@Themediaisdying: The Brutal Truth From Two Years In The Twitterverse

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).

This article originally appeared in Mindshare.

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