Many people don’t realize that news has always been paid for by advertising. In their heyday, newspapers (and later TV) had the only way for advertisers to reach buyers. This meant that ad revenue was good and journalism was unfettered. It spawned some excellent newspapers, journals and TV programs over the decades.
All that changed with the advent of the internet. Stackhouse explains the ongoing struggle real journalists faced through this revolution. News outlets bled money, cut staff, changed styles and jumped through hoops, but just couldn’t get out in front of the upstarts such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.
He explains some of the things that initially held back established news sources and allowed start-ups to get out ahead of the pack. The challenge of course is that most of these new platforms didn’t produce journalism, but they did attract advertising dollars away from the people who did. This prompted the Columbia Journalism Review to say, “As content marketers grow more sophisticated, they will continue to adopt the trappings of journalism if not the journalistic mission, creating a world in which more and more content looks and feels the same, but in fact isn’t.”
We now have a large portion of our population that wants its information in ultra short, flashy bits on a phone and a small portion that want more, but they want it free. They get it too from Google and Facebook (shudder) and a few others.
Google and Facebook are the only ones making money, but they don’t produce content. At one point, Stackhouse says we need, “… most critically a renewed vow between journalists, readers and advertisers to restore value in the creation and integrity of news.”
He does offer some hope for clear, objective, honest news produced under new models. There is a foundation in Texas providing news under a public broadcasting service model. Also, there are business interests seeing value in supporting real news without wanting to shape it to their purposes, but the revolution isn’t over yet.
I hope Stackhouse updates in five years because it’s very hard to see where this going. However, Stackhouse does say there is evidence that people are getting tired of not knowing what’s really going on. The fact may be that if we want real information, we’re going to have to pay real money for it. The scary thing about that is many people can’t afford to pay for it and where does that leave them?
This is a new media world that will be shaped by a generation raised on smart phones. Let’s hope they’re smarter than they sometimes look to us old farts.
by C. Lacombe
Canada recently passed Bill C-18 in early 2023 in an effort to bring some revenue back to Canadian journalism. Facebook abandoned Canadian news outlets, but Google is still at the table.
The Internet continues to be a disruptive force in many world cultures and Artificial Intelligence (AI) disruption accelerates. It is difficult for many of us to predict the path all this will take. John Stackhouse likened the Internet disruption to the printing press disruption and I think he’s right.
It’s going to be difficult for a long time to find information sources you can trust to be objective and unbiased. Really, the best advice in this age is to diversify your information sources on subjects that matter to you and remain as open minded as you can.