The difficult transformation of newspapers to digital formats and the ever-shrinking budgets for news journalists have put the traditional news media industry on ‘life support’. The bad news about news, is there is much more trauma ahead.
Social media, with a seamless and instant connection to smart phones, is quickly taking over as the dominant news platform. Few younger consumers are shedding tears for the old mediums, it is now the dominant news platform for people aged under 30.
Traditional news media now looks like a taxi company wondering if adding fluffy dice will win back passengers from Uber.
The most difficult problem for news media is it is simply not valued enough. The 2016 Deloitte Media Consumer Survey shows only 17 percent of households, down four percent from 2015, are willing to pay for news subscriptions. Nice to have for free – but not worth paying for.
The trends show a critical trajectory for news journalism. Advocates of the continued viability of news journalism is like the optimist that falls from the top of the Empire State Building, when falling past the 40th floor declares “well, so far so good”.
It is not just the commercial value proposition that is killing the news.
What do we want?
Social media has radically altered the structure of engagement with news.
As many Australians now source their news from social media as from online and print newspapers. Facebook dominates this new landscape with near saturation of users.
The traditional top-down news model – ‘we write it, you read it’, is over. Shared, collaborative and engaged news now dominates on social media platforms.
According to the Deloitte 2016 Media Consumer survey, 48% of social media users comment on or post to news articles. Today, around a quarter of social media users maintain personal blogs, write reviews and upload their own videos.
The criticism that news has been in decline due to the disengagement of younger generations is a myth. People have never been more engaged in news and social affairs, and less engaged with traditional news sources.
Cutting out the middle man
It appears we no longer need travel agents to recommend a good hotel, newspaper food reviewers to rank our restaurant choices, or journalists and editors to select our news. Thanks to social media, these tasks have been crowd-sourced or curated by algorithms.
So what if a journalist tells you a restaurant is good, or that a politician is corrupt, theirs is just one view. As we have seen, a view most believe is not worth paying for.
In a communication saturated world, you need something to ‘connect the dots’ and make sense of exponentially expanding online information. Who can you trust?
Algorithms, in effect, provide the world as you would like it – not as it is. Reflecting back self-interests in a highly customised digital ‘hall of mirrors’. A ‘Narcissus Machine’ for news and entertainment. I like what I know, and I know what I like.
In this curated reality the concept of ‘truth’ is close to irrelevant. The ‘truth’ is no longer determined by journalistic investigation. Truth is a socially shared belief, one that provides group understanding and coherence. Get over it.
The end of collective identity
One of the critical functions of news has been a key cultural unification tool. Part of our national identity is underscored by commonality of news – we think about the same things. You can traditionally strike up a conversation with a stranger on many topics generated through news mediums, as part of a nationally shared collective experience.
There are real difficulties asserting cultural unification in a globalized world connected through social media.
The implications are far-reaching for any sense of the public domain.
Globalised news and communication, coupled with the ‘filter bubbles’ that cocoon us with like-minded people from around the world, have reworked this traditional sense of cultural collective – to a new paradigm of ‘connected individualism’.
Empowered by near unlimited and immediate access to information through the web, buttressed by corroborating opinions on social media, and as part of the highest educated cohort of citizens in the nation’s history; ‘connected individualism’ has bypassed the experts and the traditional media institutions.
Connected individuals are located in a matrix of influences generated through self-selection and algorithmic assistance. They are not at the base of a hierarchy as they once were. They are no longer on a drip-feed of information determined by others.
How the human need for information about our world will help shape a new news paradigm is still evolving in this new ecosystem. But we can rest assured, the old news is dead. Long live the news.
Mark Civitella will be speaking at our upcoming free public lecture, Has Facebook Killed the news?, alongside Jane Caro, Hugh Martin and host Francis Leach. The panel discussion is part of our Bold Thinking Series.