To start with, I commend The Irish Times and Hugh Linehan for bringing this debate into the mainstream and putting it before the audience, too often these discussions are confined to industry conferences and publications. That said, at some point we need to stop reminiscing for a time that’s gone and simply won’t come back, make the necessary and smartest changes possible and move ahead. We have to accept that many newspapers and media organisations will not persist into this new era. They have, and will continue to fall victim to this process of change and disruption.
I’d like to add a few comments on a few of the points that Linehan has articulated.
Linehan writes that:
“Even the New York Times, it seems, despite its digital talk, is having difficulties walking the digital walk, with online journalists still often regarded as second-class citizens and print continuing as the dominant force.”
What this misses is that the digital revenue of the New York Times is in the region of $300m per annum, which would cover the existing newsroom of 1300 journalists and associated costs with or without the printed newspaper. The problem the New York Times has is not that it cannot finance a significant and impressive news organisation from digital revenues, and potentially make a small profit, but that the decline of print means that it will be forgoing another $1.1bn in revenue and it does not wish to do this yet (who would!). Crucially though that’s a business issue not a journalism or a financing of journalism issue as it is so often represented as. Other newspapers with less status may struggle to achieve the kind of results the New York Times has but that doesn’t mean that you cannot finance impressive journalism through digital revenue.
“Too often in the past, media organisations treated their digital publishing operations as an offshoot or an afterthought, shovelling newspaper articles online in an unsatisfactory manner, bolting a “breaking news” operation on to the side, and ignoring the fact that this was a different medium for a different audience with different requirements.”
I’d contend that this practice is by no means in the past, especially in Ireland. Look at many legacy Irish media organisation’s desktop and mobile output any day of the week and a user will find content that has been duplicated or at best repurposed for a digital audience with little consideration of how a user is consuming it. Unfortunately for many journalists, even a younger generation of Irish journalists, the print byline or TV report has much more allure than something web first.
“Let’s start the conversation” may sound like a nice slogan at a marketing meeting, but can be a profound ethical and intellectual challenge for journalists and editors if they are to take it seriously. The logic of accountability and transparency inherent in digital discourse should in theory sit well with journalistic principles; that this is not always the case is telling.”
Nobody in Facebook , Twitter etc is worrying about the “profound ethical and intellectual challenge” of working with its audiences and enabling community. Conversation, UGC and community are not optional for media organisations they are necessities and ones that should be embraced wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. Why are media organisation so focussed on the challenge rather than the opportunity? Why are they calling their audiences a challenge, and after doing that why would they expect their audience to engage with them? The web facilitates conversation, UGC and community everywhere if the audience can’t participate in some way on a media website they will simply do so elsewhere.
Again, it’s great to see this debate surface properly in the Irish media world but I would caution about too much open navel gazing. Place your attention on the user and their experience. The biggest battle journalism is facing is for the users’ attention, the more of that we hold the easier it will be to solve the other issues. Make compelling content, integrate your audience into what you do and be willing to change and change fast.