Ice getting thin under News Corps in new media

  • Jon Lund 

After more than five years of skating the new media, the ice gets thinner and thinner under the feet of the news corporations. This far the news corps have simply replaced one set of media (newspaper, radio, TV etc.) with another (the internet). For each day the limitations of this approach become more and more obvious. Unfortunately the newspapers will have a hard time changing their course. The path they’ve followed this far is the only obvious one, and a change of direction requires them to make a break with several deeply routed modes of work.

This is the impression I’m left with after two days of conferencing at New Media Days Thursday and Friday in Copenhagen last week. Let me explain why.

Media aren’t News (Media corps have to switch focus to other content types)
The past 50 years films, games, quizzes and puzzles, and society-gossip – as well as highly qualified, niche-content, has moved onto the media scene claiming the role as media-content in its own right. But in the public discourse and in the self-understanding of journalists, news has this far managed to define the concept of media. This has been possible due the control the traditional, and high prestige, news corporations have exercised over the major media channels. News corps has decided what to print (or broadcast) and where to print it.

The coming of new media, launches a profound attack to this dominance. With sms, chat, messaging, podcasting and blogging, news corps no longer hold the key to communication. Everyone can communicate to and with anybody they wish to these days.

One effect of this is that news now definitely is pushed from the throne. When users gain control over media channels the evolution of the media stops evolving around the news categories. In pure terms of volume quizzes, games, betting, and various kinds of gossip far succeeds news. And in terms of development of media these categories takes control. The news corps who gets their grip of this situation, and develop platforms for these content types as well, will position themselves for the mediabattle of today and tomorrow. Not only in order to grow and make money on this new new-media content – but also in order to stay in touch with the mass audience and develop their news offerings in ways also suitable for generations of tomorrow.

Content aren’t stuff done by elitist mediaworkers (media corps have to engage with users)
Once a time the content of media was created by elitist media workers, called producers, journalists and the like, to be consumed by the public. Today the largest encyclopedia on the web, wikipedia, is created by the users in a chaotic and yet selfcontrolled process. The numbers of blogs is presently growing with several thousand a week – each of these letting the blog-audience participate in the content-development of the blogs though commenting. Korean ohmynews.com news-site are completely written by users and both Google and Yahoo news-websites collects content and aggregate in a whole, untouched by man, ways, automatically displaying the most relevant, important and latest published content.

Responding to the immediate needs of – and engaging in dialogue with – users requires a very different approach to the task of “producing” content. The transition, therefore, is difficult. But if news corps wants to be in the center of the new media development, this is what it takes.

Distribution isn’t Broadcasting (media corps will have to make content suited for viral distribution)
News corps has traditionally broadcasted their content in a one-to-many distribution manner. Todays newspaper exists in one version. All viewers watching the same tv-channel see the same program.
In new media things are different. “Distribution” happens by one site linking to interesting content on another. By one person forwarding, sms’ing or messaging a link – or the content itself – to one or more others. When talking new media distribution is many-to-many and viral-like. The pace and scope of the distribution is generated only by the relevance of the content and the ease of distributing it.

News corps need to adopt to this fact. Forget about the long, this-is-the-whole story, story. Build up your content in small blocks, offering the user different entries to the subject. And make sure each and every of these blocks are easily available for forwarding in different ways.

By adopting to these new terms of distribution, news corps can position themselves in the driving seat of media development. (Afraid of loosing traffic and money this way? Don’t be. If your content is good enough chances are users will gladly visit your site to learn more.)

Stay clear of the shaky ice
To avoid being trapped in a dead end these guidelines might show the way forth for media corps: Set the focus on non-news, produced in collaboration with users, and with the ease of “viral” distribution in mind.

Doing like this probably won’t be easy, however. Buying yourself some new gear won’t do it in itself. Neither will hiring a few talented people, placing them in a room and asking them to develop your media corps new media-products, bring safety for tomorrows news corps.

What’s needed from news corps is something else: a change of the ways contentmaking and distribution are being perceived throughout the organisation.

Not easy, but needed in order to stay clear of the shaky ice, being able to enjoy the safe skating on the new media ice of tomorrow.