Warning to media houses
Financially troubled mainstream media houses and their journalists need to work harder to build strong personalised relationships with their audiences, whom they must also serve personalised news content or kiss their centuries-old business goodbye.
This was one of the stark warnings to media owners, managers and journalists who attended the summit of the World Media Economics and Management Conference in Cape Town.
Several speakers used the summit – the first in Africa in nearly 30 years – to bluntly tell the media and their scribes across the world to rapidly embrace technological innovation in their operations and not to leave this to non-media actors such as the global platform companies Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter – and others.
Sue Valentine, of the Open Society Foundations in London, told the nearly 300 delegates to accept a new reality that the era of mass media in the 21st century had come to an end and that the new dispensation required both media and journalists to cultivate strong personalised relationships with their audiences and offer them personalised, high-quality and trusted content which audiences would be prepared to pay for.
“The media and journalists must seriously listen to the feedback from their audiences and begin to address their concerns,” she said.
Prof Robert Picard, the outgoing president and chair of the conference, has long campaigned for the media industry to seriously re-imagine its products in an age of hyper-competition from social and digital media.
In his latest analysis on “digital distribution’s failure to solve newspapers’ existential crisis: symptoms, causes, consequences and remedies”, Picard compared newspapers’ current news content to someone who was “selling horses when consumers prefer sports cars”.
“As the transformation to motor vehicles occurred over the past century, horse dealers have never argued that their problem of selling horses was finding new revenue; they understood that their product had been replaced by things that served the same fundamental purposes differently,” he said at a San Diego indaba.
“Why is that we in journalism and information have such a difficult time accepting that legacy news products and formats are similarly experiencing competitive product displacement?
“Why do we see the change as undesirable and evil?
“Digitalisation is neither the cause nor the definitive solution to news organisations’ challenges.”
He noted that legacy media should not be seeking protectionism for their news enterprises, “but determining how best to provide credible and needed news and information in products and formats that meet the needs of the contemporary public”.
Picard said news providers needed to have a much better understanding of their consumers than in the past.