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Hyperchondria, the Media Disorder

StethoscopeBy Clement Charles, CEO & Founder, AllTheContent News Agency

With Molière’s play “The Imaginary Invalid,” hypochondria became a household word. Wikipedia defines it as “excessive preoccupancy or worry about having a serious illness.”

Conversely, hyperchondria is much less known. It entails imagining that everything is alright, when clearly, every indicator confirms the contrary. My fifteen years in media impose the following diagnosis: hyperchondria is the affliction of traditional media, particularly afflicting newspapers.

I have spent a major portion of these last years working with managers, directors and editors of periodicals of all sizes, making their publications more relevant to their readerships, more profitable, and therefore more sustainable. In many cases, I felt like the oncologist whose patients, their larynx and tongue removed, explain in a vocoder voice that “tobacco has nothing to do with their health issues,” while puffing on a cigarette through a hole in their throats.

Value VS Revenue

Sick newspapers bring to mind this medical example because seen from the outside, it’s obvious that the problem has little to do with income (i.e., costs), but is rather a value-creation issue (and therefore brings into question their role in society or their editorial strategies). As such, cosmetic changes, radical downsizing or following the latest fad are all treatments aimed at reducing visible symptoms while worsening their primary causes.

Managerial hyperchondria may be explained by cultural reasons: conservatism aimed at preserving acquired comfort. The quest for comfort at all costs is a problem which is visible at all levels of a company. It is counterproductive, because by definition, media should never feel at ease and must always be on its toes, constantly striving to adapt in order to better reflect the evolving expectations of their target audiences. Looking to the future, while pleasant in the short term, the comfort of not preparing for transformation or not questioning the function of one’s media and more generally, of journalism, will be the main gravedigger of the industry.

A Passion for Status Quo

This status quo has been reinforced by the generational aspect of organizations charts. While it is natural to aim for comfort, whether individually or at different levels, the passion for status quo is not acceptable at a managerial level, which has a mission and corresponding wages, to plan the future. This mission has been for the most part ignored by an outgoing generation of stakeholders whose only goal was to increase their retirement savings in downsizing companies, an error which has crippled the entire industry in its capacity to imagine its future, to renew itself and to adapt to a world which is accelerating more each day.

On a personal note, I don’t think the media are terminally ill, nor that they have lost their raison d’être. Quite the contrary, I believe in the importance of free information as a custodian of fair, unbiased democracy. While it is an essential function, the body which carries it out is not. Today, media corporations are choosing what tomorrow will look like.

The time has come to put an end to hyperchondria. It is time to pull our heads out of the sand and to face our challenges. Journalism will be important in the future. We are here to make sure it is not doomed by our fascination for the past.

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