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The media changing landscape according to Kevin McKean, VP and Editorial Director of Consumer Reports

October 17, 2007

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Kevin McKean, vice-president and editorial director of Consumer Union’s Consumer Reports, met with students last week as part of the 23rd annual Journalism Week, sponsored by the Ole Miss Department of Journalism. Although the landscape of the media is changing and will continue to change at an ever increasing pace, McKean made it clear that this does not signal the demise of the industry we know; but instead, shows a shift in the way we make our products relevant. As I have always said, change is the one constant in life. Below are the five points Kevin put forth of the changing landscape of the industry and what we must know to succeed in the industry.

1) There is an historic shift in media habits.
• Audiences have been migrating to electronic delivery for the information they desire. This has been going on for more than 10 years already, and is still going strong.

2) Advertisers chase their audience.
• It may have taken them years to figure out that their audience was migrating online and away from the printed pages, but now that advertisers see this shift, they are deserting traditional media to pursue their customers (as they should).

3) As a result of this shift, traditional media are experiencing a squeeze.
• This squeeze is true for all media but it is most dramatically witnesses in print. And where the main squeeze was traditionally seen in newspapers, magazines are beginning to feel the tightening of their belts as well.
• The root cause of this “disease” is that print ad revenue is declining. While print ad revenue declines, online revenue is growing. This growth may be with high percentages but is seen across a much smaller base. The net result of all these points is a drop in overall revenue of 50% or more.
• But there are other common symptoms that can be seen in the industry: Circulation numbers are down, newsstand sales are continuing on a 15-year slide, newsstand costs have been slowly creeping up, there is a movement of cost-shifting to publishers, direct mail response rates have steadily declined, subscription pricing has dramatically lowered, there have been layoffs, cutbacks, satellite office closings, fewer perks being offered and more.

4) Online media is growing.
• We are seeing growth in the online staff numbers at traditional outlets, and even more dramatic growth in newer, online-only media companies such as Gawker Media. This results in a huge opportunity for anyone starting out in this field.
• There is a resulting disruption of hiring patterns because it is much harder to hire good online journalists today than good print journalists – nearly as hard, for some positions, as
at the beginning of Bubble in late 1990s. The differentiation between print and online hires creates two classes of journalists with two salary structures.

5) We have been witnessing the rise of the citizen-journalist.
• There are millions of amateur reporters around the world that provide low-quality & non-professional content, but have unbeatable timing and opportune locations. Recent examples include: Myanmar, Virginia Tech and Hurricane Katrina. Because of their timing and location, these citizen-journalists have the ability to compete with professional journalists, and not just in news …

And when it comes to the user generated content Kevin had this advice to give…

• It is increasingly important that professional journalists not only use UGC as a source, but that they actively promote its creation in order to serve their audience.
• The aim must be to create “content” not blather.

Words of wisdom from someone who knows what it means to develop content and sell it both in print and on line without a single ad. As I have mentioned many times before on this blog, unless we change the model by which we sell content to our readers and customers, we are not going to have a happy ending…we must be in the business of selling content to customers who count and not in the business of counting customers.

The picture above is for Kevin McKean with one of UM’s journalism majors Meghan Blalock.

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