Throughout my spring 2015 semester at Rutgers University as part of my final DCIM capstone project, I researched the influence digital platforms have had on how media is created, shared, consumed, and monetized.
TL;DR? Social networks, and the rising ubiquity of technology (particularly smartphones), are pushing the future of media closer and closer to being entirely virtual. This effect will only be compounded as technology continues to proliferate. The decline of print media — most notably magazines and newspapers — has accelerated in recent years, leading many to believe that the media industry itself is also declining. This essay hopes to prove the contrary: the business of media isn't dying, but instead evolving into something entirely new.
It’s only fitting that one of the best depictions of the current state of the media was chronicled in WIRED magazine. WIRED is one of the most longstanding technology publications — (the first issue was published in 1993). WIRED has had a complex and occasionally tumultuous history that mimics the uncertainty surrounding the current media landscapeat one point the print magazine and website were under different ownership. In December 2014, Mat Honan described the history of how newspapers and the media languish over their audience’s attention:
The media has always been at war for your attention—and has always come up with new ways to win it. When sensational headlines screaming in 72-point type weren’t effective enough, it hired newsies to stand in the street and holler at passersby. […] The network news interrupted regularly scheduled programming. CNN went wall to wall with O.J. Matt Drudge fired up his siren. Geraldo took off his shirt.
Throughout his piece, Honan expertly illustrates the evolution of the attention-grabbing methods the media has used to draw in their audiences. The past couple decades, he argues, have introduced entirely new attention-grabbing frontiers, namely the internet:
With the advent of the modern web, online publications and blogs competed to dominate your laptop screen. But with the rise of mobile, the battleground has become infinite. No matter where you are or what you’re doing — eating, drinking, watching a movie — the news has access to you. Stories roll in on push notifications and social media streams in a nonstop look-at-me barrage, all of them lighting up the same small screen. There is only one true channel now, and it’s probably in your pocket (or hand) at this very moment.
With the advent of the modern internet, and especially the proliferation of smartphones, when and how we consume media of all types has vastly changed. In November 2014, BuzzFeed — one of the most notable “new media” entities pioneering the ways that social media can be leveraged to spread content — published some particularly insightful details on how technology is changing media.
- Mat Honan, WIRED
The report highlights how social networks have influenced the ways that readers find and discover content on BuzzFeed, lending particular importance to social networks — especially on mobile. BuzzFeed reports that they get five times more traffic from social than they do from search engine results. Social networks aren’t just the new home-pages, they’re also the new delivery-system. Readers no longer have to actively look for content; instead, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. deliver the content directly to the reader.
In March 2015, Jason Goldman was appointed as the White House's first-ever Chief Digital Officer. Goldman has worked at Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Twitter, and the blogging platform Medium.com. In that post, Goldman essentially tries to connect with the people of the internet. He is one of those people, he promises — someone who uses the internet to "work things out." A Washington Post article quotes the "most-highlighted" line (Medium has a crowd-sourced highlighting feature) from his essay:
Broadcasting isn’t the same as connecting. Broadcasting can create awareness. But connecting people can create engagement and change.
Goldman wrote this in a post announcing his appointment as first-ever Chief Digital Officer for the White House, which is a milestone in itself. The moral of the story though, is that this point is probably the most succinct and accurate way to describe where the media is going — and also what role it will play in society to come. The media used to only broadcast information. Now it can also connect us with that information. That's when the true change starts taking place. Connections are the new frontier. Ask any internet-marketer: pageviews are important, but the number of social shares is way more important. Spreading a story to your 600 of your Facebook friends is much more powerful than reading it and keeping it to yourself or even reading it and physically telling the ten people you'll talk to during the day.
Our Twitter and Facebook feeds have become the new newsstands, and our closest friends are now the newsboys hollering “Extra!” on the street. Social networks don't just deliver the news to us, now they also provide a forum to comment and engage with authors. Connected technologies are already vastly influencing the landscape of the media industry.
The rise of the internet brought about numerous impactful changes to how the media operates. Advertisers suddenly could know a lot more about how their ads were doing. Analytics, metrics, and the all-important pageview suddenly turned even more parts of media publishing into a numbers game. And while those numbers can be incredibly telling they can also be dangerous. It’s easy to think that the most popular statistics are all that matter; publishers, advertisers, and even reporters scrutinize these numbers to a degree that can only be described as obsessive.
Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and CEO of blogging platform Medium, was quoted in Fortune saying he doesn’t “give a shit if Instagram has more users than Twitter.” Williams argued that while having lots of users is important, there's more to success than size.
Williams posits that there are other significant factors to consider in the equation of a social network’s influence. For instance, Williams’ blogging network Medium.com prioritizes time spent on a page over how many visitors there were to the page. This makes sense for a site where people go to read: if you only spend two minutes looking at a 2,000 word article, odds are you didn’t actually read the entire thing.
In a resounding post (on Medium, of course) titled "A mile wide, an inch deep," Williams illustrated this concept with a simple metaphor. Which rectangle is bigger — one that’s three-inches wide, or one that’s two-and-a-half inches wide? It’s obviously a loaded question. You need to know the height of both rectangles to find out their size.
Despite this seemingly being elementary knowledge, Williams points out that the media makes this mistake more often than they probably should:
We literally say one company or service is “bigger” based on a single number — specifically, number of people who have “used” it in the last 30 days. Even without getting into how “use” is defined, this is dumb."
In that same post, Williams quotes Slate writer Will Oremus on the differences between Twitter and Instagram:
So is Instagram larger than Twitter? No — it’s different than Twitter. One is largely private, the other largely public. One focuses on photos, the other on ideas. They’re both very large, and they’re both growing.
Just as these two social networks — both of which are hugely influential to how society and culture operate in 2015 — have different use-cases and purposes, so do the numbers and statistics that media publishers so avidly observe and analyze. The page-view serves a valuable and important purpose, but there are other metrics that matter. Judging the success of a news story by page-views can be just as dangerous as determining the value of a social network by its number of users. Undoubtedly one of the most important among these metrics is your attention. The more time you spend on a website, the more time there is for advertisers to blast your eyeballs with promotional content. And if you ask media-people like Ev Williams and Mat Honan which metric matters more, they’re probably going to say that holding the attention of a few users for a long time is better than having a lot of users quickly stop-by and leave.
This is the evolution that the media is experiencing. What used to be a race to be the biggest is now becoming a race to become the most important, the most engaging — to create content that doesn’t just pull readers in, but holds on to their attention too. By no means is the media blind to these changes: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post notes that although “the numbers are addictive,” recently (he thinks probably over the last few years) “the operating principle has begun to change” in how measuring the value of a reader works."
The true value comes in the connection that the internet creates between the people who use it.
As these metrics and measurements continue to change, the ways that the media companies that watch them does too. The web didn’t just change the way that newspapers measure their reach, it totally turned how publications reach their audience upside down. The internet flattened the way that content is distributed. One of the most innate aspects of the modern internet is how it democratizes the way that content spreads. Again, Honan:
Your little sister can use the same distribution methods as the world’s most powerful publishers. She has instant access to you — potentially to everyone— and she doesn’t need to invest in broadcast towers or a printing press, satellites or coaxial cable. Neither does anyone else.
The flattening of the media has already had significant effects on how content is distrubuted. Suddenly, the local paper isn’t as meaningful as it one was. Ben Thompson outlined this in a post on his blog Stratechery. The internet lets you access a news article written in San Francisco just as easily as you can read one written in New York. Suddenly your news choices aren’t constrained by time or space, he argues. Thompson comes from a particularly insightful place: he self-publishes his blog and relies on reader subscriptions (disclosure: I’m one of those subscribers) as his main source of income.
Thompson is a personality; I read his blog every day because I respect and care about what he has to say. I trust him, and although we’ve never met, I feel like I know him. If you ask me, he’s one of the best at writing about what he writes about — technology viewed through the lens of business and strategy. Thompson isn't the only writer who I respect to this degree; there are dozens of other personalities who work for publications small and large. Daring Fireball, The Verge, VICE, WIRED, Stratechery, Vox.com, FiveThirtyEight, and The Wall Street Journal's tech section are just a few examples of some of the destinations I read just for the personalities behind them.
I’ve been an avid reader of the news for as long as I can remember. I started working at one of the fastest growing media properties before I even started college, and stayed there for almost three years as an intern. I’m interested in the news. But thanks to the flattening of the media landscape, anyone can create content. The internet has become a minefield where a cute cat video or a story where “you won’t believe what happens next!” is constantly pining for your time and attention. Just like you, I’m a busy guy. I don’t have the time to read everything on the internet. In fact, it’s not even humanly possible — YouTube users alone upload 300 hours of video every minute. Like Thompson, I only have time to read the best content, the stuff that’s most relevant to me and my interests.
So, Thompson says, the best writers will be handsomely rewarded with time and attention. But what happens to the unworthy, the average news writer just trying to get by? Again, Thompson:
What then, though, of the tens of thousands of journalists who formerly filled the middle of the bell curve? More broadly – and this is the central challenge to society presented by the Internet – what then of the millions of others in all the other industries touched by the Internet who are perfectly average and thus, in an age where the best is only a click away, are simply not needed?
This, Thompson rightly argues, is the dilemma facing the media. When only the best content matters, suddenly just “getting by” becomes significantly more difficult. The distribution of power favors only the best — reconciling the economic repercussions of this is when you start to run into trouble.
Newspapers are dying. But the news isn’t; it’s changing and growing. A 2010 academic paper by Leopoldina Fortunati and Mauro Sarrica delved into the social aspects of the media. The news is an innate and vital aspect of our society and how it works and functions. And as technology continues to grow and play an even larger role in people’s day to day lives, the importance of the media will only continue to grow.
This is driven by the connection that the internet provides; the news isn’t just a broadcast anymore, suddenly its a way to dovetail with likeminded people, discover new ideas, and crowdsource stories that even the most hardened journalist wouldn’t be able to work out.
Fortunati and Sarrica come to the conclusion that for the news to thrive in the new digital economy, journalists need to embrace new technology. Like Goldman says, the future of the media lies in the news creating new connections and furthering old ones.
So the news isn’t really dead. It’s just not what it used to be. The future will only bring about more changes, but it will also only bring about more connections. The moral of the story is that the media has shifted. If you ask me, this shift is indicative of an oncoming movement for many other parts of the business world; economics and stock trading, entertainment, medicine, and nearly every other field is being affected by the rush of technology. The future will only bring more of these changes. Newspapers might be dying, but if you ask me, the news definitely isn't dead — it's just growing up.
(the below are sources that I closely reviewed and used as a base for my research; there are several other sources hyper-linked throughout the above article to provide context)
Alteraman, E. (2008) Out of print. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/03/31/out-of-print
Fortunati, L., & Sarrica, M. (2010). The Future of the Press: Insights from the Sociotechnical Approach. Information Society, 26(4), 247-255. doi:10.1080/01972243.2010.489500
Cillizza, C. (24 March 2015). The future of journalism, in 3 sentences. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/03/24/the-future-of-journalism-in-1-sentence/
D’Orazio, D. (2015.) Facebook 'Instant Articles' may bring full news stories to your feed this month. The Verge, Vox Media. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/2/8535335/facebook-instant-articles-may-bring-full-news-stories-to-your-feed
(2014) How Technology is Changing Media. BuzzFeed. Retrieved from http://insights.buzzfeed.com/industry-trends-2014/
Goldman, J. (24 March 2015). The internet, the White House, and You (and Me). Medium.com Retrieved from https://medium.com/@goldman/the-internet-the-white-house-and-you-and-me-b6e033ebf096
Goel, V. (2014). It's official: Instagram is bigger than Twitter. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/its-official-instagram-is-bigger-than-twitter/?_r=0
Honan, M. (2014). Inside the Buzz-fueled media startups battling for your attention. WIRED. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2014/12/new-media-2/
Peretti, J. (2014) BuzzFeed doesn’t do clickbait. BuzzFeed. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/why-buzzfeed-doesnt-do-clickbait#.nevj5RyDV
Ulanof, L. (2014) William Shatner: My Problem With Twitter's Verified Accounts. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2014/06/24/william-shatner-twitter-verified/
Thompson, B. (2015) Why BuzzFeed is the most important news organization in the world. stratechery.com. Retrieved from https://stratechery.com/2015/buzzfeed-important-news-organization-world/
hompson, B. (2014) Newspapers are dead; long live journalism. stratechery.com. retrieved from https://stratechery.com/2014/newspapers-are-dead-long-live-journalism/
Thompson, B. (2014) FiveThirtyEight and the End of Average. stretchery.com Retrieved from https://stratechery.com/2014/fivethirtyeight-end-average/
Thompson, B. (2014) The stages of newspapers’ decline. stratechery.com. Retrieved from https://stratechery.com/2014/stages-newspapers-decline/
Williams, E. (2015) A mile wide, an inch deep. medium.com Retrieved from https://medium.com/@ev/a-mile-wide-an-inch-deep-48f36e48d4cb
1.) The 7-10 page (double spaced) written component of a multimedia journalism project should be written in the style of magazine journalism. The topic of the journalistic piece should be within the realm of digital communication, information, and media. In addition to interviews and appropriate narrative elements, the article should cite studies from appropriate academic fields as evidence, as is appropriate for long-form journalism.
a. For examples of long form magazine journalism, see The New Yorker, Wired, or The Times Magazine.
2.) Multimedia journalism pieces should be posted online as a webpage, and should include the author’s own images and figures and/or properly attributed images, figures, and videos from others.
a. When using others’ images, figures, and videos, make sure you are following proper attribution protocol by looking at Fair Use guides and/or using media that is in the public domain or that is properly attributed under copyright or Creative Commons license.