As a newspaper man, I told family and friends they didn’t have to read the paper, as long as they bought it. Then I made the mistake of mentioning it at a staff meeting.

Boo-birds chirped. The pack howled. How dare I degrade our “craft”!

What we’ve all finally learned since then is that advertisers never cared about journalism — only the customers it draws.

Just in case fellow members of the media elite missed it: An expert on the business of journalism recently warned that we’re all going to get whacked — those of us who are working, anyway — unless we “acquire entrepreneurial and innovation skills.”

Those who don’t “lead change rather than merely respond to it” are doomed to extinction, while newspapers and other media “wither and die,” Robert G. Picard said.

Time was, scribes not only wrote the news and packaged the news but went out on the street to hawk it, as well.

Then they decided to turn pro.

Working journalists had no choice but to serve “monopolies and oligopolies” that could buy ink and paper, print our stories [and ads] onto roll upon roll upon roll at breakneck speed, and distribute it, Picard told a group gathered last week at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

Customers paid gladly for emotional benefits that, he said, included “engendering senses of belonging and community, providing reassurance and a sense of security, conveying leadership, and creating escape.”

By converting the calling to craft, journalists were able to create “relatively comfortable employment and economic conditions for themselves, to avoid any responsibility for performance of their enterprises, and to shield themselves from changes in the market,” Picard said.

Media companies, in turn, made handsome profits. Some even shared some of the dough with employees. So no one questioned the so-called ethical wall that companies built between editorial and advertising. Whenever that wall was breached, the critics pounced.

That’s now ancient history, my friend, with those companies having “less control over the communication space than ever before,” Picard said, stating the obvious.

Did they innovate? Did they turn the operation on its head? Not really. Most simply became “commoditised,” creating journalists whom Picard calls “interchangeable information factory workers.” Keep reading….

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