Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Media and the Web: What impact does the digital revolution have on the media and their customers?

There have been some interesting outlooks on the role of newspapers and the Web recently that give some thought-provoking perspective on what might happen next to the media.

Joe Grimm, a Detroit Free Press recruiting and development editor, reported on a USA Today workshop that was co-sponsored by the Online News Association.

The workshop looked at converged newsrooms.

Some of the quotes Grimm included in his column:

“Kinsey Wilson, USA Today executive editor and member of Poynter’s national advisory board, called the digital revolution the biggest change since Gutenberg, one that is both pervasive and participatory.”

He added about Wilson: “He called it an upending of the traditional business model for mainstream media. The three legs of the platform for traditional media — content, distribution and audience — have been de-monopolized by inexpensive, open and standardized tools for transmission, content exchange and RSS feeds. This has turned citizens from media consumers into creators.”

That is an interesting perspective. For those of us who consume the news in today’s world: we often lean towards the buffet approach. We sample and collect news, sports, weather, entertainment and other types of information from a large number of sources. We are no longer loyal to just one television or radio station, or one newspaper or magazine.

When it comes to the internet, we feel like we have wandered into the largest buffet selection on the planet and no line-up in our way. We aren’t content to stay with one website, but are always searching and manipulating what we have on the menu: thanks to Google and other sources, we can select what subjects we want on a home page, how many stories on each topic, and even what are the sources of the information.

There are good and bad things that emerge from such an approach. For example, by being too selective or restrictive on sources and subjects, we may miss out on critical issues or news events, or we might pick information sources that aren’t the most credible.

The lesson the Web has taught is that if someone doesn’t agree with or believe something in the mainstream media, somewhere out there is an alternate source that discredits the mainstream sources and may hold a perspective closer to that of the news skeptic.

Suddenly, Wikepedia becomes the gospel, obscure private websites by unknown or unreliable sources seem to spew pure wisdom, and fact and fiction are mixed beyond recognition.

Please don’t think all mainstream media stories are faultless, flawless and totally factual. But unfortunately, sometimes when people are selecting their new sources of information, the new sources may be less trustworthy than people realize but are not questioned as deeply as they should.

Another point made by Grimm: he quoted Dan Froomkin, whose column in The Washington Post is called White House Watch. Grimm said Frommkin “sees big opportunities for journalists who can break away from the traditional, institutional monotone and write with voice, passion and knowledge.

“If you could have dinner with a great national reporter, you wouldn’t ask, ‘What happened today?’ you’d ask for the story behind the story, how things work or about the future. Passion, authority and authenticity will bring readers to us.”

That last line is a great quote. As newspapers ponder how to attract readers back, websites must contemplate how to attract and keep audiences in the first place. Passion, authority and authenticity: These would help any news organization, no matter what format information is delivered, to attract and gain the respect of its audiences.

Think of the media you see, hear or read each day. Look at the work done by reporters, editors, columnists, anchors. Are they just doing a job — or is there a passion in how they do the story, how they present it to consumers, and even behind why they did the story in the first place?

If journalists don’t have passion, they shouldn’t be in journalism. Journalists are supposed to be storytellers, and hopefully show interest in the stories they tell. The stories matter to the audiences, but also to the people whose stories are being told.

As for authority, local or regional agricultural newspapers sometimes earn titles such as being called the “farmers’ bible.” When people trust these newspapers so greatly to become the ultimate authority on agriculture, these newspapers need to deliver. The facts must be right, the sources must be solid, the effort must be made to make sure the story is relevant, interesting and meets the information needs of the audience.

That isn’t new. Journalists have always had a serious role to play in our society. So what makes their role different now with changing technology?

Howard Owens of GateHouse Media, recently said (from Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues ) in The Rural Blog that the media are changing, and that newspapers must adapt. “You think it’s changed fast until this point?” he asked. “It hasn’t even started … If we don’t embrace participation with our communities, we’re not going to survive, especially online.”

Owens makes a good point. Perhaps one of the biggest changes for us as journalists is we are changing our roles in the community. We must look for ways to get and keep our communities involved, build relationships with them, find out more of what they want and not just give them what we think they deserve. As we create new directions for ourselves, we must continually ask is this really what our audiences want? Do we merely yearn to meet their expectations, or do we continually grow in our ideas and service so we can exceed their expectations?

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at Microsoft’s Strategic Account Summit online advertising conference in Seattle. (Bill Gates’s speech )

Here are some excerpts of what he said, starting with “customer driver interaction”:

“Next we have the idea that the media itself will be quite different. You know, who can create this media? Who can distribute it? How do you find what you’re interested in? I have a lot of friends in the newspaper industry, and of course this is a tough, wrenching change for them, because the number of people who actually buy, subscribe to the newspaper and read it have started an inexorable decline. In fact, if you look at it by age group, it’s quite dramatic how different that is. People have found some combination of TV and the Internet as the way that they can get their news, even the local news that historically was only available in that print-based form.

“And for many years, even as readership started to go down, the value of print advertising maintained itself, because the dollars per user sort of offset these subscription declines. Now it’s kicked into a point where people are shifting budgets into the new areas, and that’s a very tough challenge, and it means they need to take a lot of their skills, a lot of their expertise and move it into that Internet world.

“But it’s a very different world. It’s not a world where you have a single person who can deliver things like the classified ads, you have many people competing. …”

“So the Internet is like a lot of things, the only sure winner with the breakthrough are the consumers themselves. There will be some companies that do well out of it, but it really, most of it, passes on to simplify things for now the not only hundreds of millions but billions of users who are connected up through these devices. …”

Gates then talked about how he sees more people doing all their reading online, and that even advertising will be more for online with better quality:

“So reading is going to go completely online. We believe that as we get the smaller form factor, the screen has gotten good enough. Why is reading online better? It’s up to date, you can navigate, you can follow links. The ads in the online reading are completely targeted as opposed to just being a run of prints where many of the readers will find it completely irrelevant. The ads can be in new and richer formats. In fact, the only drawback of the digital form are the things associated with the device, how big is it, heavy is it, how many hours of power does it have, how much do I have to spend to buy it? But those are things that once you achieve that threshold in terms of the convenience and the cost, then you see a dramatic change in behavior. Today for people who read newspapers and magazines, even the most avid PC user probably still does quite a bit of reading on print, but as the device moves down in size and simplicity, that will change, and so somewhere in the next five-year period we’ll hit that transition point, and things will be even more dramatic than they are today.

Gates talked about changes in the media, even with Microsoft, and how everything is becoming more targeted:

“A good example of how media is 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. And say it gets on some business’ channel, 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.

“If you compare that to actually having a video channel that we create ourselves on the Internet, that’s there when the big event is happening, it’s there on demand, you can search it, that’s a much better way, it’s a more direct way of getting at those people and giving them that flexibility. …”

To be more targeted, Gates emphasized that the media needs to know more about the users of its information. The company that will be most successful is the one that knows its customers the best and their behavior — then targets business towards them and those behaviors:

“As we start to get better numbers about user behavior, and as we have this targeting infrastructure, the opportunity and some of the complexity of these things goes up even more. As we think about targeting, even something like reading a newspaper online, on the Internet, the person who is most who is putting the ads, filling in the white spaces around those articles, who that is most valuable to, is the person who understands that user the best.

“So in the future, instead of just a publication saying, OK, I’ll go to a single provider who will do that, it will actually be a richer thing than that, because the publisher knows something about that particular reader, and various other companies, say, who have that user on their portal, or see the search operations that user has done recently, they know enough and it’s really a combination of that knowledge, far more than the article itself, that allows you to think, what should I display in that context.

“So the way you create a digital bid market is that you don’t just take an entire publication, but any inventory and say, OK, who’s got the inventory who has the understanding of this user, so that it operates in the best way possible. That’s a dynamic that’s yet to come. And one clear message you get out of this conference is, Microsoft is very committed to make sure that we have either the, or one of a very few leading environments where that happens in. We believe that a rich marketplaces, very competitive here are very important to realize the full potential of this.

“As we think about these ads, the ads themselves, creating them, making them rich, and that letting you engage, so that those things can be interactive, that’s an important thing. And the tools that we’ve had for creating software applications, and tools for doing rich media things have always fairly separate. The interactive world, the video world, and the normal computer application world, have been different, three different worlds. And just in the last month we’ve announced a new technology, called Silverlight, that brings the richness of all these things together, yet does it in a way that any PC user, Mac user, in the future phone user, will be able to connect up to these things.

Gates’ viewpoints are interesting on the future of the media, the potential increasing for people reading online, what will happen to advertising, and how media companies can be most successful in the future with their customers.

Tying together all these different messages and sources, perhaps the biggest lessons coming out of this is everyone believes the traditional media is changing in incredible ways, and now is the time that consumers have the most say in what information they want and how they want it.

If media are to survive, they must also change, adapt and most important of all, be in tune with the audiences they serve: Know who they are, what they want, and how they want that information.

Unless companies figure it out, they will lose the audiences they need to survive, and the customers will find other information sources that are continually growing in this fast-paced, ever growing global online buffet.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues , The Rural Blog . Bill Gates’s speech . Online News Association, Poynter’s, The Washington Post

, , , , ,
, , , ,

No comments:

Ag in the West social media watch

Capital Press videos on YouTube

Our most popular videos