Yes, this is going to be about newspapers but first, I have say that I am intensely disappointed over the entire ANN7 television launch debacle.
While they fully deserved the ribbing they got for being so unprepared, one has to admit that if everything had been perfect, they would never ever have achieved such widespread brand awareness.
The reason for my disappointment was the decision to have bloopers taken off YouTube. Had they had been left up we would have never really have known in our heart of hearts whether it was all intentional.
From a pure marketing point of view, if indeed this were a put-up job, then the brains behind it would have got my vote for marketer of the year. But, they ruined it. It was nothing more than a stupendous error of judgement combined with mind-boggling naiveté.
Interestingly though, the vast majority of social media traffic over this media cock up of the decade seemed to emanate from other media people. A lot of it was acerbic and some downright cruel.
And there is a lot of cruelty in social media circles today. Especially in the mass media environment.
Iqbal Survé, for example, had taken a lot of flak from his competitors. I guess it was hard for him not to respond but it was regrettable, in my opinion, that he decided to fight fire with fire.
The fixation that newspapers have with slagging each other off makes no business sense because readers don’t actually care. The vast majority of social media activity with regard to the spat between the Mail & Guardian and Survé came out of the media environment.
Right now, far too many editors and media management believe that their one-upmanship games will give them some sort of advantage and raise flagging sales, ad revenue and readership. It won’t. It never has and never will.
Because a newspaper focusing its acerbic attention on its competitors is like playing a bit of boere-musiek at a rap concert in Chicago.
Maybe one lone South African in the audience might understand what is happening and a misguided and somewhat suicidal event organiser might get a thrill, but the vast majority will shake their heads and ignore what appears to them to be a rather pathetic interruption.
This obsession so many of our major newspapers have of trying to trip up their competitors, whether petty or profound, is a symptom of why readership and sales continue to fall.
It is visible proof that newspapers are slavishly sticking to an out-dated content paradigm.
Think about it. In a hundred years nothing has significantly changed in what our newspapers publish. They’re still printing stories and articles that, thanks to technology, are days old.
Managements are still either relying heavily on cheap, skewed research or allowing the use 1950’s gut-feel in deciding what readers want to read.
The thing is newspapers are simply not newspapers anymore.
They could still be relevant if they used their assets properly.
But the fact is, management of newspapers losing readership and sales quarter after quarter, have to start eating humble pie and admit that they have not the foggiest idea of just what their customers expect of them.
Newspapers need to go back to square one and start shifting paradigms, the most important of which is that they are newspapers.
It would also be a good idea not to be so obsessively distracted by petty jealousies particularly in the form of cheap shots across the bows of their competitors.
As far back as three decades ago when the Financial Mail and the then Finance Week traded insults and venomous mud-slinging, it started becoming abundantly clear that the readers of those two august titles did not actually give a hoot about their petty squabbles.
Nothing has changed.
There was one point that Iqbal Survé made about all the mud-slinging in which he and his competitors were indulging and that was to say that the amount of capital he had available to promote his newspaper enterprise was nobody’s business but his own and that his competitors would find out all about it when they faced each other in the marketplace.
My advice to any newspaper that becomes the one-upmanship target of a competitor is just ignore them.
And the question of who actually owns a newspaper or mass medium is equally irrelevant. Just as it was when the Anglo American Corporation owned the Rand Daily Mail.
The true test of a newspaper is its ability to deliver content to a target market in such a way that advertisers are well rewarded. Nothing else counts, because without advertisers newspapers and any other mass media are nothing.
So, even if we find out one day that the Brakpan Bugle is actually owned by President Bashir al Assad, it will be irrelevant. Readers will decide whether it is worth buying – not its competitors.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk.
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