Time to think.

When news is much more than content

Content is ruining the web. Content is ruining debate, mutual understanding, honesty and transparency. This has been beautifully outlined by the pure genius of John Oliver. In a passionate piece on the state of journalism, he looks at the never ending tidal wave of online ‘content’. If you haven’t seen it for some reason — you can find here — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq2_wSsDwkQ

There are a lot of various strands pulled together into a coherent whole, but three areas stand out for me;

1) The sheer volume and type of ‘content’ being spewed onto the web

2) The inevitable practicality that quality news content will need to be paid for by those who want to read it

3) The complete destruction of local news providers and local journalism.

Looking at each of these points briefly;

1) Content Volume and ‘Personality’ — When reading a piece by a good journalist (and by ‘good’ I do not just mean an excellent communicator, but one who is passionate, knowledgeable and has completed research) it sings to me, creating thoughts and emotions that did not previously exist. Importantly, it challenges me — challenges me to review my own thoughts and beliefs. It makes me much more aware and in some cases more knowledgeable about a subject. Unfortunately, I need to go searching for this and be aware that other opinions exist. Content sent to me or ‘personalised’ for me on my previous behaviour/readings/mindset — is not content that will open me up to a whole new way of thinking. It will not expose me to conflicting opinions. It’s reinforcing my own thoughts and beliefs, bombarding me with bilge — unconsidered, provocative nonsense.

Side note — Personalisation of content and services can be a good thing — when considered in the wider whole of a user experience. But applied without an understanding of context and a user’s wider digital needs is a little naïve. It’s an area that I’m starting to investigate as part of my PhD. The opportunity that the internet first provided — of increased knowledge, experiences and communication is being shunted into silo’s that each focus on narrow outcomes — ‘buy this’, ‘do that’ etc. There is nothing wrong with achieving these outcomes — but there is a wider opportunity to link these together — maybe AR/VR and IoT will bring that to the wider consciousness — I’m sure I’ll spend hours finding out.

2) Content is the most visible example of the a ‘two tier’ web. One for those who can afford (or want) to read considered, researched pieces. One for those that cannot afford (or want) to do so. Unfortunately, the trend is that content not behind a paywall is usually more ‘headline grabbing’ in nature. Using the wonderful term ‘Clickbait’ these are ‘stories’ that are inevitably less well researched and project a much more personal or influenced (occasionally through payment) opinion. This content is currently where a majority of advertisers like to spend their digital marketing budget — the more eyes the better. It is irrespective if these eyes are a million miles away from any target market or segment. This advertising spend only serves to further feed the beast of this type of content creation. This only serves to attract more eyes and thus the circle of crap is complete. If you want to avoid this — then pay for content — you’ll still see adverts — but they are personalised (which is at least a little more considered)!

This has worked for The Times, it works for many market specific publications (although Private Eye, I am delighted to say — stays offline). It even works (in a loose way) for the BBC. There is an inevitability that The Guardian will have to follow this route. They are currently looking for readers to subscribe through a voluntary membership fee but it does appear as a paywall will arrive.

This two-tier web is not just between the ‘haves/have nots’ or ‘willing/unwilling’ — it is also has a generational aspect — which could be driven by environment or learned behaviour. I did complete a ramblechat on this some time ago in February 2015. If you are interested you can read it on Medium — http://bit.ly/2aOh9ec.

3) Local Journalism and newspaper production is in complete meltdown. Without the scale, the (albeit diminishing) advertising revenue and resources of the national or international press local journalism is in a terrible state. Layoff’s are rife — ironically this occurs often when the local title is consumed by a larger organisation such as Johnston Press or Trinity Mirror (both of whom are struggling to compete with digital providers). The solution? Share resources and news stories from other titles in the stable. Use user generated content to fill the gaps. Don’t worry so much about covering local government or company news. Result? Duplicate content that is of no relevance. Articles generated by readers and only loosely checked by journalists. Finally, decisions made by Local Government in the interests of the minority without full consultation with the wider community. It is a sorry state.

The BBC are trying to do something about this, They have invested over £150 million in local news. It took considerable lobbying, negotiation and effort to reach this stage — which highlights historical resistance and narrow minded thinking in this increasingly pressurised sector. However, this is nonetheless a welcome development — https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/11/bbc-to-fund-150-local-news-journalists.

There are also a number of companies starting to look to bridge that gap between digital and localism. The most interesting of these in my opinion is Bundle. It is an iOS app which localises news based on a user’s location — as you move your news moves with you. It’s a great idea and applies news personalisation based on using a fluid dynamic (geography). You can check it out at http://bundle.news/

What is the overarching solution to the current state of news and content? I’m not sure that there is one at the moment — everything is so fluid that my own view is to make sure I am aware.

Aware of where the story has come from.

Aware of the delivery channel.

Aware to ensure that I keep an open mind, am willing to be wrong and to always be ready to learn.

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