What Happens When Watchdogs Become Paper Tigers?


The following commentary original aired on KOSU Radio, December 12, 2013. 

Paper Tiger Nothing could have prepared me for the decline of the newspaper. As a public relations practitioner, I’ve been working in partnership with this industry since 1991. To watch it shrink and break underneath its own growing irrelevance has been the most stunning development of my career. I wonder every day, what is really going to fill the gap on the local news landscape.

Meanwhile, I watch sites like BuzzFeed become the world’s largest news service. Here are a few of their recent headlines:

I really like that last one. Real, in-depth reporting there, folks.

So, we’re in deep trouble. What happens when the watchdog of Democracy dies?


Newspapers Dying


Plain and simple, Oklahoma’s largest media properties and personalities are just the latest, ongoing victims of something called Disruptive Innovation. Social media have created new markets and value networks. They’ve replaced the news empires we feared and hated; needed and yes, even loved. At least, there have been reporters I loved. At one time, I read the paper cover-to-cover and couldn’t make it through the day without a smudge of newsprint on my face.

Those days are behind me, never coming back.

Did you see the humongous spread about Patrick Riley in Slice Magazine? Page after page of glossy photos highlighting the genius of the founder of the blog, The Lost Ogle. I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say Riley’s web property is worth probably six, maybe seven figures.

As with all disruptive innovations, traditional media has been altered by new technology. But, web publishing is no easy task and the time involved is excruciating. Anna Holmes worked 18 hours a day to build the award-winning site Jezebel.

If law is a jealous mistress, blogging is a jealous, needy child.

Many Oklahoma bloggers are making an effort to fill the gap created by disruptive innovation. One is Red Dirt Report with its awesome Cowboy-inspired masthead. It’s edited by a formally trained journalist, Andrew W. Griffin. He puts feet to his reporting, and most recently broke the story about the a New York Satanic Temple that wants to erect a monument at the State Capitol.

Thanks to Feedly, a news aggregator (the iPad app is divine), I am able to keep up with more than 100 Oklahoma blogs, but most are pure niche and don’t provide any original or hard news reporting. Success awaits any blogger who is willing to brand him or herself as a local beat reporter. (Think local and dedicated police blog, arts blog, fashion blog, business blog, health blog, etc.) Just be prepared to put in 18 hour days and not get paid for a very long time, if ever.

Every day, I wonder how it’s all going to shake out. What happens to Democracy when the watchdog becomes a paper tiger? When the newsroom is neutered? When we stop reading things that matter?

Can local bloggers fill the gap? Can they successfully, even modestly, monetize their sites? I hope so.


Shout Out: Nikole Carroll new morning edition host on KOSURadio. Follow her on Twitter at @NRCarrollKOSU.

Subscribe to the JenX podcast on KOSU iTunes U.


6 Responses to “What Happens When Watchdogs Become Paper Tigers?”

    • jenx67@cox.net

      You are welcome. I love what you’re doing. I’ve followed you for awhile now, and the growth of your site is so impressive. Thank you for all you do to provide an alternative news source.

  1. Brett

    I share your lament at the decline of the newspaper, because the TelePrompTer Muppets and their supporting cast will never be able to replace the breadth of coverage they offer. They won’t go to legislative committee meetings or zoning commission hearings or any one of seventeen dozen other important but Nielsen unfriendly functions that matter, meaning no public eye on any of those officials or their actions. Also, in case you hadn’t seen them, capitolbeat.ok, city-sentinel.com and mccarvillereport.com offer news coverage online.

    But I don’t think that “success awaits” the local beat reporter blogger ;-) If nothing else, the fact that a Gawker-wannabe site like The Lost Ogle has become worth six or seven figures while the would-be news blogger should prepare for 18-hour days without getting paid is proof of that.

    So I also hope some way is found to monetize news coverage that has a newspaper’s breadth and depth of field. Or else we won’t know bupkis about what the State Supreme Court decided yesterday, but we’ll have every snarkable aspect of Christina Fallin’s life available to supply our daily snickers.

    • jenx67@cox.net

      I love these kind of comments that add to the discussion. Thank you! I guess I always think in terms of blogging success as numbers of readers, but I make my living at something else. If I had to pay bills on what I make off this blog, I’d be in bad shape. I admire Andrew Griffin for the work he puts into his blog. We need advertisers to support sites like that. We almost need sales people to take on blogs and sell them as package advertising deals. I wonder if it’s possible??? Bloggers could split ad revenue with sales reps down the middle. But, it’s not an easy sell — blog ads.

      • Brett

        I’d imagine blog ad sales are ridiculously hard — if you’re a retail outlet or a business and you see some of the obvious scam ads or the next-best-thing-to-scam ads that are on even major sites like Yahoo! and Facebook (President waives re-fi requirements! Get your degree online! Power companies hate this man!), then you know that people are being trained to ignore internet advertising each and every day. So why would you buy any?

        Andrew does work hard and I think he has created something, but even he’s got an uphill climb with ads — the OKC restaurants advertised when I looked at the page today are probably great, but the two-hour drive means that the ads are irrelevant to me. So local click counts of actual potential buyers have to be sorted from distant ones such as mine in order for a buyer to have solid information — another layer in the process, and another potential exit point for a business owner who doesn’t see value in internet advertising.


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