The first time I went to work at a newspaper, I was startled by how much it was like a factory. Inspired by Chris Gulker, Tim Porter tracks a lot of the current purposelessness of the newspaper business to its factory mentality.
Of course, every newspaper contains a real factory — its printing presses churn out hundreds of tons of news and advertising every day, and its fleet of trucks deliver them to doorsteps in a coverage area of thousands of square miles.
Inside the news factory, productivity is sometimes measured in inches and not in insights. Sure, there may be a surprise in your local news package, but the rest of it is as surprising as a Happy Meal.
The factory mindset pervades newspapers like a grimy fungus. It manifests itself in rote stories scheduled by calendar (Hey, it’s August, time for back-to-school features) and sourced by a familiar rolodex of people who will take reporters’ calls. [ Read: Robert Thompson watches TV for a living, Salon ]; advertising staffs that rely on revenue from department stores and national brands while driving away local, community-based businesses with exorbitant ad rates (thereby creating an advertising product that is of little use to the actual residents in the market); and IT departments that hard-wired entire enterprises to legacy platforms and proved to be more truculent than defense contractors when nimbler technologies arrived.
The newsroom itself is perhaps the most factory-minded of all. It values tradition over invention; it sets deadlines to maximize press-room or distribution efficiency while compromising quality of content (can’t get the big game in the sports final? too bad); it continues to embrace managerial hierarchies that emphasize “dues-paying,” discourage collaboration and drive journalists to think they can actually improve their professional lot by aligning with the Teamsters when contract time comes around
I never imagined so many talented, creative, smart, funny, insightful, knowledgeable people could produce an editorial product of such stultifying banality as the typical daily newspaper.
There are about 1500 daily newspapers in America. Why do they all look the same? They’ve learned their ways from one another a long time ago, probably before you were born.
The next revolution is still up for grabs. Technology has empowered a lot of writers and reporters to be their own publishers. But, there are also plenty of economic reasons why future Internet news media and the networks they run on could be more concentrated–and even more like factories.