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Technological advances have disadvantages

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Sorry, folks, but I'm going to talk a little shop in this column.

I was in New York City recently to cover the 11th Annual Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar, among other things, and I came away with the following observation: changes in popular culture brought forth through technology are creating a world in which media economic models are altered at increasing speeds.

This point was underscored by the conversation during my dinner with my friend and mentor, Richard Gordon. Richard was one of the independent movie producers who flourished in the period of 1950 to 1980. It was a time in film history in which producers operating out of the studio system could turn a profit with low-budget film because many theaters were locally owned.

Today, a major studio film is released at the same time on thousands of screens, but during that period an independent producer would produce a film, make a limited number of prints and then embark on a sales campaign that would release a film, state-by-state, country-by-country with the process taking several years.

Home video and corporate buyouts changed the economic model for the independent producer. The industry that thrived not too long ago is now one of the history books.

The period that followed for independent producers was one in which they made films for release to direct to home video and for less than 20 years that kind of filmmaking flourished.

While people still make films for release direct to DVD it's now more and more difficult because the mom and pop video stores that bought and showcased that kind of product no longer exist.

So the window for the theatrical indie producer was 30 years. The direct to video heyday was less than 20. See the trend?

The model for radio has changed as well again due to changes in popular culture, technology and corporate machinations. Television killed the "golden age" of radio that lasted from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s. Since then, music dominated the medium, but that is being threatened by the advances in digital devices such as the iPod that allows consumers to program the music they want to hear. So music radio had dominance from about 1954 to maybe 2012, let's say.

Corporate ownership has eliminated many locally produced talk shows and improved their bottom line by bringing in cheaper syndicated shows. But listenership is dropping at some stations.

People seem to want the interactivity that talk shows can offer, but they also want local programming. That explains the next technological/pop culture development podcasts on Web sites such as and Internet broadcasts on

The interesting thing is that with the increase in the technology that can disseminate information the Internet has seen a decrease in the number of pop cultural touchstones that we had a generation ago. Remember we had three television networks that everyone watched? That put the "broad" in broadcasting. Today we have "narrowcasting."

What does this all mean to a newspaper guy like me? Well, if I had a magic wand I'd establish what our local media guru Michael Harrison has called "a media station" a Web site that includes different ways for people to consume our local news product.

In this era in which the tidal waves of economic downturn, corporate mismanagement and decreasing standards are hurting the big media boys, we local folks have to be the surfers who must learn to ride that wave.

By the way, let me tip the summer Panama hat to Michael for his allowing me to cover his most informative event.


In last week's edition, we ran a story about an offer from one of our advertisers, the Kids' Dentist, for free exams for young children. We made a mistake about the age of the children who qualify for this service. The free examination is only for children under the age of two. A child who is two years old or older is not covered by this offer.

The story may have left the impression that pediatricians don't do a very good job in educating parents about the children's good oral hygiene. What was actually meant is that with all of the health information pediatricians must impart to parents, the facts about tooth care for infants and toddlers may not be heard as loudly as some others. The free exam helps parents understand how to avoid cavities and other dental problems.

We applaud Dr. Robert Matthews for this service and we are sorry for the confusion that was caused by the story.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.