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Building the Future Media Organisation

One of the most cracked lenses we see “new media” with today, is that for those of us who advocate it, don’t necessarily understand how traditional media used to operate.

We have not necessarily explored at length, the impacts of convergence and the shift. But this post is not about that, but more the discussions that transpired during Ogilvy’s latest Open Room, “Journalism is from Mars, Social Media is from Venus“.

If you will bear with me, this is by no means a disciplined study of the media phenomena, merely a hypothesis built around observation. (that is one of the hallmarks that social media has – publishing perpetual beta)

So before we build the future, we have to understand what went wrong.

The birth and growth of mass media
The first instance was the Guthenberg Press, where movable type was used to print on paper. Mass printing found its way to the public. These big cumbersome machines by no means match up to computers, fibre optic cables or satellite links the connect and disseminate information to the globe. But it was revolutionary, and forms the fundamentals of mass communication.

Of course, monetisation of the media came when certain publications established themselves as independent voices and observers, it grew into a profession of news collection and sharing, and the journalist was born. Further to that, entertainment, news and other media products were shared on TV, Radio, Print, and now, the Internet.

Traditionally, media channels main revenue streams are from advertisers, who spend to buy a media spot that reaches their target audience. They have never owned that platform, perhaps in the interest of cost and keeping the ideal of the Fourth Estate in effect (arguable).

And then more and more media popped up. In retrospect, this could have been a bubble. Consumers fed media consumption, and advertisers responded and fed the media. It was a three way relationship, and it was good. (and may I add, somewhat obese)

Until…

The bubble bursts
Analog gave way to digital. In a nutshell, the dam of information broke and consumers were no longer bound by physical geographies. We could access information anytime, anywhere, and best of all, for free. Emails, blogs and Twitter all aided in the dissemination of information, but they aren’t to blame for the machine breaking.

Simply, the nature of digital information was a pandora’s box they turned the tripartite relationship on its head.

Casualties
The first casualty is of course traditional media channels. The very product that they produce was being given away for free. They’ve never had more readers, but 20% of their revenue stream (Subscribers) basically went down the toilet. But it’s the lack of advertising that will definitely land the final blow.

As advertising spend declines, more media outlets will die off around us.

And the third casualty will of course be us, the consumer, because when established news organisations don’t exist, who verifies and publishes your news to exist? Can we really, live on blogs and tweets? A look at Digg or Ping.SG reveals just the sort of news that makes user-aggregated communities. Editor-aggregated communities on the other hand, produce The Huffington Post and Tomorrow.SG

The death of a democratic media, sounds the death knoll of democracy itself.

Solutions (Closed Beta)
If you’re still with me, we can finally start talking about possible solutions. Much of the Open Room discussion culminated in, perhaps traditional and social media can work together. I think there’s some truth in there.

There are strengths and weakness for both traditional and social media. The future media organisation, leverages on the strengths of each. These are my observations:

Traditional Media
Professionalism: Ethics will come into play here as well. But, as much as journalists do it out of passion, I dare say the main unspoken motivation is professionalism. Produce quality, verified media on time. 24 hours is perhaps the bare minimum after a story breaks, but quality accurate reporting to be verified and disseminated.

Accountability: Media owners need a license to publish, and thus operate their business. They have to be accurate, and cannot publish rumours, or they will be held to task. (eg. publishing insider trading, unverified hear-say that slanders an individual.) If the media is still in business, the news will be delivered on schedule. That is quality worth paying for (both monetarily and our attentions.)

This whole “Twitter News Network” almost sickens me, but it makes are loud cry for getting those journalists on the ground, and giving us reports, holding the powers that be to task. The forth estate in action, but it’s expensive, and with a 24 hour turnaround time, this is perhaps the new standard.

Social Media
Speed: I’m really talking about the pulse. Physically, journalists are constrained by only being able to be one person, and being at one place at one time. A network of global correspondents is effective, but challenging to maintain. However, now that we can publish anytime, and anywhere, we’re something like correspondents, and at various times, capable of making very newsworthy stories.

Conversations: This is something traditional media doesn’t do very well. Perhaps it’s to remain objective, but I doubt that’s the case because we have many journalists who ARE social media advocates. But it’s in conversations that we find the value of perpetual data, viral stories, candor and to some level, authenticity.

Solutions (Open Beta)
The strengths of both Traditional and Social media, complement each other where each has failed. There’s no reason why the two shouldn’t exist, not just as a hybrid model, but as a more closely knit “media ecosystem”. I definitely view social media publishing as equatable to any media channel (some even better), and that all of us are able to add to the media, as much as subtract.

Further to that, I’d like to see traditional media sources putting timely and accurate information out for free, but putting a premium on quality content, research reports, engaging with the social media, leveraging on the pulse of non-professional journalists, and even raising the quality of social media. If brands have to build relationships with their consumers, then perhaps so should media organisations.

Case Study: Monocle
Monocle just does things differently, and has three identifiable strengths: putting a premium on their content, building a strong brand, diversification.

1. Premium Content: Started in February 2007 by Canadian journalist and entrepreneur, Tyler Brûlé, they publish 10 issues a year and distributes to 50 countries worldwide. However, the monthly gap between each issue is premium journalism, feature stories on real politicians, industry movers and shakers, and even combines a strong cultural, art and design focus for those of us with a more cosmopolitan / global outlook.

The interesting bit is their subscription model. Only print subscribers get access to their online archives and some enhanced web content. If not, most of their articles remain as print stories. Detractors may say that’s proud, and that information should be free, but I see that as taken pride in their craft, and giving quality to those who see value in paying for quality.

However, they balance their online presence very well, by sharing RSS feeds of their audio and video podcasts, some produced in collaboration with brands and government bodies. Some might be advertorials (revenue stream), some are sponsored by brands (revenue). Add that they use their own media player that doesn’t allowing embedding, owning the content and visitor equity to Monocle.com

2. Branding: Premium content for subscribers, and even non subscribers (eg. me – i buy magazine, but still have access to some of the web content) has built a relationship with me as a reader. It’s easily the smartest thing I read on a regular basis. And while I’m my own story, I’m impressed that I’ve formed a relationship with a media product and brand. They have my attention, and respect me enough to suggest various forms of advertising and advertorials without influencing me that I need to own these products and services. The tone of their content, suits the brand image they wanfit to exude.

3. Diversity: As a print magazine, they didn’t just stop at a working web model, but also branched out toward collaborations with designers to create Monocle merchandise, and finally have three shops around the globe. Also, they work by correspondents more than journalists, attracting the best in each city to create a network of news gathering deep in each industry that the monthly reports are so timely, there’s no need for a 24 hour turnaround. (context: based on what they do and want to achieve)

Their editor in chief himself writes a monthly column with the Financial Times, that can be loosely translated as a personal blog and keeps the magazine / brand current with the world and social media.

In my observation, this media channel has taken the first steps into the future as a bureau. It extends far beyond what any media channel calls itself, and uses the strengths of the Internet the connects the world, while still selling a quality service and product.

For more conversations around this topic, check this link

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Who is killing our newspapers?

Let’s get one thing straight first: in order for an ideal democratic society to exist, we require a reliable and independent media reporting objectively on public events that help a society’s stakeholders make their own informed choices (represented by their elected government.)

“The media, however, contribute also in positive ways to the functioning of politics and public life. The media provide the setting or stage on which public life is played out, (emphasis: my own) and they continue to provide the scrutiny and critique of the players in public life that is central to the democratic process.” (Craig, G. 2004, The Media, Politics and Public Life, Allen & Unwin, pp.22 – 23)

Yes, i’m quoting from an actual book source and not a hyperlink to a recently published blog. I think this demonstrates the weight of an accredited publishing source, and not just a whim. (ironic though, that i choose a digital and free medium to publish my own thoughts.)

But regardless of the benign point I’m trying to make of which medium deserves our due attention, i hope to set the stage for a concern far more pressing, and that is the implied death of democracy that comes with the death of journalism.

And with the slow decline of the print medium, is a generation of good journalism going to die away with it? It’s under this question that I hope to frame my concerns and make some sense of what is happening around us today.

it’s disheartening when you read an article like this, and realise that a lot of good journalists are being retrenched because advertising rates are falling and newspapers cannot support their organisational structure anymore.

as consumers, i don’t think we really think much about the state of journalism.. but i’m here to make a case that journalism is a valued profession in any society. democratic at least. without good quality journalism, we can only rely on ourselves to mediate the events happening around us.

like how we’ve been praising new media for highlighting the issues that really matter on the ground, that’s what good journalism did before web2.0

but somewhere along the lines, journalism, with print, tv and radio all became bloated and i think many media companies lost the plot as they realised that mass communication went hand in hand with mass consumption. in some sense, as a society, we consumed media at an alarming rate, and that gave rise to inflated budgets, ideas and egos..

what we have today, is the mob (us) turning our backs on journalism as we find free sources of news. it’s a similar thing that happened with the record industry.. but somehow i don’t feel that bad about losing redundant label executives.

but tell me that i’m losing good journalists, and i sit up to take notice.

a vast majority of us might not care about good journalism, like some of us do not care about good music. and that scares me.. or at least makes me wonder what this future’s going to be like.

a possible future
1. journalists have to diversify in skill sets. it’s no longer enough to just be able to write, you have to start being a adept photographer, podcaster, videographer and technologist. why do i say that?

because one of a journalists’ job is to capture the spirit of the times. and sadly, you can’t just do that with words alone. if the standard of journalism is to rise above citizen journalism, to produce content that not any man on the street can recreate, the professional journalist has to function under such conditions.

2. newspapers will have smaller readerships, multiple services, stronger brand presence and perhaps independent.
Almost everything that afflicts the media today is a bloated industry, that has flourished in terms of content because of the investment. But as free content continues to take centerstage, quality content suffers.

media outlets have to regroup, reorganise and deploy resources where they matter the most. such actions will need to address the fragmenting audience that plagues every media channel because ultimately, that leads to advertising rates.

by diversifying, ad revenue can be collected from multiple sources, and also, while an audience is fragmented, they are still considered part of a larger collective that give their attention to a media channel.

ie. each channel gets less revenue, but multiple sources pay the bills. it’s only a modified revenue model.. but if you made money from TV, Radio, Web & Print.. it might change things.

This is by no means exhaustive, and I do appreciate if you can share your thoughts as well.

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Two essential skills for better social media

If you’ve ever been interested in social media, i’m sure you would have come across guide after guide of exhaustive lists of what tools you should try, what tactics you can use to make your content more sharable, or perhaps even how to write better content.

that’s all well and good, but if you’re feeling swamped, i encourage you to go one step further back, and that’s to know what works for you, and how you want to address those issues.

so what i’m talking about is essentially media literacy and better communications.

media literacy
if you can read and write, i’d say you’re literate, and you’ve been the product of your education system. but media literacy, that’s the ability to make sense of the changes around you, the trends around you so that you do not get caught in an echo chamber.

increasingly, with all this talk about social media, best practices, tips and strategies, and basically everyone else banking in on the brilliant concept of “social media”, i’m afraid we’re being caught in an echo chamber. where it’s only media practitioners raving about social media with other practitioners. basically just jumping onto the bandwagon.

does a video you saw on the Internet mean it’s real? what if it’s been planted by a PR or Advertising agency? and even if it has been, does it really matter?

i work in public relations, and online conversations are one of the most exciting aspects of real communications. it helps when i know where the video came from, and what the agenda of the video is. then it allows me to interact in a purer form.

i’d say, being media literate, is to know the agenda, intents and purposes of the source of communications.

i think that’s what’s missing in our interactions with the media.. that’s why we become skeptical of corporations.. and instead of digging deeper into the truth, we usually just take it at face value.

it’s easy to type without thinking, but understanding the power of our words, the channels and tools at our disposal is essential to being better media practitioners. and in today’s day and age, we’re all media practitioners. so what separates the good ones from the bad ones?

communications
it’s very easy to ramble on a blog, and there are little checks to do quality control on the message we’re trying to get across.

if you’ve become a blogger or netizen that wants to contribute fairly and positively to the Net, then we have to become better communicators.

i believe it comes down to better communications.

say only what you need to say, and get to the point.

i love writing, and i love reading.. and i think the above statement is somewhat subjective. but without the need for guidelines or rules, let’s bank on our commonsense to communicate in a manner that addresses the issues we blog about.

let’s censor out all those personal prejudices and attacks that make for good drama, but ultimately loses the plot when we’re trying to make a point.

finally
the desire to reduce bad content on the net begins with ourselves. we’re all flawed and not perfect. let’s look at ourselves first before pointing the finger at someone else. let’s listen to what’s really being said before we craft our response. let’s communicate with as little assumptions as possible.. and then we can get onto the things that matter.

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2009: why start a new blog of all things?

welcome to the brand new singularity industries. with more and more blogs being started everyday, why would i add one more? how is one more blog going to make a difference or be heard amongst the hundreds of millions of other blogs out there?

you know what? i don’t care.

i don’t care if this gets read or not, whether i’m a digital influencer or not. that’s the beauty of blogging, i have the power to publish, and if an audience finds this a worthwhile blog, then great.. we share a relationship of audience and publisher. but my advice to anyone out there reading this is that, no one can take away your power of personal publishing, only you yourself can kill your own blog. kill your own voice.

it’s not that i don’t care about the audience. i think having an audience is great, because we can discuss ideas through a two way channel. but if i were to visualise a sphere of influence for this blog’s audience, it would be myself at the center. individually, we are always the primary audience if we are to maintain our integrity and unique voice.

it’s that same uniqueness that i believe we loved reading blogs in the first place. but more on that next time.

so why did i start a new blog? i could have done it on harmless? bananas!, but i always felt schizophrenia.. like some of the new ideas i developed didn’t seem to find it’s place on the other blog. in a sense, ideas would get diluted because of the myriad of other blog posts, sometimes not meaning anything at all, just self expression.

it’s also because i can experiment with this medium, that i did. instead of keeping all my content centralised, i’m decentralising it and letting the conversation flow wherever it takes me.

and that’s finally why i’m doing this. to make sense of all the noise that exists on the net. while our perception of noise is subjective.. i’d like to remain idealistic that i can be a signal to some. and because i care about my world, i’d like to publish what i think is responsible social content to see if there are like-minded people out there in the world, who are interested to make sense of all the signals and noise that exists in our increasingly mediated world today.

Filed under: media