by Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Media Rumble 2018, organized at India Habitat Centre, by Newslaundry and Teamworks, and supported by Facebook, was curated around the theme of News What It Can Be. The ten points on the possibilities of news media that I could gather are briefly as follows.
First, the tsunami of false and fake news and post-truths in media seems to be winning now, but the battle against it has just started and the warriors of factual news are giving an increasingly stronger challenge in every possible way: through the use of Google reverse image search, TinEye, the free video to jpg converter transforming video into images, and InVid. Google has developed several tools for facts and video checking, and so has Facebook started several measures to create awareness against false news, to identify and pluck them.
Second, the need for media literacy and a higher net literacy is felt stronger than ever before and media organizations need to have content and programs focussing on creating awareness on what type of media to be consumed and how, and how to identify and avoid false and fake news. This is an urgent need of the day.
Third, the need for visionary investors today was felt stronger than ever before specially when technology is seen ceasing its utility in wrong hands and data often seen as being mined, stored and used for specific interests only which may be even detrimental to the common good. Social values of technology and data can be harnessed in news initiatives backed by visionary investors.
Fourth, though women are quite numerous in television newsrooms, especially in English, that is not the reality in language TV newsrooms and in print newsrooms in general, more particularly in the smaller towns. Cultural shift is needed in newsrooms to take the focus away from patriarchy or marriage or patronizing discourse with regards to women media professionals.
Women in newsrooms are seen to bring in more transparency, democracy and collaborative partnerships. As someone noted, creative destruction can come in newsrooms with a bit of woman-bonding through handholding and seeing another woman as an ally.
Fifth, the news industry revenue is going through a churn like never before. Currently, 38% of total global ad-spending is in the digital medium, which has gained heavily from the print which has come down to 9% globally. Television is at 34%, globally, but is on fast decline. Rest 19% are distributed among radio, outdoor, events, and myriad other channels.
Advertising pundits opine that digital will finally stabilize at two-thirds of all ad-spending globally. This makes a strong case for news media focusing on the digital platform all the more. There is no need to create different teams for print and television and digital. In fact, an integrated newsroom is the right thing to do and creating multi-skilled multi-media convergent team of journalists on field and on desk is a must for the news of tomorrow.
Sixth, not just digital, but mobile first will be the new mantra of the news media in the future. Worldwide and in India, consumption of news on mobile and news on the run is galloping ahead with the sharp rise in the use of smart-phones. Ability to tell news in the first one paragraph that fits the mobile handset screen is important. Then creating hooks to read more.
Seventh, digital news media of tomorrow shall experiment with diverse revenue sources apart from traditional advertising on the web. There is the subscription route, the crowd-funding route, the Paywall route, the events route, social campaigns route, co-subscriptions with non-competing content platforms, customized story-telling for brands, collaborative revenue sharing among media platforms with similar approach, etc.
Eighth, solutions journalism taking a stand or a perspective will stand out and create its niche audience to be catered to through news, views, humour, info-graphics, events, referrals, etc. Loyalty to such specific brands can be leveraged through membership drive as well which goes beyond just subscriptions. New York Times is a good example in this. Wall Street Journal has developed a membership model with Fox TV and Harper Collins publishing together, benefitting all three.
Ninth, legacy media needs to be innovative to survive. Just in US, from 1410 daily newspapers in 2000, it is now 1286 in 2018. So, print news is on decline, but not going away for sure over the next decade or more.
Newscorp is the world’s largest digital real estate company: it moved from Mansions coverage in print and digital space to owning up digital media brands of real estate across the world. Thinking beyond the known comfort zones would be needed.
Tenth, media has traditionally been the gate-keeper and agenda-setting has been a prominent function of every legacy news platform. With multiple options of news, entertainment and engagement available to each consumer, news media has to creatively be the gate opener which brings newer consumers and the existing ones repeatedly to its doorstep.
The big picture of the brand concept of a news media has to be to engage people without them asking for it, and creatively, not obtrusively. They may give away sources of stories, can refer to other news sites for further support to the readers, give solutions, integrate digital video with textual stories, etc.
So, content is still the king and shall always be, but commerce may help it rule longer. Hence, content led commerce shall be important going ahead. For example, a media platform can tie up with Walmart or Amazon, review the products they offer, and take margin on sales.
Alongside, news media must know that they need to worry about time or attention span of their audiences, and not their competition. They have to move to engage the audience and not just resort to merely a clickbait journalism for short term gains.
(The author is School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai campuses. He has been earlier the Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities, and of Whistling Woods School of Communication.)