Bob Garfield speaks about the future of journalism and 'brave new world' of ads

By Zach Selke

Renowned journalist Bob Garfield talked to a packed house in Weyerhauser Chapel on Monday about the future of American media as part of the Broadcast Journalist Series, sponsored by the Humanities, Media and Cultural Studie Department. NPR’s show “On the Media,” which Garfield co-hosts, has a long history in some of the nation’s most respected news outlets. His lecture focused on the tenuous relationship between advertising agencies and the media.Garfield highlighted the irony of the first music video ever played on MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and MTVs losing battle with online video outlets such as YouTube. As the so-called MTV generation is aging, Garfield said, so too are the media institutions and advertising techniques used to reach mass audiences. With the rise of digital video recorders and streaming video content online, advertising agencies are struggling to reach their target audiences.

“In two years, DVRs will be in almost half the household in the United States,” Garfield said. “Very soon, advertisers will dramatically decrease spending on television and will shift to online venues.”

The problem, Garfield said, lies in the unwillingness of advertisers to adapt in such a volatile media environment.

“Advertising agencies are disserving their clients,” he said. “They are more concerned with winning trophies instead of selling products. The 30-second commercial is dead, yet we still see advertisers trying to keep the same structure in online advertising.”

Garfield argued that consumers crave information, but like to be in control of how and when they receive information. Garfield predicted the arrival of a “brave new world” of advertising in which consumers choose to engage with interactive advertising and consumers pay for content that was previously supported by advertising revenue.

The evening concluded with a question and answer session with the audience, comprised predominantly of members outside the Macalester community.

Audience members asked several questions about the future of news media and journalism. Garfield argued that local news outlets need to redefine themselves as community hubs and journalists need to utilize the communities they serve.

“I thought that Bob had some real insights into what’s ailing the mass media in this day and age,” Andrew Guyton ’10 said. “The audience was familiar with the problems Bob brought up, and I think that when he realized this, he raised the level of discourse accordingly.