Friday, July 16, 2010

How Traditional Media Houses Can Cope in the 21st Century

By Aidan Prinsloo, the Newcomer

How do traditional media houses adapt to the digital age? The resounding consensus on this subject is that media houses need to learn how to incorporate social media. The economic recession and what Megan Knight, Senior Lecturer in International Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, calls a self-fulfilling rumour mill are driving advertisers away from print media. This is not all too bad, if one considers that advertisers still need to rely on the media to access the public. Rather, they are slowly shifting to social media – a move that can be harnessed by media houses.
Julie Posetti, a journalism lecturer at the University of Canberra, holds that media houses need to be flexible in their approach to content. That is, they need to learn how to incorporate professional journalism with civilian journalism, social media with investigative journalism, traditional platforms with digital platforms. Online media may bring a lower turnover, but it allows for news agencies to tap directly into the needs and wants of their audiences. By doing so, news agencies can remain relevant to their target markets.

One thing news agencies will have to accept is that they can no longer tap into generalised audiences. Knight points out that, while in the 20th century families would watch, read and listen to the news together; today people are far more individualistic. Certain groups of people tend to watch certain types of news – something that has been true since the beginning of time. News agencies should accept that they now appeal to particular niches and should focus on delivering content which appeals to those niches.

Professor McAdams of the University of Florida points out that people have always wanted news, and that people have always sought out news that they find pertinent to their lives. Instead of seeing social media as a threat to investigative journalism, one should realise that it is simply a new platform for social news – something people have always been interested in.

With this in mind, Matthew Buckland, of, holds that the best business model for media companies operating in both traditional and digital spheres is not the convergence model. In the convergence model, the same content is developed by the same teams for different platforms. Yet, the content and nature of digital news and the way we consume it is significantly different to that of traditional media. It would be misleading to approach the two arenas with the same expertise. Different strategies are required in each sphere for them to be successful and therefore each platform should have a separate division focussed on it.

As media houses change to accommodate these developments in the market, they should focus on preserving one of the most important aspects of 20th century journalism: investigative journalism. Posetti argues that journalists are morally obliged to expose events that people would find relevant if they knew about them. She recalls the role of journalism in bringing Apartheid down and what foreign journalism could have prevented in Rwanda. Investigative journalism takes up a very small percentage of viewing time and print space presented by news agencies, but it is undoubtedly the most valuable.

However, investigative teams cost money and take time – two resources of scant availability in a digital age. Two possible models have been suggested for sustaining investigative journalism: opening up the process to the public and public funding. In the first, serves as model in which journalist post proposals for investigative projects online and the public votes for, and subsequently contributes towards, the projects which they feel are the most relevant. The second option is state-funded journalism such as the BBC and the SABC. Naturally, the problem of people and organisations’ agendas interfering is ever present – but when has it not been? What is required is professional and civilian journalists who are passionate about spreading relevant and truthful news, and this passion needs to be supported by the public.

Fears that we are seeing the end of journalism as it has been practiced in the past 400 years seem to be unfounded. Yes, the way news and journalism is being approached is changing, but it has always changed. Before the rise of online media, people were afraid that radio would destroy print, that television would destroy radio and so forth. Instead, with each development, we have witnessed the sustained diversification of platforms, each appealing to a slightly different market. The most successful media houses will be those that can adapt to the new landscape while realising that people’s demand for relevant and accurate news has not changed.

Listen to the audio podcasts below:
(* press F5 to Refresh on your keyboard if the video does not appear on your screen)

1. Megan Knight Illustrates the Evolution of Journalism

2.  Julie Posetti - Workable Business Models for the Next Decade

3.  Prof. Mindy McAdams - Social News as a Precondition in Journalism


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