Con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion rev­o­lu­tion

The Insider - - CONTENT -

A cou­ple of week’s ago I was mod­er­at­ing a dis­cus­sion at the INMA Mo­bile Strate­gies Con­fer­ence on the pros and cons of dis­trib­uted con­tent. The ses­sion was timely given Emily Bell’s speech at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge the week be­fore, ti­tled “The End of the News as We Know It: How Face­book Swal­lowed Jour­nal­ism.”

In it Ms. Bell’s talked about how jour­nal­ism has been dis­rupted by so­cial me­dia and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that; more specif­i­cally:

News­pa­per pub­lish­ers have lost con­trol of dis­tri­bu­tion

So­cial me­dia com­pa­nies are con­tin­u­ally in­creas­ing their power

News and jour­nal­ism com­pa­nies must rad­i­cally al­ter their cost base to be sus­tain­able in this new ecosys­tem Around her first two points, I asked the au­di­ence to share their thoughts around the plat­form para­dox and the in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion they face when rec­om­mend­ing new chan­nels of dis­tri­bu­tion to man­age­ment. It was an in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sion, where I heard ev­ery­thing from “What­ever, we just want the eye­balls” to “I don’t care about peo­ple in Den­mark who visit on my site be­cause I work for ______ and only write for peo­ple in my city” to “My reader isn’t on Face­book, so I don’t do any­thing there.”

Need­less to say, the broad spec­trum of re­sponses I re­ceived made reach­ing any kind of con­sen­sus on the value (or threat) of dis­trib­uted con­tent a chal­lenge. The au­di­ence was all over the map.

When we started to dis­cuss the need for a rad­i­cal change in the cost base, I was re­minded of the Global Ed­i­tors Net­work Sum­mit last year in Barcelona where I par­tic­i­pated on a panel with Pi­ano Me­dia and Blen­dle. The mod­er­a­tor asked me who out of the three of us would sur­vive in a cou­ple of years.

I said that I would be more in­ter­ested in know­ing who out of the tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers would sur­vive. I went on to sug­gest that it would be those who op­ti­mally man­age their cost base. The dig­i­tal pure plays (e.g. Vox, Buz­zFeed, et al.) have the ad­van­tage be­cause they do not have the mas­sive op­er­at­ing

ex­penses needed to sup­port print houses, dis­trib­u­tors, unions and, let’s face it, overblown staff. Mean­while, tra­di­tional me­dia con­tin­ues to hold on to its fi­nan­cially-bur­dened baggage and is los­ing ground as a re­sult.

Los­ing, not be­cause peo­ple sud­denly lost their need for qual­ity con­tent, but be­cause of their own en­grained and gen­er­a­tionally-fos­tered be­lief that they need to own the dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels; that apart from fos­ter­ing jour­nal­ism and spread­ing democ­racy, they should con­trol ev­ery sin­gle step in the process of how that democ­racy is spread.

Some of that mind­set is fad­ing be­cause third party chan­nels that give read­ers what they want, when they want it and where they want it, have proven that they can do dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion much bet­ter than pub­lish­ers. How­ever, some old habits die hard with too many me­dia ex­ec­u­tives in­sist­ing read­ers come to them for con­tent.

Third party dis­trib­u­tors should not be seen as com­peti­tors try­ing to eat pub­lish­ers’ lunch. They should be seen as a way for me­dia com­pa­nies to man­age costs by al­low­ing them to fo­cus on their core com­pe­tency of cre­at­ing unique, qual­ity con­tent per­son­al­ized to the meet the needs and pas­sions of their read­ers.

But qual­ity jour­nal­ism doesn’t come cheap, which is why it is of­ten the first thing sac­ri­ficed on the chop­ping block when bud­gets are squeezed and pub­lisher purse hold­ers ask, “What’s the ROI of se­ri­ous jour­nal­ism in to­day’s dig­i­tal world where ex­clu­siv­ity lasts mere sec­onds be­cause our con­tent is be­ing re­pur­posed, re­pub­lished and com­modi­tized as fast as it takes to click, ‘Share’?”

An­swer­ing that ques­tion of­ten re­sults in me­dia ex­ec­u­tives tak­ing the po­si­tion that se­ri­ous jour­nal­ism is no longer worth the in­vest­ment. They cut ed­i­to­rial staff, start dumb­ing-down con­tent and re­pur­pos­ing oth­ers, turn­ing them­selves into dis­trib­u­tors of click-bait.

As this con­tin­ues to hap­pen, Ms. Bell pos­tu­lates that “post­ing jour­nal­ism di­rectly to Face­book or other plat­forms will be­come the rule rather than the ex­cep­tion. Even main­tain­ing a web­site could be aban­doned in fa­vor of hy­per dis­tri­bu­tion. The dis­tinc­tion be­tween plat­forms and pub­lish­ers will melt com­pletely…What hap­pens to the cur­rent class of news pub­lish­ers is a much less important ques­tion than that of what kind of news and in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety we want to cre­ate and how we can help shape this.”

I think her last state­ment speaks to, “What’s in it for you as the pub­lisher.” If your pri­mary mis­sion is to have a well-ed­u­cated, well-rounded, and demo­cratic so­ci­ety, then be com­mit­ted to it. Don’t hold on to the op­er­a­tional baggage that is de­creas­ing the po­ten­tial of re­al­iz­ing your mis­sion. Learn about and un­der­stand the plethora of plat­forms avail­able to you and use them to your ad­van­tage. Rec­og­nize how they com­ple­ment your mis­sion; do not per­ceive them, prima fa­cie, as the en­emy.

Bot­tom line…I think the ques­tions that need ask­ing are th­ese, “Do you truly un­der­stand what your mis­sion is? Can you hon­estly sit down and ex­plain it to your­self, in­vestors, staff and read­ers?” Be­cause if your mis­sion is any­thing other than cre­at­ing con­tent that spreads democ­racy for the public good and is rel­e­vant to your read­ers, then I would po­litely sug­gest that you’re prob­a­bly in the wrong line of work.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Emily Bell’s speech, I highly rec­om­mend that you do. And then let’s talk. I’d love to hear your views on the sub­ject.

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