The media world is undergoing profound change. We know the great catalyst for these changes has been the onward march of the digital age and the arrival of the internet.
This changing mediascape is often incorrectly portrayed as a battlefield, with two main skirmishes on the go. In the first “battle”, the soldiers have grown weary or just rather bored. This battle involves traditional media (newspapers, radio, TV) versus online media.
The reason why this so-called fight is increasingly boring is that most big media companies don’t worry so much about whether their online edition will “replace” their print properties.
A media company is about disseminating information on a variety of platforms and capturing audience, and it doesn’t really matter whether it comes from its online, print or broadcast entity so long as it is also able to monetise and measure its readership on all mediums.
We also hear that newspapers are doomed to die and be “replaced” by websites. To some extent newspapers and online will converge as newspapers are read on cheap, flexible digital boards that are always connected via wireless. That is, websites and newspapers will become the same thing.
Print won’t die, especially in developing countries on the African continent where for readers it is a cheaper medium than the internet. But even in the developed world, there will always be a niche market for people who still want to consume their news on paper, young and old. It will be a simple question of preference, a question of readers wanting their news on paper. Even though I am a new media evangelist, I still consume my news via a mixture of websites and newspapers.
The second “battle” is a much more interesting to look at. This skirmish involves mainstream media (which in this instance includes online publishers as they mostly practise traditional journalism) versus citizen media, which includes bloggers, vloggers and podcasters.
This is a fiercer conflict as it involves a fundamental shift in the media model as we know it.
As a result of citizen media, the media environment will no longer be an exclusively centralised, vertical, one-to-many model, but will show characteristics of a horizontal many-to-many, segmented model. We have entered the age of the reader. Readers are no longer just readers, but they are also small media owners participating in the publishing game and even the advertising game, for example, via Google ads placed on blogs.
Some maintain that the mainstream media will lose this battle and be “replaced” by citizen media, because mainstream media has “sold out” and lost credibility. It’s an argument so simplistic it’s laughable.
There is no doubt that there is tension between online and print, as is there tension between mainstream media and citizen media. But the truth is there is no battle, with one outright victor replacing a loser.
In fact, big media and the blogosphere have a mutually-dependent symbiotic relationship — a relationship that is both competitive and complementary.
Mainstream media online publishers need bloggers. Bloggers link to articles and provide traffic and commentary. Bloggers also fulfill an important watchdog function. Bloggers are able to tackle niches often ignored by big media and are able to convey useful commentary with a brutal, often acerbic honesty perhaps not constrained by the corporate civilities of a big media organisation.
A weakness of citizen media is that, unlike big media, there isn’t really an adherence to formal journalism standards or ethics. Citizen journalists don’t have access to resources in a coordinated manner, for example, to tackle a big investigative article. This is the value mainstream media brings that citizen media cannot.
There are many lanes on the information highway. Citizen media and mainstream media are different information forms in their own right, with different value propositions. Both will co-exist rather than one killing the other.
So there is no war here, but a competitive media environment where the various players all need each other for success.
Now, why can’t we all just get along?
From my regular new media column… Netsavvy