More Musings on media


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Columbia Journalism Review posted (an edited version of) a speech by Emily Bell, Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. Bell was speaking to some students at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. When I read the text, I felt I usually do when I read yet another post bemoaning the state of media industry and how it had lost control to the social networks.

Bell, like many others talks about journalism decoupled from revenues and the business of media. They are tightly knit together — bad business decisions are dependence on a type of monetization are what led the industry to where it is — while the creative part of the establishment spent too much time focusing on the nuances and minutiae of journalism. We need to be asking the question – did we get here and where do we go from here.

Like many other previous pieces on the topic, Bell’s piece doesn’t really propose any new solutions to the current state of panic that is gripping the media industry. It doesn’t hold media executives accountable for their short term actions — their blind aping of the clicks & views model, their abandonment of the core values that made their products worth our time and most importantly, cramming the reader experience with malware and ads that only want people to spend their precious minutes elsewhere on the Internet that is full of so many options.

The current state of handwringing make me wonder if the media establishment actually groks the idea that change is constant and with change comes chaos and opportunity. I wonder when the media establishment will stop looking at the business from a content creation perspective, and instead look at it from the perspective of “money” or rather how money flows into the system now.

Internet, changed and deflated every industry it touched – brokerage, real estate, travel, tourism, books, music — so why is media special. I am not sure looking at the past is the answer. What I do know — I think ChartBeat has data to support this somewhere — that original journalism, especially the kind which wins you Oscars remains extremely popular. So much so, that’s exactly what Facebook wants for Instant Articles.

Reality of media today:

  1. Attention is fractionalized. Netflix is equally killing journalism as care photos from your aunt on Facebook. (Read: The distribution democracy & the future of media)
  2. Attention is not only fractionalized, it is highly distributed. (link)
  3. Social media platform algorithms reward attention with more attention.
  4. There are no monetization tools yet, because the advertising industry has been smelling its own orifices.
  5. Containers of media see irrelevant.

To recap — the beauty of the network is that you don’t have to go somewhere to find entertainment or buy things. The computer in the pocket is making it even more convenient to not go, and have everything come to you. So media as you know is over. Move on. Let’s focus on what to do.

What I do know:

  1. Great content can still focus attention — it shouldn’t matter where and how you focus it.
  2. Develop products that focus attention. Why isn’t someone writing a book of the campaign as it happens?
  3. There is no such thing as producing one size fits all content, so you don’t need a newsroom, you need news rooms focused on different platforms. Just as McDonald’s tweaked menus for different countries, why can’t media companies tweak for different social platforms.
  4. Websites become the archives of the content.

What media entities need to do:

  1. Zero in on what is working and be ruthless about what’s not, otherwise algorithm is going to relegate you to the loser spot.
  2. Hire and incentivize people, not by year end bonuses (which allow them to focus on incremental gains that gets them the bacon) but by long term goals measured by attention devoted to their products.
  3. Stop competing with Buzzfeed. Start working on your own products of excellence. The Upshot and Bloomberg Gadfly are perfect examples of good work that is unique.
  4. Find small niches, make them indispensable. Skift & Business of Fashion are good examples.  Internalize – big isn’t the only route to success.

PS: Some of my earlier thoughts on the state of media are here. #1 #2 #3 #4

From the archives: How Internet content distribution & discovery are changing.

I could go on, but I got to go and find disruption to champion….

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p style=”text-align: right;”>March 8, 2016, San Francisco

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