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Journalism needs to up its game


Up until now anybody capable of stringing a few words together could become a journalist. Getting both sides of the story, ensuring that facts were correct and being able to write or speak in the language of the target market weren’t really all that important because, after all, there was no real competition.

People watched TV, read newspapers and magazines and listened to the radio. Information was pretty much a one-way street.

But now, it’s all different.

More and more consumers, not only young adults and teens, are getting their information, and especially news, from social media. The massive growth of social media is testament to the trend of friends believing friends before they believe the mass media.

But, all of this does not mean that the mass media – newspapers, TV, magazines and radio – are redundant and facing certain death.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Well, only if the mass media take time to drag themselves out of what they might see as historic paradigms and into an entirely new information environment.

Take Twitter for example. A wonderful way in which friends can talk to friends and friends of friends who are on the spot. But, if one has a look at who has large followings, a lot of journalists are right there.

In almost every case, journalists who have the largest followers are those who are not only on the ball and on the spot but who have in successive 140 character messages been able to succinctly and accurately move information to their followers.

Generally speaking, journalism needs to up its game. Professional hacks need to be able to place themselves on a much higher plane than so-called citizen journalists and bloggers.

What they write and say has to be structured in a way that oozes professionalism and integrity, relevance and credibility.

Newspapers will need to shift paradigms to the point of removing from their editorial psyche the word “news.”

It is ludicrous that so many newspapers continue to believe that the first time their readers will find out about things is when they read it in the newspaper. Which is crazy because not on social media but television and especially radio are all just so much more immediate that newspapers. What I am talking about here is run of the mill news and not investigative journalism scoops. Something that our weekend newspapers do particularly well.

But this aside, it makes sense that if newspapers want to avoid redundancy they will have to reinvent their content.

Not only that but the survival of newspapers will also depend entirely on them accepting that the digital age is not going to go away. And I don’t mean that this should involve putting content up online for free or even through a paywall.

Going online in the way most newspapers round the world have done in the past decade has, in fact, amounted to the biggest blunder in the history of the newspaper business.

The fact is that newspapers are no longer just in the news distribution business. Newspapers need to understand that in order to survive they have toy make the most of their biggest asset and that is their audience.

Which involves looking at the makeup of their audience and selling them things.

Naspers, for example, has shown just how profitable it is for an essentially newspaper publisher to be able to not only spread itself over a multimedia platform but most importantly involve itself in e-commerce.

In fact e-commerce – think of as one example – now contributes more than 40% of the Naspers Group revenue.

Television also needs to up its game particularly in terms of revenue generation.

It has to start realising that the only reason there is still a healthy demand for 30 second commercials in because they 30 second commercial is remains the most profitable form of advertising for those who produce them.

True, these commercials do still work but at an enormously high cost. The return on investment of the average 30-second commercial is extremely low given the myriad marketing alternatives available.

As the global economy remains on a knife-edge in 2013 and begins to impact more and more on the South African market, an increasing number of marketers are going to look very hard at their advertising media selection and start demanding better returns on funds employed.

TV and radio have a lot of options other than the ubiquitous commercial breaks and the good old 30-second spot. Branded television and radio as well as sponsored content to name just two.

In a nutshell, not only do journalists need to up their game but newspapers, television and particularly radio, need to come to grips with the fact that they cannot operate in isolation because fewer and fewer marketers and advertisers have any faith in the one-medium-fits-all notion.

2013 is going to be fascinating in terms of seeing just how many mass media players will take the plunge and shift some very stodgy paradigms.

If a challenge is what you want though, then right now is probably the most exciting time to be involved in media.

  • Llewellyn Kriel

    Not much new here, but that’s not really surprising, is it? After all, Chris, is a marketer who can write. Editorially speaking we call such folk “columnists” as distinct from reporters or editors. It’s a little sad that his eminently valid opening position is snowed under in the customary blizzard of marketinglish. He misconstrues real Journalism (of which we need much, much more) with trendy churnalism, the bulk of which is asinine, pontificatory and pompous – and we already more than enough of that.