Media world ‘in chaos’ as journalism, publishing and agencies face grim future, according to US commentator

B-Garfield-AThe future of traditional journalism, particularly at a regional level, is “fucked”, as are legacy publishers and even agencies, with all becoming obsolete in the digital age, according to a media commentator.

Veteran US journalist Bob Garfield painted a picture of near-armageddon with out of work journalists, a defunct advertising model and agencies who are no longer relevant.

He also had strong words for creatives who “like to give trophies to one another for their creative genius and parade like Tony the Tiger down Madison Avenue every Fall during ad week,” warning “if they think people love their ads they are sorely, tragically mistaken”.

Speaking at the Association of Data Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) conference in Sydney yesterday, Garfield, a columnist for Media Post, said the Internet has spawned “billions of journalists on the ground and camera phones in hand in search of a story”.

“I represent the last generation of journalists whose vocation was a handsome livelihood,” he told delegates.

Asked about the future for a 30-something journalist, he said: “You are fucked,” adding that a journalist friend with years of experience now waters plants in offices for a living.

“Many say we are in the golden age of content. Which is true unless you want to discuss journalism, particularly local journalism which has suffered greatly at the hands of digital chaos,” he said. “Except for search, gaming and porn, nobody is making mony of any consequence online.

“As audiences fragment the amount of revenue coming in for any particular piece of content goes down eventually to the point when the publisher or broadcaster can no longer afford to produce the thing.

“So if you were looking forward to a great career in media and marketing it might be a good idea to remove your belt and shoelaces.

“This isn’t about digital verses legacy it’s about the growing obsolescence of the advertising supported media model.”

While accepting that “more choice is wonderful”, Garfield warned that the impending demise of the large media companies and proliferation of amateur journalists will lead to a splintered industry and reduction in quality reporting.

“What will be lost is critical mass, the ability for anyone to have a strong enough voice to make a difference amid all the deafening noise of the crowd,” he said.

Traditional media organisation commanded the attention of, and held to account, governments, industry and other institutions, he continued.

“We can have a separate discussion about how responsible and intrepid the media were with this power, but that power was undeniable,” he said. “In general, those organisations attracted the best talent with the most professionalism and the greatest access. In a word, they had clout and professionalism mattered.

“We didn’t offer perfection but we came with a frame of reference.”

Overall, the newspaper industry is “tragically circling the drain”, with asset values decimated, profit margins eradicated and print subscriptions plummeting.

“The result has been vastly diminished journalism, and increasingly desperate measures by publishers such as so-called native advertising, which we can discuss later provided you want to talk about prostitution,” he said.

Garfield said the traditional advertising model has fallen apart in such a fragmented, digital market, while viewers fast forward through adverts like never before.

“Why do they they skip past the commercials? For the same reason he puts spam filters on his computer and refuses to click on any banner ad ever for any reason at any time,” he said.  “Advertising people like to give trophies to one another for their creative genius and parade like Tony the Tiger down Madison Avenue every Fall during ad week. But if they think people love their ads they are sorely, tragically mistaken.

“For more than three centuries consumers have put up with ads. Some ads are funny and clever and some even worm their way into our heads and popular culture. But they are and have always been a nuisance. To most people all advertising is spam. The proof being that the moment technology afforded us the ability to skip them, skip them we have.”

He said the “next bloodbath will be in TV”.

Agencies did not escape the gloomy outlook with Garfield predicting they will become obsolete in such a changing media landscape.

“The agency business is toast because no matter what anyone tells you, it derives its income from creating and placing large ad campaigns . The larger the more lucrative but mass is going away and the agency business does not adapt to micro.

“The entire media universe is in chaos.”

Steve Jones


  1. Matt
    30 Jul 14
    11:31 am

  2. Wow. Tell it like it is. I bet there are a whole lot of people who don’t want to hear his truth:

    “To most people all advertising is spam. The proof being that the moment technology afforded us the ability to skip them, skip them we have.”

    That is the opinion of everyone I know. He has nailed it. “Do not want, will skip, won’t click”.

    I don’t know what that means for the ad industry in 10 years but it is a reality.

  3. Too soon
    30 Jul 14
    11:47 am

  4. This guy has built a great and lucrative business around his appearances telling everyone how f*cked they are … doom and gloom is a good trade in the ad world.

  5. Denise Shrivell - MediaScope
    30 Jul 14
    12:00 pm

  6. I was there yesterday and am frankly feeling incredibly deflated today. (Fun when you work from home on your own – not).

    The other comments Bob made which really struck home to me was advice to us all to get a career plan b – and media’s new business model is a ‘patient billionaire’.

    Between this, scam ads, gender/age, and the myriad of other issues which are regularly raised – I’m looking for a glimmer of hope.


  7. Sage observer
    30 Jul 14
    12:08 pm

  8. I see shrinking marketing budgets………..

  9. It's in the water
    30 Jul 14
    12:10 pm

  10. Funny what happens when consumers get real choices.

  11. Conor
    30 Jul 14
    12:32 pm

  12. Denise, if it’s any comfort, Bob Hoffman, The Ad Contrarian, a is reasonably good antidote to the Bob Garfields of this world. (Although Mr. Hoffman is a grumpy as they come…) http://adcontrarian.blogspot.s.....aster.html

  13. jennifer
    30 Jul 14
    12:54 pm

  14. TV has been a bloodbath for the last 2-3 years. People do not watch TV ads. Product placement has ramped up but it is a terribly difficult market. You meant I feel to enjoy your job slightly as that is your passion, but really in the tv world not much joy is around. But maybe I want too much! Is work meant to be just work, with zero passion, and people screaming that numbers are down weekly at you.

  15. push to pull
    30 Jul 14
    12:57 pm

  16. It comes down to this: marketing and media is/used to be about pushing messages at people. People don;t like that. It needs to flip this around and be there when people go looking. This is what Google does of course. Innovation will drive what that looks like beyond search on a PC.

  17. sparky
    30 Jul 14
    1:18 pm

  18. chicken little anyone?
    the industry is changing but this guy might as well be wearing a sandwich board saying “The World Is Ending”!
    He’s not the first (not just in media, this has been going on for centuries) and won’t be the last.
    Change is coming, change is always coming, change has been here for a long time and change will continue to be on the way – it’s what creates opportunities, efficiency and advancements.

  19. Simon
    30 Jul 14
    1:21 pm

  20. “next bloodbath will be in TV.”

    And not before time too. Netflix – $7 a month – all the TV and films I can watch and no adverts.

    Those who can make great content will have a job forever. Those who make adverts to sit between breaks in reality shows, are going to be in a horrible place in a few years.

  21. Conor
    30 Jul 14
    1:35 pm

  22. When it comes to ‘consumer choices’, I defer to Mr. Hoffman again – http://adcontrarian.blogspot.s.....-what.html

  23. Anonymous
    30 Jul 14
    1:41 pm

  24. Thank goodness for this guy, I had received word that half the ADMA audience had gone into a boredom coma.

    It’s a sign of getting old when you say everything’s f***ed. Happens to us all.

  25. Doug
    30 Jul 14
    2:05 pm

  26. I was there yesterday… and Bob Garfield was an entertaining show. He is definitely making hay while the sun shines as his career AND his industry shift towards doom. But in highlighting the doom, he highlights the diversification that needs to be done to survive.

    On a positive note, the talks following Bob show just how media is changing with talks from the big knobs of Fusion, Vice, and Huffington Post.

    Fusion in particular is a media company designed from the ground up – by joint venture with multi-billion dollar companies realising they are too slow to change… they have to start something new. and the insights Fusion find and use are amazing…

  27. Facts are helpful
    30 Jul 14
    3:42 pm

  28. Garfield had to say something. It’s very hard to get speaking gigs when your message is: I do not know. (Though his: “we are all fucked” is a close alternative.)
    Clearly, people like content a lot. Now they can separate the content from the ads. It’s a channel problem. But it must also mean that to get people to value it (they pay or they give you some time) you have to give them something valuable. So – as News and others are discovering – you can’t fake audience engagement. And – as TV already knows – people simple flick when your content is unattractive.
    Goodness me, we have to lift our game! (Or, in Garfield’s case: “we’re fucked”)

  29. Denise Shrivell - MediaScope
    30 Jul 14
    5:16 pm

  30. Thank you so much Conor – I am a big fan of The Ad Contrarian. Even he is not lifting me out of my funk today. Perhaps I’m finally surrendering to the fact that a lot of what Bob said rings fairly true with much of the other industry commentary (scamming, ageism, sexism etc) not aligned to my values – let alone gender or stage in life.

    Yesterday at ADMA, the speakers spoke about innovations in content development and meeting the needs of their audience – but the revenue models underpinning these platforms weren’t outlined well. Native advertising (jury is still out on this form of so called ‘trickery’ long term), events, ‘gazillionaires’ – and media becoming agencies were the solutions offered.

    The advertising supply/demand ratio in our market – like many – is very broken but still more and more media is being launched – either homegrown or overseas. Huffington Post is an example from yesterday – where as they mentioned their aim is ‘domination in any market they enter’. There is only so many eyeballs and paid ad $’s to go around – particularly after Google et al takes their practically non-taxed share and marketers turn increasingly to ‘owned’ platforms.

    Media technology is also flooding our market – this will be the next battle ground.

    Guess my underlining thought in all of this is can we all realistically expect careers offering a generally stable, long term, decent living – pay our mortgages, put our kids through school, food on the table, cars, holidays – whatever? At its very core that is why we work.

    Deep for a Wednesday I know. It’s the funk…

    The question still stands – can anyone offer a glimmer of hope?

  31. Jim
    31 Jul 14
    3:12 am

  32. re: push to pull
    your analogy of google (as a pull vehicle) is way to simplistic. Other marketing activity is critical to drive demand, build categories, create desire and brand preference etc etc which then coincidentally drives search volume. its about time google and the last click attribution is called out, good media planners know this but there is equally some very lazy ones.

  33. Joe
    31 Jul 14
    6:33 am

  34. Media is doing fine, and smart young digital journalists are doing fine. It’s grumpy old fossils like Bob Garfield that are fucked

  35. Jane Huxley
    31 Jul 14
    8:46 am

  36. I didn’t see Bob’s presentation but I did get a chance to be one of the “Honchos” at the Below 30 Grill the Honcho session on Tuesday.

    A room full of smart, motivated, energetic and enthusiastic “youngsters” who are fast coming up the ranks of marketing and media are a GREAT antidote to the cynical, tired (emotional) and somewhat historical views represented here.

    Perhaps the mistake he makes is is underestimating the wave of change, the agility and the fast adoption of technology being blown through both industries he comments on. There is an old saying that you can’t expect different results by doing the same thing…… (let alone talking about it)

    The future looks bright. Its a tough, frustrating, ambiguous chameleon of a future for sure, but I consistently see the best of the best who have the will to get it right.

    And they will.

  37. Digital Subscriptions
    31 Jul 14
    9:40 am

  38. I do not subscribe to one print product.

    I subscribe, for free, to heaps of digital products:

    On Instagram I receive updates in my feed from pages that I choose to follow: a picture tells a thousand words. Some are ‘joe public’ (like me) others are companies and some are institutions (government), sporting clubs and of course friends and colleagues. I find out loads about offers, government policy, parties, sunrises, cats, sunsets and upcoming events.

    Facebook, as above, twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, niche websites; all the things I am interested in. I also get reached by many other ‘things’ through thiese mediums and can block certain ad’s / ‘influencers’ if they are ‘not my thing’.

    Publishing is alive and kicking, however many of the middle mean (traditional middle men) are not needed anymore.

    Yellow Pages – dead. Who is next?

    I do frequent every morning, noon and night the same three digital newspapers online. Two Aussie and one ‘International’, not one of them is a Murdoch paper (I can’t read that fodder, it is not journalism.)

    Rewind 20 years and I would buy a print newspaper everyday. I would learn from the newspaper about upcoming theatre, government policy, who was playing who in sport that week and what was on TV that evening, plus the weather, latest global atrocity, princess Diana’s death…………….. I have no idea what is on TV this evening; I can watch what I like from a variety of sources.

    I do like a news broadcast on TV. You get to watch / digest the bits that you wouldn’t click on when reading news on a digital device, thus receive the full summary (depending on who is delivering the broadcast).

    Oh the times they are a changing, however; governments are still putting forward policy changes, sporting teams are still scoring goals and trimming times, TV stations are airing programs and I am still interested in knowing about it all, therefore it is really the delivery of the message that is changing isn’t it?

    Okay, so Journalists are the messengers? Well journalists, I would argue that you are the content creators. Sod the large greedy publishers who wont pay you any money; go out on your own, collaborate, utilise the channels above and fly!

    Does anyone hate waiting for a video to load on a News Ltd or Fairfax site? I hate it. Journalists! You do not need the publisher, you can do this by yourselves (if you are any good.)

  39. David
    31 Jul 14
    9:58 am

  40. Too bad this guy doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

  41. A harsh trifle....
    31 Jul 14
    10:44 am

  42. Getting old sucks…..and Bob’s just proved it!

  43. Daniel
    31 Jul 14
    11:13 am

  44. I thought well done to ADMA yesterday for the calibre of who they brought together.

    Garlfields opening talk was well complimented by Fusion, Vice and Huff Post following on; these all confirmed publishers in this market need to be more dynamic and invested in producing good content if they want to survive.

    The unfortunate thing to me was a lot of key people who should’ve attended didn’t. There needs to be a transition from buying media buyers to investing in the actual substance of your media brand(you no longer work for a magazine or in solely print publication).
    SBS is doing a brilliant job and get it but a majority are moving to slow.

  45. Denise Shrivell - MediaScope
    31 Jul 14
    11:36 am

  46. I am regularly contacted by journalists who have gone out on their own – maybe started a blog, website, sometimes a magazine – with all the associated social media platforms, and are now looking for advertising sales representation. Often they are writing good quality content which is attracting an audience but have little comprehension of the fast changing commercial side of the media business.

    Building and sustaining an audience and then generating revenue to support their content has never been something on their radar – the advertising department may have been on another floor, another part of the building. They may have even looked at those ‘ad guys’ with a level of scorn.

    All of a sudden advertising and revenue is a priority and their first instinct is to outsource to an agent. Advertising sales agents (who have their own issues) very rarely take on new publishers – particularly small digital publishers – for many reasons and Google Adsense etc is not going to make anyone rich.

    While the rare few do, how are the vast majority of journalists – who have gone out on their own, started their own thing – going to earn a living?

    Again – the issue is the revenue models underpinning all of this no doubt very good, highly targeted, dynamic, multi platform delivered content – whether you are a large or small publisher.

  47. John Weldon
    31 Jul 14
    2:30 pm

  48. I’m sorry but I can’t see the point of this piece. Anyone in the media who is surprised or upset by the content of this article hasn’t been paying attention for the past decade. There is nothing to be gained by lamenting a business model that is now out of date. Yes it is likely the case that traditional journalism and advertising will not continue in the forms we know, but nor will the manufacturing industries of the western world, nor will broadcast TV, education or retail. Rather than be outraged it’s time either to move on or to reinvent. Easier said than done I know, but the easy option – outrage and a Canute-like opposition to the inevitable – gets us nowhere.

  49. Rachael
    31 Jul 14
    3:35 pm

  50. I really hated Bob’s speech. And his ‘I’m smarter than all of you’ cynicism.
    But yes he made some valid points. And some of the commenters here have missed them.

    Is legacy media ‘fucked’? In the mid-long term and based on their current models, yes. Does digital media have the eyeballs? Absolutely. Not one person would contest that or suggest we try to turn back the tide.

    But…have those eyeballs translated into highly profitable businesses investing in high quality content that they then can use to secure high advertising margins? For the most part, no.

    There is almost no digital content provider anywhere in the world, writing the same kinds of profit margins that newspapers and TV stations enjoyed in the past. This is what ‘fucks’ us all. Too much inventory, no one pays for subscriptions, the platform owners offer ‘exposure’ instead of salaries, and the content is getting shittier and shittier as a result. Meanwhile, without a ‘patient billionaire’ online publishers are going further and further into the red because none of the existing business models (paywalls, subs, pay per view, ad skipping etc) pay the rent.

    So in effect, digital media is just as ‘fucked’.

    Eyeballs, schmyballs…show me the money!

    And no one is making any. This is an unsustainable industry if we don’t pretty quickly figure it out. To suggest that ‘the future is bright because of all these smart young people’ is platitudinous waffle if we don’t figure out how this all makes money.

  51. argo
    31 Jul 14
    5:13 pm

  52. Agree with you @ Rachel. Audience for media content has never been greater – and we have digital channels to thank for that..No one could argue with this. But the once very lucrative business and monetisation model around that content is fast disappearing. Dollars being replaced by dimes etc. (With mobile yields being what they are, dimes may well be replaced by pennies.) As someone else on this thread has mentioned – it’s a simple supply-demand equation. When media channels were locked up by traditional media owners the supply of ad inventory was limited and that helped prop prices up. The old media cos also controlled the means to reach the masses. Now ad inventory is virtually limitless, and the big media players no longer control the means to reach the masses ergo the demand for their services from advertisers has fallen off a cliff.

  53. Algo
    1 Aug 14
    12:25 pm

  54. @Argo

    Agreed. The traditional houses are quite simply going to have to try to innovate, acquisition, or perish. The issue with the acquisition side is that their mantra is $’s first, where as say Google’s is ‘user first’ and the pennies will come; Google have the ability to scale the pennies and make buckets of cash.

    The old guard are exactly that, it is a massive change. Mumbrella is an example of forward thinking journalists embracing the new world and making a business out of it. Again you have got to be a go-getter, savvy, industrious to be able to make it succeed. or retrain and work for a client in content marketing?