The 5 Stages of Media Grief

As the death knells ring out around traditional media outlets everywhere, I thought we may want to take a glimpse of a few examples of these media folks as they muddle their way through the death of an industry.

Stage 1: Denial

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In 2003 Howard Tyner, the 19th editor of the Chicago Tribune, witnessed the dawning of a new Tribune era when he retired, turning over the reigns to Gerould Kern, and saying “Tribune has led the industry in recognizing how newspapers have to change to remain successful and then in making it happen,” said Tyner. “It’s been a genuine honor to have been part of that process.”

In a 2008 release Tribune chairman and CEO, Sam Zell bolstered his troops by saying “The newspaper industry continues to see extraordinary declines in ad revenues, and Tribune is no exception. But, we continue to aggressively pursue our operating strategy, and to tightly manage the factors that are within our control. Internally, we have established momentum on developing new initiatives and our culture now reflects that focus and mindset.”

Supposedly re-readied for the new millennium in the November 10th statement, Tribune Co. announced on Dec. 10th that it had filed for bankruptcy.

Stage 2: Anger

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In spring of 1998, Baltimore Sun reporter Jules Witcover named online news-breaker Matt Drudge a “reckless trader in rumor and gossip who makes no pretense of checking on the accuracy of what he reports.”

Time Magazine’s Joe Klein at a May 5, 2007 Annapolis Book Festival was quoted as ranting “…unless we can actually have the revenue to go out there and the credibility to report these issues, all of these right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and the left-wing bloggers who are parasites on our reporting, are going to have nothing to do but sit home and twiddle their thumbs and opine about things they have no data for.”

Today, April 6, 2009, AP Chairman Dean Singleton threatened online newshounds with legal action, saying ““We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories,“

Stage 2: Bargaining

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April 2007 Agence-France Presse drops their 17.5 million dollar lawsuit against Google, in deference to their new licensing agreement with the search engine.

In the “they’re moving the wrong way” category, today’s announcement from the AP seems to contrast the 2006 willingness by the Associated Press to barter for their content with the online giant. Google CEO Eric Schmidt responded to the about face with the obvious, saying“I was a little confused by all of the excitement in the news in the last 24 hours. I’m not sure what they were referring to. We have a very, very successful deal with AP and hope that will continue for many, many years.”

Stage 4: Depression

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Feb. 5th, 2009 Analyst David Bank of RBC Capital Markets commented on the 6.4 billion dollar News Corp. loss report, saying, “It was probably more of a confirmation of what we expected rather than a new set of information.”

Feb. 19, 2009 The New York Times reported on its own suspension of dividends, citing the trust statement, “In light of the economic climate and the challenges facing the media industry, the trustees believe that the board’s suspension of the dividend is in the best interests of all shareholders. All of the trustees remain committed to the editorial integrity and independence of The New York Times.” The reporting left off the traditional upbeat send off, and instead only noting, “Shares closed Thursday at $3.51, down 20 cents.”

Twittering in real time their own demise, Rocky Mountain News staffers, including Mike Noe, share their last day with the world via the internet. Interactive Editor Mike Noe is quoted on the service as saying, “We’ve had a very beautiful thing here. You realize it when you start losing it. It’s torturous how I feel.”

Stage 5: Acceptance

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During the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, Internet social networking tools were used by media outlets, with the BBC News website even reporting on the information as it was available.

Gaining thousands of fans in months since the August 2008 debut of his use of the social media service Twitter, Rick Sanchez openly broadcasts not just news, but also personal statements, with the CNN nod of approval.

In April 2006, the American Society of Newspaper Editors became the American Society of News Editors when 74 percent of its members voted in favor of the new name.