Advances in the digital media industry render it the new norm with the future of traditional news organizations uncertain.
Aidan Quinlan-Walshe, Digital Strategist at political firm Engage LLC, sits down in the company’s glass conference room. A Google alert pops up on his screen, which he flags for a client’s Twitter campaign. He scrolls through his Facebook and simultaneously scoffs at Donald Trump’s Cinco De Mayo status, while clicking share on a one-pot cooking video. A New York Times instant alert buzzes.
Into the room sweeps a representative from Tube Mogul, a video-focused advertising company, who presents an ad-pitch on Tube Mogul’s mobile-focused video advertising strategy as “The way of the future!”
Futuristic pronouncements are commonplace today, with members of the digital industry claiming video, virtual reality, podcasting–the list goes on–as the holy grail of the future digital world. Technology has rapidly adapted to meet our demands for the latest, most efficient and engaging vehicle for information. These changes have sparked an ongoing evolution within the news ecosystem. Despite dire predictions and warnings, rampant development has not unfettered the stalk. Experts across the board agree that the survival of the organism–dissemination of news–depends on the foundational value of producing good content, perhaps more so now than ever before.
An Evaluation of the News Ecosystem
Every ecosystem is fueled by an energy source, and for the media this comes in the form of advertising spending. Following the money over the past decades has revealed a shift in advertisers’ investments. While spending on print ads have fallen, shaking up newsrooms across the country, 2017 stands to mark another major milestone. According to eMarketing, despite the upcoming Presidential election cycle and summer Olympics, digital advertising is to surpass TV for the first time ever, claiming 38.4% of total ad spending.
This energy source is synthesized by the producers, our contemporary news organizations, and is allocated to most efficiently distribute information for the public’s consumption, which later completes the cycle in the form of social media posts – sparking the whole cycle again.
In short, once the ad dollars are in, the news organism is propagated by a flurry of clicks, likes, and shares. Aidan Quinlan-Walshe’s job is to manipulate these “engagements” to cater to his clients’ growth aspirations. He believes the Buzzfeed model has forged grounds marked by click-bait. “In terms of what people are doing with journalism online, there has been a primary shift where people realized they could make money out of data because of the industry we work in. You can make money off of the amount of traffic to your site so news is less driven based on unbiased journalism, and now it aims to attract the most people to an article,” Quinlan-Washe said.
Facebook is combating the click-bait strategy through a new algorithm that favors more “reputable” news sources like the Washington Post, URL-less articles, and shifts posts with spam-like phrasing to the bottom, according to Quinlan-Walshe.
In a Post Click-bait Era, An Ecosystem Built Upon Video, Mobile…and “Amazing” Content
While mobile and video are mapping the future of the digital industry, Senior data editor at Connecticut Mirror and TrendCT Alvin Chang is wary of making any further sweeping pronouncements. “I see the trend turnover rate so fast that anyone who tries to make guesses about where it’s going…I immediately have doubts about their predictions. The way we tell stories will go with how people like to interact with technology.”
Instead, a reversal of focus to content is warranted. Starkly contrasted to the current success of click-bait, the survival of journalism is shifting back to quality content. Head of BBC Radio 1 Marketing David Walsh stressed at a London conference for business schools that “We can’t just be a radio station anymore, but we can be a station of amazing content.” He notes Radio 1’s addition of video content to its website.
Politico Digital Director Megan Chan echoed these sentiments, but warned that good content won’t solve all newsroom’s problems, noting that Google, Facebook, and Twitter all profit off of Politico’s reporting. “Good content is always going to win, but that doesn’t mean the news organization who produces it is always going to win.”
As the American Press Institute suggests with its evaluation of millennial consumption, the future of journalism is veering away from traditional loyalty to specific stations, and towards a focus on the quality or story itself.
The public is demanding top-notch information and showing patterns of consumption reverting back to favoring more in-depth stories, rich with links and information. USA TODAY Editor Carolyn Pesce further disputes the Buzzfeed model and views future newsrooms as “watchdog journalists, pivoting back to long form journalism.”
While most experts are not ready to either fully endorse nor discount specific story-telling strategies, the heart and soul of journalism remains uncontested.
In the future, the story wins.