Traditional news media business models are under assault. The irony is that the assailant, the Internet, is also the potential saviour. Media houses have no choice but to respond by doing what they do best; capture and tell the news as if their very existence depended on it. The news media industry is at a critical junction in its quest to meet the demands of a technology-driven society. While reading the daily newspaper remains morning ritual for some, a growing number of people are using Internet-connected devices such as computers, mobile phones and tablets, to receive a constant stream of up-to-date news through a variety of alternate sources. News Web sites, blogs and even social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter all offer convenient ways for people to find and consume news content. These online sources often break stories faster and in more relevant ways than traditional media houses. There is also the growing trend of citizen journalism, where the tech savvy and digital connected can capture and disseminate stories to a global audience, from places and on topics in ways that traditional media houses are simply not set up to do.
Changing Landscape, shifting power
The business of news production is in flux and it is changing the face of journalism. With that change, power is shifting from outmoded information gatekeepers of the previous century, to those who can evolve to meet the requirements of news delivery in the Internet age. Some of the biggest global news organisations have been eager to accommodate the public’s appetite for news in more diverse formats. After all, incorporating traditional standards and values of professional journalism with the empowering connectivity and reach of digital and social media has definite benefits. Journalists can report the news more holistically, free from the print constrictions of column lengths and page size. The Internet allows for richer content, such as photos and videos, to be embedded in stories. It also allows journalists and their publishers to engage their target audience in an interactive, real time conversation in ways that simple impossible with “letters to the editor.”
Cost of Progress
But incorporating technology does not come cheaply. Managing multiple delivery channels, changing business processes, and hiring new-media specialists comes at a cost. Many media houses, facing declining circulation and advertising numbers, are struggling to cope. Media-business leaders must justify increased technology spend and explain the potential returns. The challenge is compounded when managers and media executives themselves, or the boards they report to, are not sufficiently digitally literate or aware. Still, print newspapers will have no choice but to incorporate technology into their businesses to survive. The Internet has made certain of that. The key for news media to move forward economically is to focus on an integrated digital strategy.
Print is Dead! Long Live Publishing!
Today, media houses must revisit their raison-d’etre. The core business is now publishing, not print. Consumers are expecting, and increasingly demanding access to stories as they happen. This appetite is putting pressure on new rooms around the world to churn out content at an unprecedented rate. Access to news simply cannot wait on traditional print cycles. Declining print readership is a testament to this fact. Shifting consumer expectations is in turn placing tremendous stress on traditional organisational hierarchies within media houses. The luxury of simply organising teams around a print publication and a predictable publishing cycle is no longer an option. Silos must now be broken and teams integrated fpr new organisations to be more responsive and efficient. The big challenge, though, is training old staff in the new ways. Journalists need to be able to write a story for print, upload a Web version, tweet it, and manage online interaction with readers. This is a massive shift from the submit-and-relax culture that defined many 20th century news rooms. The simple truth is, old media habits will not survive in the new media age. Media houses have little choice but to invest in staff-training, process restructuring, service innovation and even business re-organisation to remain relevant, and in business.
Adapt and Evolve
How will media houses renew themselves to respond to the dynamic changes in the Internet-enabled global electronic media environment? The answer is a work in progress. For all the tumult it has caused in print media, the Internet has brought positive change for the advertising industry. For advertising companies, electronic media allows them to better track the amount of readers actually looking at their ads. As a result, online advertising spend is on the rise. Media houses can offer advertisers a report of what pages viewers have looked at and can even include product link to ads. This gives us a pointer to the future business model for news organisations—value-added online services.
With the right systems, media houses can also offer electronic subscription services. Such models help information hungry readers and while providing advertisers with greater insight into viewer profiles and reading habits. These new tech-enabled possibilities can provide savvy media houses with entirely new revenue streams, and justify deeper excursions into digital publishing. It is increasingly becoming less costly, more practical and more profitable to publish digitally. However, as long as people like tangible objects, there will be newspapers in print. The good news is that the demand for news is actually greater than it has ever been before. The challenge now is for media houses to adapt and evolve to meet that demand.
Bevil Wooding is the founder and executive director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-focused not-for-profit delivering values-based technology training programs including digital publishing and eBook creation workshops. He is also Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwooding