We are getting really close to December, but this year it feels different. We still don't quite know how Christmas will play out because of the pandemic, but it seems like the media will have to play a much bigger role than normal in helping people get through it.
This is the main topic of this newsletter, but I also have some other things for you today.
Before we talk about the role of journalists, I want to highlight my latest Plus report. It's about how independent journalists should focus their analytics.
This is the third article in my series about independent journalism. The first article was about the overall strategy and trend: "What business model should independent journalists and creators use?" The second article was about the tactics of making it work: "What tactics should independent journalists know before starting something new?" And so, in this third article, we are going to talk about analytics.
When you are a small publisher, like an independent journalist running a newsletter, a podcast, or a site (like mine), you don't have the scale or the volume to do 'normal analytics'. And also, because most of these new ventures are subscription based, normal analytics don't really work for us.
So, in my latest Plus report, I take you through the key metrics that will help you understand how to measure the maximum value, using a lot of the things I'm doing on my site as a guide.
Take a look at "A guide to analytics for independent journalists".
BTW: I had planned to end this series about independent journalism here, but I have something coming in January about this that is even more important. I haven't finalized it, so I won't tell you what it is just yet, but more will come :)
Now let's talk about the main topic today, which is about the role of the press. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the problem with the 'adversarial press', and how that style of journalism is undermining what it is that we are trying to do.
Today, we need to talk about this some more because, in the US, we are currently in a situation that perfectly captures why it is so critical that we change our approach. I'm talking about the aftermath of the US election compared to the issues the US is faced with. But let me explain what the problem is.
As we all know, the US election is over, the votes have been counted, and Joe Biden won with 50.8% of the votes, compared to Trump's 47.2%. This has resulted in Biden winning 306 electoral votes (he only needed 270).
Not surprisingly, Trump did not admit defeat. Instead, he is basically acting exactly the way we all expected him to.
He has called a recount (which is his right and part of functional democracy), but, in the press, we all know that this is not going to change anything. He has also filed numerous lawsuits making outlandish and baseless claims of election fraud. Again, we know in the press that this will not succeed.
And yet, when I look at the press, this is the main focus. Every day we see news coverage of this continuing debacle.
Well, this is not the only thing that is happening in the US. The country is also faced with a pandemic that is spreading uncontrollably throughout the country. Far more than 100,000 people are infected every day, and there are more than a 1,000 deaths per day too.
However, Trump is unlikely to do anything about this (not that he was doing much about it before). He is far too focused on his own problems, and he hasn't even provided Biden with the things he needs.
Biden, on the other hand, is trying to do something. He has put together a team to deal with the pandemic, he has created a plan which he is preparing to implement, but ... here is the problem ... even if Trump admits defeat, Biden won't be the president until the inauguration on January 20, 2021.
This is the situation in the US today. Trump is unlikely to do anything about this, and Biden can't do anything until January 20.
In other words, we are looking at 60 days of inaction, at the very height of this pandemic. And if the numbers keep going the way they are right now, we are looking at another 60,000+ people dying because of it.
This is a catastrophe!
And so, my question to you, the press, is simply this: What are you going to focus on for the next two months?
Are you going to:
...or, will you:
This is the choice we now face. We can either completely waste everyone's time by continuing to cover the antics of someone who has already lost the election, or we can shift our focus to the actual problems faced by the public right now.
This should not be a difficult choice, but look at what we are doing in the press these days. So much of the journalistic focus is on whatever Trump is doing (or not doing).
None of this actually helps the public. He has already lost, and in two months time, he will no longer be the President of the US, so why are you still writing about him? We are literally accomplishing nothing.
So what choice will you make?
I see very similar problems in the rest of the world. We are not really helping the public.
Here is an example from Le Monde in France. There is not a single article on their front page designed to help the public. And I see this pattern in so many national newspapers across almost all countries.
This is astonishing.
But more than that, they do write about COVID-19 but in an unhelpful way. On the front page, they have this article debating that churches should be opened again.
I'm sorry, but what the heck is this?
In France, the number of daily cases has started dropping, but it's nowhere near safe to have a mostly elderly demographic gather in large groups. But more than that, the number of deaths hasn't even started dropping yet.
For what possible reason would you think that opening churches is a good debate to have at this point? This is insane.
By doing this, the press are not helping to stop the virus, we are helping it continue to wreck our world.
But, you say, we are just reporting what is happening! ... and, yes, that is exactly the problem here. You are 'just' reporting, when you should be helping the public focus.
As a media analyst, I don't understand this. I see this pattern across so many national newspapers (local newspapers do a much better job, but still not perfect).
But this leads us to ... Christmas.
Right now, there are only two possible outcomes for Christmas.
Either we manage to get the virus under control in a month (which is doable if we really get our act together), and people can have a normal Christmas with friends and family.
Or... we don't, and this Christmas will be defined by lockdown and restrictions to various degrees, causing a lot of people, most notably those most at risk, to be very lonely and sad.
In either case, the press has the most important job of all.
If we focus on scenario one, which I will now call, "Operation: Save Christmas", we need to drastically change our focus and spend the next month helping and motivating the public to do everything they can to stop the virus. Which means you have to start RIGHT NOW.
We know that it will take four weeks for the change you start now to actually work, and Christmas is only four weeks away. This editorial change needs to happen TODAY!
And we can't do this by focusing on the government, especially not if we keep undermining things by calling for restrictions to be eased long before it is safe. We need to do this directly with the public.
If we fail to do this (which is what we have seen over the past several months), then Christmas will be a very depressing time for many people. They will be lonely and sad, and it will lead to a dramatic rise in problems with people's mental health (which we have already seen happening, but it's nothing compared to what it will be in a month).
In this case, the press has another vital job to do, and that is to save people's mental health and help give people a good time despite the restrictions they might face.
Again, we cannot do this by just reporting. If all you do is to tell people: "look at how sad we all are", you are not helping anyone. You are making people even more sad.
So, right now is the most important time we have ever faced as journalists. In the US, we have to use our journalism to save 60,000+ people's lives, not by trying to hold Trump to account (because that won't accomplish anything), but by helping the public directly. And in Europe, our job is to literally save Christmas as much as we possibly can.
If there ever was a time to prove that journalism matters, now is that time.
Welcome to Operation: Save Christmas!
Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter
"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
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