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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)


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.

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

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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