Will convergence help traditional media?
The fourth meeting of the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms on Aug 18 issued a clear guideline on the convergence of traditional and newmedia and their development. President Xi Jinpng’s vow to develop “new, competitive mainstream media with advanced technologies” and set up “several powerful media groups with a high level of public trust and influence” means the convergence of the two forms of media is now a national policy.
Traditional media face two major crises. First, media organizations such as newspapers are facing financial problems, because their major source of revenue, that is, advertisement, has been in continuous decline and they have not been able to work out a new business pattern. And second, politically speaking, traditional media have been losing their power, credibility and influence with the rise of new media. Financial stability will decide whether traditional media will survive in the market, and regaining their power and influence will determine whether they will continue to draw people’s attention.
The most direct appeal from China’s top leadership is to push forward the convergence of traditional media and newmedia to help the former overcome the second dilemma. The question is: Will the convergence help traditional media take on the historical responsibility at a time when the Internet has become the main battlefield of public opinions, which relates directly to China’s ideology and State power?
Since economic conditions could influence the function of politics, there is no option but to empower the media with strong competitive edge so that they could “occupy the high ground for information dissemination”. New and competitive mainstream media and emerging media groups, which mainly will reflect public opinions, are exactly what the central government is planning to build. But we cannot ignore the fact that market success is a necessary but not binding condition for influencing public opinions, and that solid material foundation may not necessarily win public credibility.
Some media outlets have bucked this trend and flourished in recent years even as the media industry in general is in decline. Most of them have generated income from diversified operations, such as real estate, acquisition of game companies, or through travel and catering agencies, rather than their main business. Since their business moves are aimed at saving their flagships, that is, media outlets, they are beyond reproach. Yet such moves are a deviation from the original intent of consolidating “the bases to promote ideology and culture and expand the influence of mainstream public opinion”.
Since media convergence has become a national policy, media outlets of all kinds across the country are already competing for policy resources. For example, telecom giant China Mobile has made a timely decision to integrate its five content bases into a newmedia company. But media outlets will not become more competent to guide public opinion only because of limit up in their stocks and by making creative products likeMYOTee. They need the power of ideology to see the game through.
Experience shows that some media outlets could use the “media convergence” policy and public funds to their advantage in the “industry chain extension”. Moreover, in the most crucial aspects of information dissemination and guiding public opinion, projects for political achievements or image building will emerge in batches without any concern for costs or outcome and eventually remain unfinished. Perhaps media outlets would eventually become game companies (as some already have), without helping improve the environment for communication and public opinion.
President Xi said: “Reform of the media should combine media convergence and management to make sure these two follow the correct path of progress.” And by doing so, he has defined the requirements for media convergence and management, that is, the two elements cannot be independent of each other even if the effort is not very fruitful. The author is a researcher with the News Research Institute at Xinhua News Agency.