Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg is beginning to fill the Monday morning gap left by David Carr's death. Rutenberg gained my attention Monday morning with a thorough column looking at the new media landscape ruled by social media.
Rutenberg expresses concern that mindless entertainment on the Internet will rule over substantial reporting. He cited the popularity of a Buzzfeed video showing the web site's employees wrapping rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded.
But a companion Times article said that Buzzfeed is among web sites like Salon losing viewership and ad revenues as viewers' preferences shift. Apparently, the prevalence of Smartphones and social media transmission of news has reduced the number of people going to web sites.
Facebook's Instant Messaging "chatbots" and Twitter deliver links to articles or videos, cutting out the need to go to the Web site and search for articles. As a spate of recent commentaries point out, the rise of algorithms narrows news exposure, catering to individual tastes.
Rutenberg claims that along with cat videos and other titillating fare, serious in-depth investigative pieces by news organizations like the Times still draw significant audiences. I'm skeptical about that, but agree with Rutenberg's main point that the increasing dominance of social media delivering the news threatens the reporting of routine stories such as budget hearings that viewers find boring.
Those "meat and potatoes" articles never attracted a large readership, but people at least glanced at the headlines and read a few paragraphs. As Rutenberg says, routine reporting often led to bigger stories, such as the Washington Post's coverage of what seemed an average break-in led to Watergate. In the future, the routine government and crime stories may receive little or no coverage as newsrooms shrink and exploding watermelon stories generate more traffic.
Meanwhile, another Times Monday fixture, Paul Krugman, got away from his recent Bernie bashing with a piece criticizing Verizon for generating large profits and stock prices while not investing sufficient amounts into customer service.
Krugman claims that Verizon workers recently went on strike because of Verizon's reluctance to invest in new technology, which the columnist says is a result of its gaining monopoly power in the telecommunications industry.
That's a different take from the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the workers went on strike because they fear new digital technology will hasten the switch from outmoded landline technology to wireless technology like smartphones.
In contrast to Krugman's conclusions, reporting by the Wall Street Journal, Times and other news sources have led me to believe that telecommunications and digital competition is increasing, with Google and Facebook now joining the field to battle traditional telecommunications companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.
While Krugman blasted Verizon for not investing its profits into its business, the WSJ reported on its front page that Verizon is a leading suitor to buy struggling Yahoo, which lost the Internet search field to Google and has sought to boost its "content" offerings. Verizon apparently doesn't mind spending to buy other companies.
The Times article on declining web site traffic indicates that content producers are struggling, but social media sites like Facebook and digital providers like Verizon will still need reliable and sufficient information. The cat and watermelon videos will stay popular, but people will want some informational protein and vegetables along with the empty calories.
The media future remains fluid, with models quickly establishing themselves, then finding themselves "disrupted" into oblivion. Long established news businesses like the Times and WSJ struggle to offer their traditional in-depth reporting on the constantly shifting media landscape, which also threatens their existence.