It’s somehow completely slipped this blog’s mind to talk about the Tribune Company rebranding itself as TRONC: Tribune Online Content. I don’t think I really wanted to think about it, or believe it, for while the Tribune has frequently lost its damn mind, I still wanted it to be, you know, a newspaper. But we are not! We are TRONC. TRONC. Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft, and it’s almost like a robot staring unblinkingly at you while it dispassionately burns down your house.
How bad is it? Well, if you didn’t think it could get any worse than establishing itself as a “content curation and monetization engine”, then you haven’t been paying attention to the present. As Verge reported the other day, “the leaders of the Tronc empire unveiled phase two of their plan: the gradual transformation of the company into a series of video embeds.”
Does that not sound terrible? Then you haven’t watched the video.
Luxuriate in this hideousness. “The future of journalism. The future of content.” These two bloodless technobabblers are the vampiric avatars of a joyless future. “Harness the power of local journalism. Feed it into a funnel. And then optimize it to reach the broadest global audience.” Sounds great! Except that it means “what’s trending on Reddit now? Trouble in Palestine? Waukesha? Nah, it’s a dog on a tricycle!”
Or, as The Verge puts it (and really, read their piece: it’s perfect).
The basic idea here is that Tronc will syndicate articles and videos across its properties. Which is fine! But there’s not much money in text, and so Tronc is leaning hard into video. Today, 16 percent of the company’s articles include an embedded video; that number will more than double to 50 percent next year. But what if the article I just wrote doesn’t make sense as a video, you might ask? Congratulations! You’ve just been laid off.
Look, it’s a different market. Video is important. We watch video, and it makes a profit. I totally get that. But the trick is not to gear journalism around video; it’s to make the video relevant to journalism. That’s what we’re losing. In a rush to be viral, to make every story “Seth Meyers CRUSHES Trump”, we lose something.
Basically, it’s this. At the end, the nice lady from the grimmest of all possible futures says, boldly, without any embarrassment, “We’re a content company. First. Last. And always.” Content. Content. In my day job, I am a “Senior Content Developer”, B2B and B2C. I work hard and try to write interesting articles, that help our clients but are also readable and engaging, and hopefully in which you can learn something. I try to do my best. But I know what content is. It’s marketing, plain and simple. To reduce everything to “content” is to erase what journalism is. To transform the Tribune papers, which include the excellent LA Times, is to damage our civic knowledge, our democracy, and probably our intelligence.
Luckily, it seems that other papers are trying to embrace the new world differently, letting Facebook be the guardian. It isn’t ideal, but it allows for journalism. TRONC is a way around that, trying to beat the reductors at their own game. Goddamn, I hope it fails.