Traditional Media: From Endangered To Extinct

An excerpt from the bestseller “The Global PR Revolution”

The perception of PR agencies as editorial teams in the years of the social media revolution is all the more relevant given that traditional media are no longer just an endangered species but are going extinct. In 1999, in an interview with Bulgarian online media expert Justin Toms, I declared that print newspapers would be gone by 2025. What followed was a tsunami of anger on behalf of many press professionals. At least 100 former colleagues and friends called me or wrote me angrily.

Max, you’re going against your livelihood — you started in the press, with the printing press and newspaper ink!” they would rant.

Don’t make fools out of yourselves!” I would reply, insisting on my forecast. This was in 1999, twenty years ago. The upcoming extinction of the press had been apparent for a long time, and many people had predicted it back then, so it’s nothing to claim credit for. But I think I have been proven right. Why is that? First, “newspaper” doesn’t exist anymore because the first part, “news,” is gone. What’s left is only “paper.”

Some PR professionals must grasp the scope of the paradigm shift brought by the social media revolution in our industry. Many who have learned it have been slow to keep up-to-date with it. However, many of their colleagues from traditional media have been even slower. They have often been lagging desperately behind. A case demonstrating that mindset was the 2010 meeting of the International Press Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia. At the meeting, a couple of hundred people, mainly old-school journalists, reporters, editors, and publishers from around the world, mostly from print media, were greeted by the prime minister of Slovakia, Iveta Radičová, who told them that newspapers were never going to die.

Other speakers’ most convincing argument was: “I like how the paper feels, I like the smell, I like touching and smelling the newspapers! You can never get that from online media!” There have been thousands of similar stories of reporters, journalists, publishers, editors, and plain old-fashioned readers desperately clinging to the old, traditional media, especially the press. And by “press,” I don’t just mean newspapers, but also the actual printing press. As discussed below, the fate of printed books will be the same as the fate of print newspapers — it will just take some more time to go all digital. The big issue with newspapers is not the smell, the touch, the feel, or any other sensations — or the lack thereof. If one has a newspaper fetish, they can easily keep several newspaper issues on their nightstand, or when the press finally truly goes extinct, they can have it here just for themselves so that they can smell it, touch it, and feel it as much as they like. The big issue with newspapers is that no one can fund them anymore. Nobody can support them and bear the costs in the new environment of public communications revolutionized by online media and even further by social media. It’s not that the press was or is terrible journalism. It’s a matter of financing. It has been long since newspapers have sustained themselves through sales revenues alone. The other reason for the demise of the press, as already mentioned, is that “news” is now gone from what once used to be Newspapers.

It is hard to fathom why some people are still buying newspapers possibly.

Maybe mine is some professional sickness, but reading actual newspapers is tough. It’s the same thing with printed books. I am unable to read those, either. When they are downloaded to my Kindle, reading is high-speed and pleasant for me. Printed books are beautiful and marvelous to look at on your bookshelf home but are also set for extinction. It is madness for someone to drag a suitcase full of books for their summer beach vacation or a business trip instead of just getting the Kindle in their back pocket and downloading 20,000–30,000 books. Not to mention that the function I most often use and like best on Kindle is to pick quotes and put them in notes. Therefore, when I think of a book I’ve read, I review the quotes I have selected. Yet, while electronic devices and software have already been beating hard copies for a long time now, in some cases, I find it is better to do without them.

I might be among the few business presenters in the industry who never use PowerPoint, Prezi, or other presentation programs for keynote speeches, lectures, etc. I never use visuals. There is one other person I know who never does that — and I have copied that from him. That is my good old friend, teacher, and mentor, Paul Holmes, CEO and founder of the Holmes Report. There was one time when I used PowerPoint for a presentation in 2009 at the Communication on Top forum in Davos. I gave my presentation and showed my slides with all my charts, graphs, and short videos. When I sat down, I said, “God, how could I be such an idiot! Intelligent people worldwide are sitting here, and I was showing them slides rather than just speaking to them!” When you show presentation slides, you unwillingly start verbalizing whatever is written on them. “No way, I am not doing that anymore!” I said. Paul Holmes was the keynote speaker in the same forum. I recently had lunch with him in Casablanca and told him, “You know, I got a light bulb idea as I listened to you back then. I thought, ‘God, this person speaks so freely, as if he speaks to students or somebody on the street, while the rest of us are torturing ourselves and the others with slides and long presentations!” He replied, “Max, it’s also made an impression that I have never seen you with a PowerPoint presentation since then.”

Because you set an example for me,” I said.

Oh, I am so happy because that happened too. I used PowerPoint once, and then I was ashamed of myself for doing that,” he said.

So, I resort to the hand-brain connection when I am about to give a speech. I jot down notes on my notepad, half a page, and when they go through my hand and pen, there is a better link to the memory. Once I do my notes, I no longer need to look at the paper; I know the sequence of my arguments. I use flip charts to demonstrate my ideas, but flip charts also have to do with your handwriting. Often, in those flip charts, you are coming up with things on the spur of the moment — you don’t have them prepared in advance, as you would in presentation slides. While thousands knew that newspapers would go extinct, nobody had imagined certain disturbing developments in the new media, specifically social media. This has been a little like the collapse of Communism. In 1989, we were all jubilant, and so was the entire world. In Eastern Europe, we knew nothing about democracy and how, culturally and mentally, things should fall into their places in a free society. We thought great freedom had arrived and we could do whatever we liked. It turned out to be much more complex than that.

In the same way, when newspapers began to die, and social media started its supreme reign, we didn’t imagine the risk of fake news. We didn’t think that when media is freely in the hands of billions of people, they will do with it as they please. We didn’t suspect social media profiles could be stolen and fake personalities would emerge. We didn’t know that there would be fake profiles, pretenders, bots, and other ill-minded actors whose only goal would be to carry out some political or business manipulation agenda so they could destroy some companies or boost another that didn’t have what it takes.


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