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From Sail To Steam, Part 2

Wednesday, February 21, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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From Howard Kurtz’s column today:

Really, can you think of an industry (okay, maybe American automakers) that has frittered away such huge advantages and sent its customers scrambling for alternatives?

Howard is writing about radio but his critique is really applicable to all old media companies.  The old ways of making a buck by communicating with the American public are shattered.  The old platforms are still of great use, but new technologies require superior content available via multiple sources.  Thus the talk radio shows on my network repeatedly refer to and use content from Townhall.com and Townhall.com in turn reinforces the aired content by making it available via podcast and co-locating our written work.   

I wrote long ago that the byline had become the brand, and Howard provides an example:  I’ll read or listen to him whether he’s in the Post or on CNN.  The key for survival for radio, papers, television and all other content providers is a loyal audience that trusts the byline to provide quality content.

Yesterday Thomas P.M. Barnett was on and part seven of our eight hour series on The Pentagon’s New Map focused on chapter 7’s observations about the MSM’s deficiencies in communicating the realities of the strategic situation the United States finds itself in.  As Dr. Barnett noted on his blog, the “tone was a bit self-congratulatory (“Aren’t we doing this discussion better/right?”).”  But as he also noted: “Then again, I think we are, so that’s okay.”  (His webmaster  Sean also weighs in on this.)

The dedication of eight hours to a single book is an experiment for me and for radio (and I think for all broadcast media.)  It has built an audience of very devoted listeners because Dr. Barnett is a compelling speaker, the book is an important and well written one, and because I am prepared and experienced in the art of the interview.  It is so successful, in fact, that I will search out another author and figure out a sequel.

But, it could only be done on radio and only within the confines of a program with an established audience that trusts me to provide reliable guests even when those guests come from the center-left side of the political spectrum.  The innovation couldn’t have come from a new host with a new idea –program directors wouldn’t allow it.  And it couldn’t have come from a radio station switching formats.  I have already established long form interviews as part of my regular product, and found the audience for it.  Now I am changing that particular product to see if the audience wants a different variation once a week, and they do.

Television and newspapers could make the same sort of evolutions in their products but are very reluctant to try because of the costs associated with failure.  The ratings and reach triumphs of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are glimpses of the upside to innovation in broadcast, as are the traffic numbers of WallStreetJournal.com and WashingtonPost.com.  Gathering in the quality audience should be the goal of every communications company, and it will require superb content first and always.  All of radio isn’t dead or dying any more than all newspapers are failing.

It is the sail v. steam dynamic at work again.  The content providers who commit to quality and innovation will prosper, whether in print, radio or on the tube, just as they will on the web.

Those that don’t, won’t.

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