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Summary:

The facts for the publishing industry are clear – the vast majority of media outlets are declining in one or more ways.

Two years ago, I…

Worried baby - @Themediaisdying avatar

The facts for the publishing industry are clear – the vast majority of media outlets are declining in one or more ways.

Two years ago, I registered @themediaisdying – a Twitter account through which I tweet links illustrating the industry’s challenges to nearly 25,000 followers. Now, as it enters its third year, some things clearly have changed – and others still desperately need to…

Running @themediaisdying network remains straightforward – evidence for its eponymous premise, tragically, pours in. Despite new technologies and bursts of advertising confidence, the velocity of publishing outlets going under, online-only or changing publishing schedules gives only temporary relief to those in an industry that is now, in my view, fundamentally doomed unless a mindset is changed.

Here’s what I’ve learned…

The brutal truth

“What is the brutal truth?” is a demi-mantra I have started applying to all my communications and strategies, when working with clients and thinking about big issues.

For example, when I sat down to write this, I mind-mapped the topics I could cover, left it for a day, went back and underlined the words ‘chore’ and ‘commitment’ with a battered Sharpie. Boom.

The brutal truth, rightly or wrongly is this: consuming news remains laborious and a significant time/space commitment, whatever your age or situation. Obvious? Perhaps. But then, why do outlets continue to bang away with long-form content that deploys minimal information-imparting mechanics? Is it all they know?

It’s clear there are many who are trying; there are green shoots all around. A case in point I have been impressed with recently is “I“, the £0.20 new UK newspaper from the publisher of The Independent. It doesn’t employ particularly revolutionary physical attributes, such as top binding or smaller size, but its honesty seems to be the biggest feature: “The news you need, in the time you have”.

Imagine a £0.20 espresso shot of news for the commuter in you. It’s an interesting and bold move, considering the larger business model and peoples’ general lust for quick hits of information. Solid distribution strategy and iPhone and iPad versions are coming out soon.

The problem? It’s still not enough. Instead, I – like TechCrunch and the forthcoming ‘AppleDoch’ collaboration – see a more digital future built around relevancy to the individual. Flipboard, RockMelt, My6sense, Brizzly, Pearltrees, Qwiki, Navigaya and the forthcoming Orbit are all nods to a digital future that is about sheer information, minus real brand allegiance. It’s not about you anymore… if it ever was.

Mobile won’t save the news industry, but it can help… a lot

News organisations are still interrupting and disrupting and not integrating and engaging. In these changeable times, that’s what I call “paddling against a tsunami with a toothpick“.

The problem seems not to be an inability to change – it seems more like reluctance to. Where are the Quick Response codes so I can get any updates on a news story or automatically share with my network? Where are the augmented reality markers with links so that I take the printed page further and get opinion? Can you integrate *Google* Goggles with the pictures you use? Oh and how about championing Bump or Square technology to make paying for you that much easier?

Why is it that the advertising industry, also in a giant period of change, is the one leading this revolution? Shouldn’t news be the industry to get the right information to the right people, at the right time and in the right way? Facebook is getting this with its new ubiquitous communications inbox… um… thing. But where is the publishing industry?

Trying to fit into the schedule or habit of individuals should be the goal of any news organisations, like a mobile game. You need to take back the time being spent playing Angry Birds.

These days, the truism of “make a great product and people will hug you”, as Clay Shirky pointed out recently, isn’t enough – you’ve got to be unnoticeable too. Stop trying to refine and redefine journalism and/or the written and spoken word and just serve the reader, not the business model.

I always think of those news flashes in Starship Troopers, which always end with “Would you like to know more?” Where is this feature? Why are you still shouting at me when you need me more than ever before?

Social loyalty

People often ask me how I would save the publishing and news industries. I always say the same thing – create a relationship with me. Forget an app that gives me the news, instead make an app that is an alarm clock that, when I wake up, gives me a copy of a newspaper – say, “I” or Paper.li – which is relevant to me and will work on the underground or places with no reception. Add in a shopping list of things I need to buy when I’m around town.

Put another way, be a life resource, not a news one. I want, nay, I need both. I suspect the first to harness social loyalty (ie. the check-in mixed with the ‘Like’ and Groupon or a combination thereof) will be the winner.

I have yet to see an iPad app created by a newspaper that is (gulp) truly useful or one I would recommend to a friend – that makes me incredibly sad. Instead, I recommend Pulse (now free) or some similar aggregator with which I can very simply make my own. That’s the key; they let you make your own mix.

I see a more intense web experience coming, too – more concealed than the one we see today. In an age of social inboxes, Wikileaks, other destabilising technologies and more recorded communication, do paywalls and single-source apps spell success? Right now, the data is not looking good for most publications, but it’s early days in a growing market. It’ll be interesting to see if Murdoch’s money-pit, app-only ‘The Daily’ will succeed. Again, my gut says no, but time will tell.

Two years after starting @themediaisdying, and a whole lot of tweets later, I firmly believe the news industry and the consumer are now on a precipice. It’s clear that news remains important to the consumer, but where they get it from is not. As attention refocuses, the relationship between the consumer and news will shift evermore to a “pull” rather than “push” strategy for the consumer.

No app or mobile platform will save this relationship, but a shift in how the news “attacks” the consumer to get heard will.

This is not a short battle – I believe it will be a continual one, as technologies change. But ultimately, the industry’s ability to utilise and adapt the technologies now open to it should maximise chances for success and change to occur.

It’s time to make it personal, but not to take it personally.

 

» Paul Armstrong is the creator of @themediaisdying, he is currently Head of Social at Mindshare. You can follow him on Twitter here (@munkyfonkey).

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This article originally appeared in Mindshare.

  1. Great post Paul. From a personal perspective, I increasingly consume a lot of my news from media that’s shared amoungst my networks – a big shift considering about six months ago I still would always have the BBC website up as a tab. Traditional outlets will to see the value in content curation as well as creation to survive log term.

    Oh and I’m really digging Pearltrees.

  2. Really good post. I think the key world here is relevancy. If I wasn’t in PR, I wouldn’t buy paper newspapers anymore because I’m only ever interested in 15 – 20% of the content. It’s the same with marketing – stop shouting at me and trying to grab my attention. Just ask me what I want!

  3. Trevor Butterworth Monday, January 24, 2011

    I think you’re showing signs of suffering from what scientists call being too wedded to one’s own thesis. Sometimes you want just the news, sometimes you need information, sometimes you want to be entertained by gossip, sometimes by insight and storytelling; and sometimes the deep pleasure of reading intersects with all these functions and sometimes it doesn’t. There isn’t a monolithic audience responding to informational needs and news in the same way at the same time or, crucially, in the same continuum of technological awareness. This is why things appear to be chaotic. And this is why one should be wary of reductive proscriptions for what the audience needs or wants. When illuminated by history, our situation is not unique or unprecedented. The spread of radio in Germany in the 1930s, where it had the highest penetration of any country in the world thanks to government sponsored distribution, produced a great deal of critical agony over whether newspapers could still be relevant in bringing news to the public.

  4. Interesting post. I got here through a tweet from the Nieman Lab. I’m going to have to digest this a bit more, but some initial thoughts:

    I find myself falling on the opposite side of a few of your arguments: First about short term snippets of news. Ultimately I find them INCREDIBLY unsatisfying. Yes, they’re great for updates on breaking stories (a perfect example is today’s bombing at the Moscow airport), but ultimately I WANT long form analysis or exposition.

    Here’s a piece from Clive Thompson published recently in Wired: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/12/st_thompson_short_long/

    Second is the dissolution of brand loyalty. Again, personally speaking, I find myself turning to media outlets who’s content I’ve come to enjoy, appreciate, and find thought provoking more and more because I have less and less desire to stumble across some random site, blog, Twitter feed, etc. and build up a relationship with them.

    Third is the personalization of news. I don’t entirely disagree with you on this point, and even if I did, it’s a trend on which there’s no turning back. But again, from personal experience, I find a lot of value in picking up a vessel of pre-packaged content (be it magazine or newspaper) and discovering information on topics or events I a) had no idea about, b) would never have sought out on my own, and c) may not have come to me via my digital funnel. That goes back to the relationship and trust placed with a publication’s producers (editors, writers, designers, etc.): I trust them to bring me information that may (or may not, but no big deal) have value to me.

    I realize I may not consume media in the same ways as others, especially people more teched-up than I am; however, I’m humble enough to admit I’m not THAT unique and that there must be plenty of others like me. Whether we’re dinosaurs, slow to follow the emerging trends, or a significant section of content consumers, we’re out here and need to be considered, too.

  5. Interesting reading.
    Paul, you’re right for you, but not for me. The media is adopting Qwikness for younger people, which I suspect you are, but for older people, like I suspect I am, they’re leaving it as is with a few new features. I like news delivered the old way. Qwik news seems too shallow. I like lengthier writing, and when I don’t, I stop reading.

    Jeff in Kansas

  6. Mike Donatello Monday, January 24, 2011

    Paul,

    I dig the tweets, but please change the account name to @TheMediaAreDying. The subject-verb disagreement drives me nuts.

  7. 10 years ago I used Starship Troopers as an example of where interactive TV would be in a few years time. I was wrong in one way, it didn’t happen, but I don’t think the content model is wrong.

    It is taking an extraordinary amount of time for the media industry – TV, film, music, advertising – to catch up to where we are right now. They still aren’t here. Occasionally someone gets something right, but it’s rare.

    Everyone in the industry think in terms of heroes and killers. So-and-so is going to “kill” the newspaper; the iPad is going to save it. So, move newspapers as they are onto a new device. They don’t change the paradigm, then wonder why they have the same results.

    What is needed is for them to wake up and see that the world has changed, is changing, and to take advantage of where it is going they need to move ahead with a new model. Not the same old, same old. My educated guess right now, is it will be someone new. The old guard will die off, or will get taken over from within by someone, something, with the capacity to implement a disruptive model.

  8. themediaisdying Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Beth : Many thanks – Pearltrees is great but it’s a way off perfect.

    Joe : Right on! Do what fits your lifestyle. Expect nothing less…why should you?

    Trevor : Appreciate your POV and extensive knowledge – I certain will buy the beer if we ever get to meet. I think what I’m trying to say is firstly ‘one size fits all approach never fit anyone’ so why is that model still be whored out? Secondly news is exactly as you say – a different beast at different times for different people – a multi-head beast yet most (rightly/wrongly) don’t want to/can’t slay it every morning – why aren’t the people who are producing this helping more and shouting less?

  9. themediaisdying Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Steve: 100% agree you (and everyone) need to be considered/catered for. The piece is not about excluding or missing people out because they are less technically capable/enabled. I think ultimately it’s each their own – the problem is – without a lot of messing around with RSS etc – there is no option to create your own ‘experience’ or version (in the main) – too much is expected to get to that Utopia of relevance. Creating a specific user version ultimately serves everyone better, in my opinion, than creating something that is 80% not what the reader was not or ever likely to be interested in – if you want everything – have at it, I just want that choice. A good example of how I see news in the future is something like Newsmap : http://newsmap.jp/#/b,e,m,n,s,t,w/uk/view/ – tailorable to your tastes to begin with or the whole picture to start with and you can work back etc (Marcos Marumushi is now with Flipboard). Yet until you click through there are… no ads. There has to be a middle ground.

    Jeff – Thanks for the comment. Two things 1) I agree – you should have the right to get news as you want it – it’s about personalisation. 2) Be wary of boxing your media habits with those of others. I am constantly surprised with how younger/older generations are using platforms like Facebook in different and very similar ways.

    Mike – THAT old chestnut?! Never meant to annoy / meant in jest mainly. Perhaps I’ll put it to the community to vote on… Glad you like the tweets.

    Gareth : Good stuff there – crikey is ST that old? That makes me sad… and geeky. I think there’s good stuff ahead. It depends if everyone can agree on %s ultimately and, like you say, if anyone comes up with a better way of getting information to the masses for one and then inside the noodles of aforementioned masses… You’ve got to hope, right?

  10. When did “media” become singular?

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