In Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, Clary Shirky writes:

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times.

On reading this, I started wondering: what might this look like in the advertising industry? And it occurred to me that it might look a lot like some of the largest advertisers in the world trying desperately (and failing) to apply traditional models to a new landscape. At risk of being moved to the Innovation Department (I work at an ad agency), some realism: broadcasting without listening doesn't work in systems designed for conversation. And fake listening doesn't scale. Back to Shirky, with some edits by me:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers advertising demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers advertising to replace the one the internet just broke.


Seth Godin wrote on the removal of stock quotes from newspapers, because everyone who cares gets that information online. He titled the post "Classified are next" and asked when was the last time you looked something up in the classifieds of your newspaper? My answer: maybe a week ago. I spend all day online, and I don't buy a lot, but when I pick up a paper, I look at two sections.

First, I flip to the opinion page because it gives me a quick idea of 1) what issues local people care about, 2) what the mainstream (newspaper) positions are on the issues, and 3) what the alternative (write-in) positions are. This is all helpful for me because I don't understand people, but I fake it because people don't like people who don't understand people.

I suspect this has something to do with a vague suspicion that there isn't as much common to humanity as we like to imagine, hence mythology like the Matrix and Battlestar Galactica.

Okay, tangent time. A while back Shelley Powers wrote something about Battlestar Galactica, and in the comments I mentioned that I had no idea what was going on, and then Dave Rogers gave me an excellent summary of the show, and I wrote I’ve seen the show a few times before, but it never seemed as interesting as this was.

And I really thought Shelley and Dave were just making it sound more interesting than it really was because they were so into it. I've since watched the show from beginning to frustrating to-be-continued, and in the process realized that when Shelley and Dave were writing about Battlestar Galactica, the show I was thinking of was actually Babylon 5.

That's a clue to my general ignorance of TV in general, and SciFi specifically. But I really like Battlestar Galactica, and only wish that the plot itself didn't seem to preclude a long run.

Now then, back to the newspaper... the second (and generally last) thing I read is the classifieds, because local classifieds are often cheaper than eBay, because either the seller doesn't realize the actual market value, or shipping is prohibitively expensive, or they just want to get rid of something quickly and not worry about it.

For all of these reasons, free pianos will always show up in local publications. Because I want a free piano, I will always read the classifieds of the local paper. And because I and people like me are reading them, the classifieds will always be a good place to sell things. And because classifieds bring in revenue on both ends, they will last forever, or at least as long as local newspapers last.

Seth is wrong; classifieds are not next. Maybe TV listings are next. Or are they already gone? Then maybe movie listings. Hard to say, as I don't actually look at newspapers much. But something very timely, unpaid, and easily transferable to another medium will be next to leave the newspaper. Hmm... news is next? Maybe. A newspaper is one of the last places I'd look for news these days.