Institutions as Media Outlets

Posted by Chad Bauman On March - 24 - 2009

In this moment of substantial change, most companies are looking inward to determine what adjustments need to be made to their business models to flourish in today’s new economic climate. Significant shifts need to be made to address the new reality, and that new reality includes taking a hard look at how consumers get information about the arts.

Since the mid-1980s, newspaper circulation has been declining in the United States, but the current economic crisis has thrown gasoline on the fire, causing huge losses for newspapers nationally. Just recently we have seen four major newspapers cease print publication: the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News, the Tucson Citizen and the Christian Science Monitor. Additionally, four newspaper companies including the owners of the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer, have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Even before the rapid failure of many printed newspapers, arts coverage in many daily newspapers was shrinking, going from 912 column inches on average in 1998 to 702 column inches in 2003 according to Reporting the Arts II, a study conducted by the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University.

A huge shift in communications is about to occur away from organizations pitching stories to mainstream media for coverage and toward setting up institutional distribution channels to cover stories themselves. We have seen this in the past decade as the ways we communicate with our customers have become cheaper, quicker and more segmented. We now have e-mail lists, websites, direct mail, telemarketing, social networking, online video distribution, podcasts, photo streams, and blogs. Some large organizations can currently reach more than one million people using these distribution channels. Considering the New York Times has a circulation of 1.6 million, these distribution channels which used to be considered on the fringes of communications have become almost as powerful for some companies as their local newspaper.Barack Obama learned in his presidential campaign that if he invested wisely in cultivating his own method of communicating with his supporters, he would be able to use that method to speak directly to the American people when in office. Now President Obama has an e-mail list of 13 million Americans that he uses to garner support for political initiatives. This list is five time larger that the daily circulation of USA Today, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the United States.

Just as we have invested in media relations over the past decades, we now need to heavily invest in developing our own distribution channels and our own content. This is a two pronged approach–we need to develop the infrastructure to distribute content and the ability to create content that our customers will want to consume. It is a significant change in strategy that is now upon us.

No Responses to “Institutions as Media Outlets”

  1. Ron Evans says:

    Great post Chad, and very true. This is a huge shift for some arts groups — a real change in “business as usual” and for many, adapting to the need to create deep relationships with audiences using new technology is very difficult for a variety of reasons — manpower, knowledge, and time to name just a few. That’s why we started http://groupofminds.com — to assist groups with the transition and be a back-office marketing department to manage new technology. There’s that age-old idea that arts groups should only need to focus on creating their art and not promoting it, but somebody has to do it — it can’t just be ignored these days.

    The loss of traditional media outlets is a tough thing for consumer too — many are used to having a “trusted source” tell them what is cool and what isn’t, like a newspaper reviewer usually does. They may not like the review, but they know that the newspaper at least has a goal of being unbiased and fair, where online audience reviews usually don’t announce such high standards. We’re all going to not only need new and improved technology tools for filtering the deluge of content coming at us — we’ll need to learn to be better filters ourselves to decide what to engage with. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Great post, Chad. Thank you.

    I like how you put the downturn in the economy and its impact on print in context: like dousing gasoline on an already burning fire.

    I got to participate in a panel on this topic a few months back and have written a few posts on the trend and its meaning for the arts (http://blog.artsusa.org/2009/03/03/the-incredible-shrinking-media-part-ii/).

    One thing I discovered during the panel is that the vast majority of arts organizations are using print to get butts in seats. It’s not really for third-party endorsement or community engagement. It’s about audience development. Web 2.0 tools are such effective tools for this that I’m confident we can thrive without print, but we have to put our minds to it.

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