Wednesday, June 26, 2013

From legacy journalism to digital media

At our Convergent Newsroom, every report, however small or trivial, about the global trend about the media is discussed with great interest. As Andrew Grove of Intel once said in his famous book “Only the Paranoid Survive,” we make it a point to tell everybody in the newsroom to deliver and analyse “bad news” before digesting “good news” especially if it is directly related to the future of journalism.

It was therefore with a mixed sense of trepidation and consolidation that we read last week the report in the Economist under the headline: “Like the sun, newspaper circulation rises in the east and falls in the west.”

It was from a World Press Trends report that usually collects masses of data about newspaper circulation and revenues in over 70 countries. Circulation has fallen modestly from 537m in 2008 to 530m in 2012, but that masks huge regional variations. The report makes for particularly gloomy reading if you happen to be employed by a newspaper in America or western Europe. Since 2008 circulation in America has fallen by 15% to 41m while advertising revenue has plummeted by 42%, accounting for three-quarters of the global decline in advertising revenue in the same period.

In Europe, the report says, circulation and advertising revenue have both fallen by a quarter. And revenues from digital sources such as websites, apps and so on have not made up the shortfall. Digital advertising accounts for just 11% of the total revenue for American newspapers.

But further east, though, things look brighter. Circulation in Asia has risen by 10%, offsetting much of the decline elsewhere. With 114.5m daily newspapers, China has surpassed India to become the world's biggest newspaper market.

Thailand’s case is somewhere in the middle. Our circulation is holding up but revenue from our broadcast side is growing. Our strategy is towards “convergence” – a strong base for print with an aggressive new media business model, strongly backed up by our digital broadcasting plan.

A new book entitled “The New Digital Age” by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, in one way, confirms my belief that news organizations will remain an important and integral part of society in a number of ways. Sure, many outlets won’t survive in their present form – and those that do survive will have adjusted their goals, methods and organizational structure to meet the changing demands of the new “global public.”

It has become increasingly clear for our newspeople that reporting duties will undergo significant changes. As the book suggests, the role of the mainstream media “will primarily become one of an aggregator, custodian and verifier, a credibility filter that sifts through all of this data and highlights what is and is not worth reading, understanding and trusting.”

As I look into the future of how we will be operating as professional journalists, our role as “verifiers” will become even more important than today. Apart from enhancing our ability to provide cogent analysis of current affairs, journalists in the digital era will be an important source for news consumers to rely on for their professionalism in curating, aggregating and filtering the massive swell of reporting and information in the system.

As the authors suggests, “Ideally, the business of journalism will become less extractive and more collaborative; in a story about rising tide levels in Bangkok, instead of just quoting a Thai river-cruise operator, the newspaper would link its article to the man’s own news platform or personal live stream. “

In our daily debate on the major transition from legacy to digital media, we intend to do more than that. We will explore ways to integrate all the new voices in society and create communities, both online and offline, to pursue a truly digital world of journalism where everybody can be a reporter, consumer and activist.

But above all, no matter how fast and dramatic the latest information technology develops in the future, the most crucial tasks of our journalists remain unchanged: to do the serious work of journalism in a serious manner, be it investigative reporting, exclusive interviews, explanation of complicated events and, above all, to serve as the conscience and soul of society.

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