Saturday, September 23, 2006

Katie Couric and the End of Civilization

Can a news reader reverse a trend?

Nightly news audience is down. While the networks battle for bragging rights and advertising fees, the fact remains -- substantially fewer people watch the evening news.

Katie Couric's move to CBS generated a spate of short-term interest, but it isn't likely to reverse a 25 year trend.

Jared Diamond's "Collapse" discusses five reasons why civilizations collapse. He covers both historic and current societies ranging from Easter Island to Greenland to current day China and Australia. The core factors work over a long period of time and play off one another. They are:
  • Environmental damage
  • Climate change
  • Hostile neighbors
  • Friendly trade partners
  • Response to environmental problems
I wonder if there is something we can learn about the news world. Certainly the market or climate for news has changed; both in terms of outlets and content. Fragmentation and the rise of cable news media would qualify as the appearance of hostile neighbors for no other reason than the battle for audience. Friendly trading partners, i.e. advertisers, are looking for more relevance and return. What ever the reason, 'trust' in the news sources is also down. While the perceived political tendencies of individual outlets - left, right or somewhere else - may work to satisfy a specific target market; the longer term impact may be an overall erosion in the credibility of any news source. Four of the five factors suggest a collapse.

According to Diamond the fifth factor, how the society responds, is the key to survival. Only time will tell whether nightly news will reinvent itself or go the way of the Anasazi.

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