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

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 – 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.

18 Responses to “@Themediaisdying: The Brutal Truth From Two Years In The Twitterverse”

  1. The only way that media will ever “recover” from the Internet is if they re-learn how to control the message. The business model of traditional media is to act as one of a few sources of information. The Internet has not only destabilized this model, but it is preventing it from even happening.

    The future of media is that there will be no media. As the notion of a separation between the public and the media dissolves, the gaps need to be filled. This will take some time as everyone one learns how to upload a video to YouTube. Everyone is now in the early stages of realizing they are a publisher and reporter.

    This isn’t so much a question about the future of media as it is about information. The probable future will be in discovering and presenting data for the individual from the collective.

    The media isn’t dying, it’s dead.

  2. colincrook

    @themediaisdying – full disclosure here: I work with Badgeville and/but my agency believes in it so much we’re an investor. One reason I work w/ them however is I live in the media world and have put together panels on future of media and tried to do a lot more – often with a great deal of push back from certain media people/outlets. But what about the concept of loyalty, and rewards in the content/publishing world…and can it work? Affinity and loyalty for a publisher to help co-exist with Facebook and other social platforms seems like something that has to be explored. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But let’s not sit on the sidelines for another 5 or 7 years accepting that people will just have more affinity for Facebook than they will for our content. Work to co-exist and build loyalty. Good point that mobile isn’t the answer but will help a lot.

  3. I find myself loyal to publishers that offer consistently superior quality — the NY Times and The Economist come to mind immediately. I pay or am willing to pay for this level of excellence. But, I’m someone who wants depth and analysis, and this isn’t necessarily the case with many consumers of “news.” I’m not even sure how much news the typical person wants and has time for.

    In some ways, those who are satisfied with televised news are more likely to be happy with everything from HuffPo to Gawker. Other than CNN International, I only watch news on television when something like Egypt is happening. I do watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report, but these are more commentary and amusement about the news than purveyors of news. On my computer is a constant stream of tweets from four major newspapers that supplements the daily e-mails I receive from them. I find much of the new media wanting in comparison, not compelling enough to allocate time to.

    The publishing business (I spent many years in the magazine sector) has struggled with the effects of changing technology for decades, but the Internet and then smart phones have been true game changers. The fragmentation of media into hundreds of sources of news and information is encountering the diminishing attention spans of consumers. But many of these consumers were not reading newspapers or magazines anyway.

    It does seem to feel like the media is dying, but that’s really the result of changes that some of us interpret as losing what we value. The loss of book stores is far worse for magazines than newspapers or book publishers, which can leverage new technology more successfully.

    I’ve never been impressed with personalization because it’s too easy to miss good stuff when not picking and choosing from all the topics available, but for many it’s a way to get what they want with a minimum of time and effort. That said, personalization can include _how_ new media is used. As noted, I only use Twitter for breaking news and topic headlines, and for certain other source of interest such as themediaisdying, but have no use for Facebook.

    The worst of all this is the huge number of talented people in the media who have lost their jobs and in many cases their careers. Few were getting rich but they were doing what they loved and made the lives of readers that much better.

  4. Signless

    The Media is Dying is most certainly an eye-catcher, pejorative to a few, encouraging to others. The big problem with that is that the social singularity of internet development has altered the definition of media irrevocably.

    Today, the media are not dying in any sense of the word. They flourish. It’s *distribution* that’s undergoing a sea-change. It’s the scarcity-business-model that either refuses to adapt, and as a consequence, slowly strangles – or flounders madly, shipwrecking its credibility in the minds of an increasingly tech-savvy audience.

    The media has changed, fundamentally. Wikileaks proves that. The unrest in Egypt, the revolution in Tunisia prove that. Conde Nast continues to squat on a goldmine with, unsure or unable to figure out what to do with an on-line community that continues to grow at what must seem to them to be an unbelievable rate. No longer is the possession of a Journalism degrree required to actually be a journalist.

    Mistakes have been made. Digg, for instance, dugg its own grave. Paywalls continue to be erected in the foolish belief subscribers will continue to fund bloated, ivory-tower organizations who do nothing more than attempt to hold information hostage. Academic institutions continue to grind out, what in all reality, unemployable bright-eyed journalism students who claim to love holding a paper in their hands for no other reason than having been inculcated into that belief by tenure-secured fossils whose arthritic hands refuse to surrender the tatters of an institution’s funeral shroud. Surrender that old model, and teach the ethics behind the practice, and you’ll go farther to creating the next generation of journalist than anyone else.

    Once-smug radio and television executives are now beginning to sweat in their boardroom toilet stalls, some of them sobbing and shaking with fear because they know in their heart-of-hearts that there is no way…no way whatsoever…to protect their formerly proprietary programming. Mixtape culture thrives in an underground music scene that now stretches from coast to coast.

    And behind it all, working quietly but steadily, the open-source content movement continues to roll along. Developers contributing code and modules for free Content Management Systems, doing it for the practice, or the love of it. Those CMS’s run on small server outfits, equipped with their own e-commerce modules, paving the way for a groundswell in cottage-industry media sales and sharing in the future.

    The event horizon has been reached, in terms of how the media has done business in the past. The singularity of the internet has all but seen to that. What remains is identifying the new models which will rise in the wake, and/or wreckage, of the current scene.

  5. 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 :,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?

  6. 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?

  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. 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

  9. 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:

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. beth_carroll

    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.