The Media Sector is undergoing huge changes due to the digital revolution. In this essay I intend to identify some of the key reasons for these changes. By outlining basic organisational structure for various media groups I intend to show how they have had to adapt and develop as users demand content in different ways.
Starting in London, Britain’s Media hub new thinking and technology and demand began to give everybody access to news content in their homes. This wave of new technology inevitably began to influence the way journalists and media companies gathered collated and presented content. With the advent of Broadband users could access more content faster than ever before and in increasing quantities.
The current government has a plan which they outlined in the Broadband Britain Report of 08 to install Broadband in every home. They qualified this stating that access to Broadband was just as important as access to basic utilities such as gas electric and water supply. Currently if an internet provider is delivering under 2meg then you are classed as being digitally deprived. One of the key drivers that are spearing the sea-change of internet services has been the high demand for online video.
If you look at the Guardian Newspaper you can see many changes to the way it collates and presents information.
Ten years ago a journalist would gather stories in one of four main ways these were:
Meeting people possibly from their existing list of contacts
Press releases from PR companies (many sent by email)
News groups such as Usenet
Reading other publications
Five years ago the picture looked as follows:
Meeting people possibly from their existing list of contacts
Searching news websites
Searching Blogs and other publications
Press releases (all sent by email)
Today a journalist will rarely use press releases to create content. The vast majority of news stories will be developed by following RSS news feeds up to 500 daily. Twitter the micro-blog site is used heavily to learn what the rest of the world is thinking and talking about. In particular the sub-site, Twitscoop is used by today’s journalists for its ability to identify keywords that are appearing in tweets in large numbers. In the recent Trafigura story it was the Twitscoop keyword lists that enabled British journalists to see what other people felt about the story even though British journalists were unable to write about it because of an illegal injunction. This is just one way where something like a social networking site has been used in a different way to further the spread of information on the net.
One of the biggest changes in the newspaper industry is that the readers the general public will dictate the content. By following popular trends it is the readers who dictate which email provokes a response and a follow up from the journalist.
With major publications with increasing online presence such as the Guardian the content is developed for the web first and print formats second. By identifying which format is best for each story the provider is able to engage with readers more so than ever before. Information is accessible online in timely fashion with regular updates giving users exactly what they want to see. Today online content can be updated three times faster than previously achieved thus providing users with up to date relevant information on stories. Some stories will generate discussion via comment and feedback services, these can be a useful source of reader input and be used to follow up and repurpose a story for print, web or Blog. This idea of tailoring information can be further developed by measuring online traffic using packages to track from where users are coming from on the net, and markers to identify which pages and for how long each page is viewed. Obviously if your average page view is 12 seconds rather than a minute then you are not retaining your readers and would need to rethink the way you present your content. Two main concerns for all newspapers are:
Readers are interested in the story
The story is something they will pass on to others (through links to the pages in emails, blogs etc)
This last is crucial to getting a story to spread to different users, to get everybody clicking on that story, increasing page views and hit rates and creating a buzz around a story so that it gains more media time and space than a rival story)
The Hull Daily Mail is a subsection of the N.E. sector of Northcliffe Media Group who are in turn parented by the Daily Mail Trust. The parent company’s brand over arches the regional branding of Northcliffe and HDM. The HDM itself has a top down organisational structure from Editor John Meehan down to individual journalists. Deputy Editor David Bourn is in charge of daily operations in Hull. He has come from a print background and has developed content for Norwich Evening News, Trinity Mirror group and the Hexham Courant. It is widely expected that Editors will come from a design or content background.
Each day the Deputy Editor will call three news conferences with business managers, news editors from each section eg: Sports, News In Brief, Features, Arts/Culture and the imaging desk. The last of these may well just send edited images via the image feed direct to the meeting rather than actually attend in person. It is at these meetings crucial decisions are made according to numerous sets of criteria, what is to be published in print and what and how will content be repurposed for other publications or the web. HDM, unlike the Guardian and other major papers, due to its absence of expertise and delivery for online content, use a print first web second model (web first or simultaneous publication only in exceptional circumstances and if the story demands it) Other considerations have to be made regarding layout and multimedia aspects for online publishing. For instance will there be a piece of VT to go with the story will there be a series of images links to external sites. These considerations are made for the print version too, there may also be legalities to identify and other print boxes to finalise and pass from all the different sections of the paper in attendance.
Yet more considerations will be addressed such as the location of the story. These are whether it is local to the area and whether it holds local interest? It is possible the story is about a local person or issue that has relevance or interest on a wider scale. If the latter is true then the story can be repurposed for the web, perhaps including more imagery, an edited text and or VT. The same story could also be used in other regional papers coming under the Northcliffe name such as the Boston Herald, Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph to capture as many different markets as possible with the one story. Stories will also be repurposed usually shortened quite dramatically for the many free weekly editions. A shorter story simply means more space for print advertising.
With the change in HDM becoming a Daily rather than specifically an evening paper the latest stories can be included is 10:30 – 11:00pm for inclusion in the next edition. This change allows for a longer sales window and crucially for a paper to be able to break stories. However as we learned from the Guardian’s Charles Arthur Exclusives are things of the past. Everyone knows what the story is likely to be before hand, because everyone is writing as a reaction to and following the popular trends indicated by the soc-networks and blogs and micro-blogs that drive the media today.
BBC Five live is predominantly a broadcast radio station that has grown into a large content provider via digital services and via the website. The nature of their programming is also affected by their users. They have to be aware of what is of interest to their demographic and the programmes must reflect these interests and values. They are looking to target a particular group of people and strive to create a brand that appeals to that group in order for the listeners to buy into it. The station has listen online facilities sometimes with live webcams giving the user an insight into who the presenters are and exactly what is going on in the studio or OB (Outside Broadcast) This user interactivity acts much in the same way as the comment and feedback sections mentioned earlier. Throughout the live broadcast of the Simon Mayo, Mark Kermode show I witnessed print outs of messages/comments being passed to the presenter. These messages were coming directly from readers emailing and texting the show in real time. This allows the users to feel they are contributing to the show, are important to the show, because their message from among hundreds was read out live, and overtime they can develop loyalty and a sense of ownership to the show and station.
The changing nature of content gathering, packaging and presentation is prevalent in all major news providers as they struggle to retain their place in an increasingly competitive and ever-evolving market. If you look at the license funded BBC organisation there is an increasing emphasis on tailoring products to meet the demands of the license payers. No longer dictating the programmes broadcast but giving the viewer a range of choices and a sense of control over the content. The prefix Your is constantly used by media companies to suggest there is a shift in ownership of their product.
Like the radio programmes all the major television channels have shows that have interactivity built in. These can take the form of phone-in competitions, contests with public votes, online profiles for programmes with further information about the show’s presenters, writers etc. Many news shows have on screen adverts and links to view online only content such as reporters and presenters blog pages. For the first time ever whole programmes can be downloaded via home pcs – in some cases for limited time frames only – and watched at the user’s leisure. New digital channels are being created all the time creating to specialist markets, particular age groups, ethnicities and socio-economic demographics. Examples of these are things like BBC Parliament, BBC Knowledge, BBC3 and BBC4.
Closer to home the Hull Daily Mail has online services such as the forum based site Your Mail. Users pick topics sometimes generated by past news stories and discuss them online with other users of the service. These forum based platforms have limited interest because while they give the user a chance to air their own views and get their voice heard they attract persons with extremist viewpoints. Opinions can become very much polarised and inevitably the site breaks down into hackneyed personal attacks of one group or another.
The future of the media sector is hard to predict. One new application, idea, product or methodology could come to the fore gather popular appeal and change the digital world as we know it today. One such thing is the idea of Augmented Reality highlighted and demonstrated by Anand Verma from Sapient at Hull Digital Live. This is a new technology that allows a camera or view screen to look at a small black image within a large image and display seemingly by magic advertising and purchasing details for that product. For instance you could have a poster on a wall for a clothing range. By simply pointing the camera on your phone at the black dot on the poster you can access lots more information about the product and purchase it if you wish at the click of a button. Moreover if your phone has GPS application technology you can be situated anywhere in the world and using GPS your phone will draw you directions on the screen to the nearest station, hotel, airport etc.
I would suggest that that one of the strongest drivers for change, that being user led content, will remain just as important if not more so. We are likely to see more companies following this model particularly with the Advertising Sector tailoring their approach to particular groups via Google spiders and Search Engine Optimisation.
With Broadband in every home and potential connectivity worldwide, the amount of user created content could well become staggering. No-one really knows if the internet will be affected by the huge amounts of data being downloaded and uploaded. There are some experts that have said that this desire to get everyone online with faster speeds, could have the reverse affect and the increasing numbers may well slow down the net. Another issue to consider is that with this massive increase of content there will be the inevitable decrease in quality.
Do we really want more footage of hapless folk falling in garden ponds for instance, or far more film of little Johnny’s school nativity play? They might have interest to the immediate family but not so the rest of the world.
Each year the cost of software and hardware, comes down allowing people to purchase better software, updated programs faster modems, increased memory capacity, faster processing speeds thus spreading the power and appeal of I.T. The next generation will have grown up in a world where they have been exposed to I.T from infancy and will be far more tech savvy than the last generation. They will drive the new ideas to build upon the innovation of today and keep the digital revolution moving ever onward.
However there are very real issues that will have to be faced by the Media Sector. There are many legal and ethical issues that will have to be addressed with regard to what is and what is not proper content for the net. There are many ways that the net is used to commit crime such as fraud, exchanging unsuitable content, identification theft etc. Most people believe they retain ownership of content that is placed on the net while some see content online as being in the public domain. Music download sites have had to face up to and overcome issues surrounding copyright and publishing rights. New models will have to be designed to overcome these problems with file-sharing.
It is inevitable that Media companies with news outputs will develop some kind of financial model to generate revenue from the users. This could lead to a two tiered digital divide with affluent persons being able to pay for and access content, while those without being left behind: without the knowledge and disempowered. The idea of pay per-view models for specialist subject areas, celebrity news and updates for example, could just be a ploy to tax the poor. It seems to be this group more than others who feed their aspirations by devouring this kind of material.
The ongoing race will continue apace to keep up with consumer demands, new ways to further communication and social networking. The virtual office is now a reality so working from work stations at home may well become the norm. This new way of working could appease the ecological groups by cutting down travel pollution. Looking at the Eco angle further pc construction and application will become even smaller and portable, less raw materials to make them thus making them greener. Hardware is currently in operation and will be further developed to make internet connectivity a very real possibility when existing provision has been disrupted due to war or disaster. Thus journalists could broadcast and communicate with people on the ground in areas where communication would be nigh impossible. It was noted that the use of these backpack devices were used extensively by aid workers trying to stay in touch with base camps, people out in the field and to allow survivors to email family members to let them know their condition. This technology will almost certainly make rescue efforts and rebuilding communities much more effective.
In every area of life online technologies will become crucial to connecting people any place, any time using different formats, voice, image, text or a mix of all three, in one single package. People will become linked to products and services more, this increased connectivity and public input will drive competition and shape future provision of those products and services. Recently hospitals and GP surgeries have been mapped online with comment features for the public to use affecting the way we access our health needs. There are recent developments in data sharing in the scientific community. Sites are being developed that allow users to share data, results on experiments, methodology and more with their fellow scientists. By using more focussed Search Engines the creators of this site can deliver better choices more relevant choices that may interest the scientist when searching for a particular paper or journal. This kind of application could easily be transferred to a journalistic community where stories with relevance to your search key words would appear as links on the screen. It is often very difficult and time consuming to research material from archives that relate to your particular angle.
To summarise the Media Sector will grow and develop new schools of thought, new pioneers and new applications. The major players will have to be far more aware of their users and react quickly to changes in popular trends and technology development. Journalists will have to become increasingly multi-skilled and au fait with new technologies. As the medium moves forward so must they or risk being phased out and replaced. There is room for the smaller players but top-down centralisation may well destroy their regional appeal. Digital broadcasts will grow exponentially with user created content and the expected surge of online video. The only constant is that change will happen, and those who are ahead of the game have the best chance of survival.