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Repurposing for dummies

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I knew that the End of Civilization As We Know It was nigh when the word repurpose entered the newsroom.

It arrived on the heels of the much-anticipated and heralded convergence of media. In practical terms, newspapers and television stations in the same market would “team up” on stories and cross-promote each other. A print reporter’s story would be repurposed as a broadcast piece on the local TV station’s newscast. Ditto the b-cast reporter’s piece: repurposed for print or, eventually, the Web.

In this Brief Time We Have Before The End Of Everything, technological innovations in all forms of media have accelerated repurposing.

The latest and coolest, of course, is podcasting, “audio broadcasts that can be streamed on a computer or saved onto an MP3 player,” says Denver’s Westword. This wonderful democratizing technology that permits an individual to “broadcast” through the Web has been adopted (usurped?) by the not-so-democratically minded Big Media as a means (they hope) to increase audience and thereby shore up revenues. The Big Nets are doing it. Big newspapers such as the Denver Post, Philadelphia Daily News and San Francisco Chronicle are doing it. Major market television stations are doing it.

So what are these Big Media early adopters doing with podcasts?

It appears that most b-casters, like Cincinnati’s Scripps Howard-owned WCPO, are “repurposing newscasts.” Oh, also available are downloads of weather and traffic reports as well as newsworthy fare such as “entertainment news from NBC-produced Access Hollywood.” The newspapers have done the same, some experimenting with talk-show formats (’cause it’s easy and cheap, I bet).

Are these podcasts profitable? Says’s Gil Asakawa: “I don’t know that this will ever be a huge part of our business. But we’ll be doing it even if it doesn’t take off, and we’ll keep doing it, because with the Internet, you can do it — and because it’s a cool thing.” (emphasis added)

So far, Big Media podcasts are unimpressive. And therein lies a cautionary tale.

When news organizations initially developed crude online news sites, they merely shoveled print content online. Browse for a few hours through news sites that are analogs of print newspapers and you’ll find very little original content developed specifically for online viewing. Outliers exist. Some newspapers — those with resources and the guts to use them effectively for news — have embraced the Web to augment special series developed for print and expanded online rather than merely repurposed.

Now many news and entertainment media organizations are experimenting with streaming video and video on demand as well as podcasting. Their goal? New audiences, perhaps. New venues for advertising. New revenues. But … what about the content?

In general, in terms of news content, newspapers and b-casters mostly repurpose their content online and in podcasts, ultimately devaluing that content.

Newspapers and broadcast organizations may be developing new distribution methods to reach a wider audience, but there’s little focus on developing content that is relevant to the press’ constitutional imperative in this supposedly democratic republic.

As many commentators have noted, the continual pressure on profits has produced few significant advances in providing high-quality journalistic content beyond what now exists. Instead, marketing abounds as a means to increase audiences in terms of overall numbers as well as desired demographics.

As the population of journalists declines (the Boston Herald is losing 30 to 35 editorial positions out of 145 because of bottom-line pressures), the ability to produce high-quality content that audiences can use to make informed political, comsumer and personal decisions decreases.

(True, as nicwhite86 argues, there is “decreased public enthusiasm for news that isn’t connected to pop culture.” But too many news organization buy into the logic of “give ’em what they want” instead of providing “what they need.”)

Despite technological advances and the dramatically increased ability to reach new audiences, media organizations tend to repurpose their content instead of devoting energy and innovation to development of content beyond traditional fare.

As media organizations develop more ways to distribute content, they end up merely pushing the same old crap through newer and cooler pipes.

In the long run, that’s hardly satisfying. News organizations can do better, and we, the audience, should insist that they do.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 16, 2005 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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