You've got to love this little bon-bon Bill Gates tossed into his remarks at Microsoft's Strategic Account Summit on Tuesday. In the midst of declaring that print is dead and that we'll all soon be reading War and Peace on our cell phone screens, he adds, "I have a lot of friends in the newspaper industry," then continues to shovel dirt on that industry's grave. Friends? Name one, Bill. Like you're regularly raising beers with Frank Blethen at the Times? Baking clams on the beach over at the P-I? When was the last time you dropped by our office for a cup of coffee?
The self-interest here is fairly naked: Gates was pissing on newsprint for an audience of online ad sales people, who are busy trying to wrestle advertising revenues away from the paper-and-ink crowd. Like most papers today, Seattle Weekly sells both kinds of ads. But we're also in the news business, which often involves communicating to readers what powerful interests (Microsoft included) would rather keep quiet. It's possible to agree, reluctantly, with Gates' bleak assessment of print ("Reading is going to go completely online") without sharing this sentiment:
"A good example of how media is [sic] changing is Microsoft itself. Classically, if we wanted to get news out about a product, we'd go to some broadcast news channel, talk to them, get the interview out there. I guess people who watch TV during the day see that, if they just happen to have it on at that moment. And it's kind of a mix of things, there's a new candy bar announced, a new car, a new piece of software. It's not very targeted."
Exactly: It's not targeted and tailored to communicate what the manufacturer, in this case Microsoft, wants to sell to consumers. In Gates' model of news—whether streamed or podcast or beamed to your BlackBerry—it's the corporation deciding "to get news out," in the shape and manner of its choosing. News isn't something revealed (in answer to questions or by other means), but something told to you, dictated from above. A product launch, in other words.