To Survive, Media Should No Longer Be Media
Value creation is more important than content creation
The tendency of churning out cheap unwanted news with the help of attractive headlines and technology is exactly what ails the media industry today.
Media by definition is a means to reach an audience. Yet, just like technology cannot exist in a vacuum without impacting lives and productivity, media cannot exist without building equity. Even when it is Twitter, a representative of the new media, the disconnect for users has been that it remains just a place where news is reported, never the place where news happens. If Twitter were to stop tomorrow, the world will not miss a beat. There is someone else who will replace it, and maybe provide a better experience. This is because Twitter is essentially a medium and its advantage is only comparative.
Advertisement revenue cannot sustain a business because advertisers, by nature, jump to where the eyeballs are. And nowadays, with eyeballs becoming the metric, media goes behind stories that everyone wants to hear. But everyone else is also going behind the same story, and there are few unique voices. Even if your story sits behind a paywall, a blogger has better analysis and perspectives on the same story, with the same or better sources, so I won’t care to subscribe to your article.
When will I want to pay? Let us take Bloomberg as an example, at the same time conceding that Bloomberg is not solely a media business. That is exactly the point. They have ubiquitous presence in every financial business center and they cater to the subscriber with data which sometimes is not available anywhere else. Bloomberg has cheaper competition that makes it costlier for them to compete, but none of the contenders provide the whole enchilada the way Bloomberg does. This is a media organization that builds equity, partly because media is not what drives its business revenue.
Bloomberg is famous for using Apple-like tactics to build their brand and charging heavily for the service. The extent of protection Bloomberg builds to limit access to its data and how they still manage to stay competitive is phenomenal. Some of the data they provide is highly specific and might not be relevant or useful to the general user but the detail-orientation caters to that one individual who needs it. And they have the support mechanism to make sure the user is guided and trained to properly use their well-guarded datamine. This is true localization, a word which has lost its meaning because media mistakenly equates it to covering events nearer to its audience.
Let us go back to the same paywall that we brought up earlier. When WSJ produced a detailed research report about Theranos, that was something that the blogger could not do. In some sense, it owned the news and did not just report it. However, though WSJ did a commendable job, what lacked was the presentation. If the same report was produced by the new media, say Vox, there would be better visual presentation and use of digital resources to bring out the pain that went into the research, interviews with authoritative voices, integration of reader feedback and better presentation of the evidence that WSJ collected to come to their conclusion. Staying away from taking sides on the Theranos controversy, we can still substantially argue that such stories impact lives, investment and policy. We need media to do the legwork to bring out facts and trigger public debates.
In summary, media cannot survive as media alone. Moreover, new media, instead of focusing on the eyeballs, should start looking at value creation that a blogger sitting at home cannot replicate. The value has to be demonstrated first before it is put behind a paywall.
This ultimate transformation of media is something we can call Media as a Service. But this evolution will mean that the journalist’s job as we know it will see a marked change. I foresee media evolving to a stage where the journalist’s role will be split into two: one of a subject matter expert who lives and breathes in that area of research (for instance, a doctor with actual medical practice when it comes to a healthcare story) and that of a ghost-writer and media designer who can transform the research into consumption-ready content.