The popular view is that traditional media is dying as we all stop reading the newspapers and instead pass our time on Twitter and Facebook. For the generation that grew up with the Internet, the idea of reading traditional print media and watching the 6 o’clock news is an anathema. They get their news and perspective from a raft of sources: friends, Internet friends (bloggers, communities etc), people they follow on Twitter and of course online media. But it would be wrong to say that the media’s role has been relegated to a bit part. The media still fuels the vast majority of twitter feeds for the adult world for example. Indeed without traditional media, Twitter and Facebook would be very dull places. Sadly the direct consumption of that media has dropped as people opt for the 140 character summary. This is unlikely to change very soon. Society now expects us to cram more and more and more in to our day. In turn we are evolving as entertainment, news and perspective consumers into a population that expects to have its content delivered in a concentrated form. We expect the middle east crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan and the latest jobless report to be summarized into a sentence or two. We may be willing to look beyond the headline but a 5000 word article is just not going to be read, unless it is an amazing read, regardless of its import. For journalists this is a nightmare come true. These people were/are trained to dissect the news and give us the important perspectives. They don’t even try to do that in 140 characters, or even 140 words in most cases. But the future of journalism relies on their ability to adapt to this evolution in consumer behavior. Some journalists get this and are embracing the opportunities online brings. Many are simply ignoring the winds of change and are hoping that consumers will simply go back to the good ol’ days, or at least their publishers are. This isn’t going to happen just like we haven’t all ditched our cars and gone back to riding horses. So, the media must adapt and adapt fast. Here are some of my thoughts on how it could adapt:
1. Fragment even faster. The media has become fragmented but instead of fighting it it could champion it. Instead of subscribing Forbes we can subscribe to Quentin Hardy. Instead of making the magazine the icon, make the reporter the rock star.
2. Create a new content model. We currently have news, news analysis, features etc. This model hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Why not have news analysis pieces and features that are 200 words long but link to ten separate features that are also 200 words in length? In other words make a 2000 word feature a collection of 200 words articles that fit together.
3. Charge by the article not by the magazine. We have all got used to iTunes and paying 99c or $1.29 for a track. Why not offer news related content on the same basis from rock star reporters?
4. Personalize it. For over a decade the media has talked about making news more personal. It hasn’t really happened. My homepage gathers a bunch of news from traditional sources. It doesn’t to appear to have learned anything about what I like or don’t like. At least half the content gets ignored and much of the rest gets only a cursory view. It’s time for the media to REALLY act in this area.
My view is simple. The media has all the assets to succeed. It has talent and content. It simply needs to rethink its channel strategy. We all care about the media and we all want the media to succeed but that doesn’t mean we always will. A diminishing role for the media is a realistic prospect but it isn’t inevitable.
PS – I just realized that most people stopped reading (even if they started) some 3000 characters ago.
Traditional media is shrinking. This shrinkage isn’t yet to a point where it will die any time soon but as we all know the media is becoming an ever smaller universe. Online readership is doing far better than print but still the overall trend is towards a smaller media landscape. So does that mean as PR people we should care proportionally less about the media? It could be argued that we should, since people are spending their time doing other things than reading the news or watching TV. I’d argue the opposite however. I believe that even though fewer people are subscribing to newspapers or watching the daily news on TV, that traditional media has not lost its position of power when it comes to influencing consumer behavior. While the number of people that may read an original article may be falling, the potential influence of that article is potentially greater. Only 20 years ago the idea of seeing a news article and forwarding it to 100 people was at best a time consuming and expensive exercise. Today, anyone with Internet access can do it. In other words, 20 years ago, a news article was as powerful as the people who happened to read it that day (give or take a few people that found it later in their library). Today an article is as good as the number of people that read it and then forward it PLUS the number of people who then find it later when doing a search on Google, PLUS the number of people who find it because someone blogged about it, PLUS the number of people that found it because it was tweeted about, PLUS… you get the picture. I’d therefore argue that even if traditional media circulation is dropping, it’s importance is not. Just as there is a computing law that says the power of a network is proportional to the number of computers attached to that network, I’d argue that the power of the media is connected to the number of people linked to the media. Traditionally that link may have been a subscription. Today it’s a hyperlink.