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CEO discusses changes in media

John Cameron | Monday, March 1, 2010

As expansion of the Internet over the past decade continues to revolutionize American lives, the ramifications for the news and communication business are especially profound.

This changing media landscape was the main focus of a lecture Friday by Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick and the Constituency Management Group.

The lecture, titled “The Evolving Media and Its Consequences for American Society,” was held in the Jordan Auditorium at the Mendoza College of Business.

The lecture and discussion, part of Mendoza’s “Ten Years Hence” speaker series, provided an insider’s perspective on objective news, television and print media.

Objective news, Diamond said, is again turning to partisan and biased news sources both online and in television.

“Objective journalism is a reality that has only existed since the latter part of the 20th century,” he said.

“[Prior to that], newspapers were very much partisan organs,” he said. “They gave their readers what they wanted to hear.”

The emergence of polarized media outlets again in recent years, Diamond said, is “in many respects nothing more than a back to the future moment.”

Diamond recognized the immense effect the accessibility of the Internet has had on media becoming more biased.

Diamond said the media  has “democratized the news” and now have “increased quantity, decreased quality.”

“In the age of information it’s hard to say too much information is a bad thing,” Diamond said.

He said this “democratization” can be beneficial, but also has adverse effects on the way people inform themselves.

“In this world of high-speed technology, lies are refuted immediately,” Diamond said.

He said the tendency of “slivers of truth” to spread rapidly is problematic, however.

“We manufacture controversies just so we can fill up an hour of news,” he said.

These slivers of truth, Diamond said, can spread at the detriment of businesses especially.

“An accusation made against a company … is given full publicity … without a full understanding or context,” he said.

Companies today, he said, must put more resources into dealing with media issues.

“The world right now is fascinated by transparency,” Diamond said. “What most people really want is a free flow of information and answers to their questions.”

In the face of corporate controversy, Diamond said three issues companies face are whether the problem has been fixed, how the company initially reacted and what the company did for the people affected.

The massive expansion of the Internet also poses a major threat to television networks and broadcasters, especially with regards to news.

“The mainstream media is going to struggle,” he said. “In 10 years I don’t believe there will be a 30-minute news at night. It’s not the end of the world — it’s just the end of an era.”

The outlook for print media, he said, is even grimmer.

“The traditional sources [of information] are going to slowly disappear,” Diamond said. “I’m a pessimist — I don’t see newspapers long-term surviving.”

The problem, he said, is being fueled in part by newspapers themselves.

“There is no business model right now … for newspapers to stay in their current form,” he said. “They’re putting their content on the Web for free. … Newspapers are destroying themselves.”

Despite the grim message, Diamond insisted that media itself is not on the decline. 
He said students, especially seniors, should not be discouraged by the changing state of the media industry.

“Obviously this year is going to be tough. … Companies are still going to be looking for people who understand the digital world — those opportunities are only going to increase,” he said. “I wouldn’t confuse short term difficulties with long-term opportunities. They’re still there.”