By Joe Coffey / The Fifth Estate
[Ed. note: This is the first edition of a new monthly media column by CBJ contributor Joe Coffey.]
Nearly 15 years ago, the Corridor Business Journal’s first issue debuted, along with its first column devoted to the business of media. CBJ founders John and Aspen Lohman knew the media landscape was turning inside out, and felt it worth paying attention to via a weekly column.
2004 was a time for exploring new platforms, new ways to communicate en masse and new marketing opportunities here in the Corridor and everywhere else.
The column was called “The Fifth Estate,” which was a reference to the U.S. media’s role as a fourth estate, serving the public while watching over our country’s three branches of government. Someone has to watch over the media as it watches over and reports on the government, right?
I authored that first media column and went on to make a habit of taking our local TV stations and newspapers to task when they did something poorly. As a former news anchor for KCRG and a Ph.D. student in journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa, I did my best to apply an ombudsperson’s eye to our local media while shedding light on the evolving role, power and rights of media consumers.
I would go on to write 134 Fifth Estate columns. Over that time, I examined the ridiculousness of local TV news “sweeps” reporting that sought to boost Nielsen ratings. I wrote about sticky issues involving The Gazette and the Press-Citizen. I examined how William Shatner punk’d our local media with his Riverside reality show ruse, and shed light on KGAN parent Sinclair Broadcast Group’s reputation. I explored why local print news was doing so poorly online. I celebrated that local radio wasn’t dead yet. I even dinged the CBJ a time or two when it was warranted.
The column covered much more than local media happenings, of course — a scope necessitated by the fact that the CBJ launched in arguably the most significant year in the history of modern media.
MySpace had debuted that January. A month later, the Super Bowl’s halftime show broadcast the infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” making Janet Jackson the most searched term, event and image in internet history. Ms. Jackson’s breast was quickly the most recorded and re-watched thing in Tivo’s history. In fact, the fervor to somehow deliver access to such a video clip on demand is what gave Jawed Karim the idea to co-create YouTube a year later.
Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg launched the first iteration of Facebook on Feb. 1, 2004. A few days later we learned there weren’t any actual weapons of mass destruction, while 60 Minutes II got duped into perpetuating false news about President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard based on forged documents — and this was before the term “fake news” was commonplace.
Thanks to the internet, we were able to take our desire for gritty news, community and news-related humor into our own hands. Strange photos from Abu Ghraib prison awaited. The fast-moving legalization of gay marriage was being organized online. Howard Dean’s strange whoop got replayed and remixed into internet death territory, taking his presidential candidacy with it.
We were completely enthralled by what the internet could do for us, or perhaps to us. It’s only fitting that Google went public in 2004, right after Barack Obama delivered the Democratic National Committee keynote that launched the rising political star’s trajectory even higher. We haven’t questioned the internet’s version of high ROI with a quick turnaround since. In fact, we crave and depend on it.
I’m honored to write about media happenings for the CBJ again. I’ll argue that we’re facing another 2004-type of year in terms of changing media consumption needs and perhaps more watershed moments and technologies that could change everything. Media audiences are the products now. Media-churned truths and facts are not only subjective, but highly questionable from the start. The next platforms are being designed within a framework of planned obsolescence. What happens when acts of journalism can’t even get noticed on the dominating “smart” devices that are increasingly engineered to merely trigger dopamine loops? The Fifth Estate is needed now more than ever.
Joe Coffey is the owner of Coffey Grande Studios.