Sunday, August 13, 2017

New media realities

All media companies are trying to figure out how to do their work in the Internet Age. Publishing ink on paper is not longer enough, and neither is a text-based website alone. Instead, a multi-media—what experts call “rich content”—is now necessary for any company in the news and information business. This is mostly a good thing.

The video above is from The Atlantic, a venerable American magazine founded in 1857, and it talks mostly about media coverage on television. The video was shared on their YouTube Channel—a print media company that has moved ot a lot of online publishing made a video that’s available online talking about other media companies that themselves make their content available online. It kind of completes the circle.

But all traditional print media companies are now multi-media, as are traditional broadcast news and information companies, though some do it better than others. You’d expect a broadcaster to do a good job of posting video online to an open platform like YouTube, and the USA’s ABC News does a pretty good job on their YouTube Channel. Similarly, the Associated Press—a company that used to be called a “wire service” because news stories from overseas were sent to newspapers by telegraph, then teletype before branching into radio and television—post a large numbers of videos with varied subjects to their YouTube Channel.

Newspapers are a much more varied bunch. The New York Times does a good job with their YouTube Channel, posting both current topical news items and more “back of the paper” items that may add more context or detail to a print story, or they could even be independent of anything in the print or online editions. The Guardian’s YouTube Channel is similar. At the bottom of the heap, papers like the Chicago Tribune have a YouTube Channel that seems like an afterthought because it’s poorly curated and not updated very frequently.

New Zealand’s newspaper sites—that of the New Zealand Herald and the papers owned by Australian company Fairfax—are similar to the Chicago Tribune: Slowly updated with new content, content which isn’t terribly newsworthy most of the time, and often not terribly interesting. Their YouTube Channels are so useless, in fact, I felt there was no point in providing a link (both the Herald and Stuff do have channels, of course, but if you look at the URLs I reluctantly included for those Channels, you’ll see the publishers couldn’t even be bothered to get a proper YouTube address—even I have one of those!).

If someone goes to the Stuff website, many stories have videos made by Fairfax journalists. Visitors to the New Zealand Herald website will find the same thing. What is incredibly annoying about those videos is that none are embeddable on other sites (like this blog) so that if I want readers to see the video, they need to go to the site, presumably so the site can keep the visitor or, at least, have them see ads. In fact, it’s almost impossible to watch a video on those sites without sitting through an unskippable ad—even when the video IS an ad! That’s not just annoying, it’s contrary to the developing ethos of online videos, namely, that they’re easily sharable, and that long ads can be skipped. This does explain why both newspaper publishers have rubbish YouTube Channels.

As bad as the Herald and Stuff are, there are good New Zealand options. First is Radio New Zealand (now known as RNZ). Their text news coverage is first rate, and they have two YouTube Channels: A general Channel that has much of their programming and RNZ Live News, which is used for livestreaming news and the recorded versions. Newsroom is a relatively recent start-up news site that offers conventional text stories as well as video. The site is gaining particular attention for its investigative journalism, which the TV broadcasters seldom do these days. The Spinoff is a 3-year-old sometimes irreverent site that provides news and commentary from a more or less Left and younger perspective. It has a related YouTube Channel that doesn’t do stories as much as explain things, though it’s not well managed. It also produces podcasts.

These days there are also plenty of online-only options. There are sites like Vox (whose YouTube Channel is what Newsroom’s should be like) and BuzzFeed, for example, that produce a wide variety of content, including text and video. But there are also some that specialise in video information, including ones I’ve shared before, like [links are to their YouTube Channels] TED-Ed, CGP Grey (who also is part of a podcast called Hello Internet), ASAP Science, and The Thinking Atheist (which is an online radio show with audio released as podcasts, and also videos released on his YouTube Channel, where his podcasts are also available), among others (and countless more that I haven’t shared on this blog).

There’s clearly a number of different approaches to the changing media landscape that various organisations are taking these days, and they have various funding models to make them work (a topic in itself). What they all have in common is that they’re trying to meet the consumers of news and information where those consumers are, and that primarily means on mobile devices, and it may mean text, video, and/or audio content.

I firmly believe that newspapers printed on paper are doomed, and they will die out far sooner than anyone realises—and twice as fast as media companies want to believe. Magazines will evolve, as The Atlantic, for example, is doing, but printed versions of most magazines will probably die out, too. Even the name we gave to newspapers and magazines as a class—periodicals—has become irrelevant as newspapers and magazines alike publish stories online between their print editions, and that often includes things that never make it to their print editions—not just the obvious audio and video, but even just text-based stories. This is what “periodicals” are evolving into.

Many people are sad about all this change, and plenty of older people are finding it difficult to cope with the new online realities. Younger people—digital natives and digital immigrants alike—are adapting quite well, and many now expect as a matter of course to be able to access breaking news and in-depth information in text, audio, and video formats on their phones and tablets. I know I certainly do, and I would be very annoyed if I couldn’t get that content on my phone—not that this is ever problem.

So, the ability to access news and information in a variety of multi-media forms, and being able to access that wherever we are, is becoming the norm. I worry a bit about those who cannot adapt, but I worry more about how the huge amount of choice on offer can make it easier to spread low-quality stuff, or bad or misleading information (regardless of whether it's bad or misleading deliberately or accidentally). And that’s why I say all this change is mostly a good thing.

I hope it proves to be very good.

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