I didn’t blog a year back when Instagram, was valued at One BILLION dollars and acquired by Facebook, about the same time when Kodak filed for bankruptcy. I thought enough has been written already about how Instagram, which allows people to share pictures, as opposed to Kodak which allowed people to store memories in an album, has a wider appeal in a generation which seeks identity in a stream of digital consciousness, with ‘likes’ holding higher value than the memories the camera captures. I also thought that 18 million users being valued at a billion dollars was a bit much, when the tech giant which had a nuclear reactor in a basement for testing X-Ray film was worth squat.
I didn’t blog when Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, went and acquired Washington Post on August 5, 2013 for USD 250 Million, though I did comment on the fact that Ariana Huffington got better valuation from Steve Chase’s AOL when Huffington Post was acquired on Feb 7, 2011 for USD 315 Million. The fact that newspapers and news organisations are having a trying time coping with a world which went digital ( as in content for FREE) and social ( as in anyone could report a news story) is not news!
What is news, however, is what that means for so-called “editorial standards”, and that’s the subject of my post. For some one who learnt the English language, reading and writing summary and precis from edit page articles, while in grade school, and someone who chose a career in financial journalism instead of a career in finance and accounts, in the heady days of India’s economic liberalization, “editorial standards” means a lot more to me than choosing what news to feature on page one, and what would the readers/ viewers (since most writing now is trans-media) want learned opinions about.
Language- as my later career in corporate communications and marketing taught me, is not about being spell check perfect, but about getting the right message across for the right call to action, and it starts with knowing who your current and prospect readers/viewers are. With SMS, and email, the need to convey thoughts and events in long form became obsolete, and now with the 140-character limit specified by Twitter, language and articulation is all about #hashtags and short URL’s. Editorial standards in terms of language correctness stands negated and relegated into the bins of history.
A friend reminded me of a newsdesk editor, ranting at a reporter for using the word “allegedly” in a number of breaking news copies. “Either you allege, and you have proof, or you don’t, and you don’t have a story”, go back and do the research”.
what social media and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have flipped the paradigm of news reporting. In 140- characters, you either have an opinion or you don’t. And guess what, the more interesting (or rabid/vapid/ weird – take your pick!) the opinion, the more followers you have. Small wonder then, that there are more micro-celebs in each micro-interest area and there are more trolls, who will jump onto any keyword which remotely looks like an opportunity to belabor their argument.
The editorial angle-
The slant of the story- has now become the Achilles Heel of “editorial standards” of standing by a story. Since, stories are developing in real time, newsrooms have to run with whatever half-baked facts that are available, and reportage is overwhelmed by a barrage of noise from social media, with little or no means to establish a fact. Now, since editors on TV and print are being led around by social media, they have to go with the flow. And hence, a stance taken one day can, and should, be challenged the very next. The gentle reader, then led by breaking news on social media, shared by friends and family, or opinions shared and re-tweeted on twitter, can and often does avoid referring to media at all.
In any case, the celebrity TV anchors, and influential editors are on social media hawking their views, opinions, and breaking news updates. And the last nail, of course, is technology, which now allows aggregators like Flipboard, Magster, Zite to throw up the articles from across news media and blogosphere according to the tablet users interests, and last cached surfing behavior.
Small wonder, then that news organisations are downing shutters across the world, and the business of news is raising its hands up to enable new owners find a value proposition that works. The ones that continue to make profits, long realized that they were in the business of advertising and access to their readers, and went onto build walled gardens around reader/viewer experience, and transitioned their model into “paid” media, building business cases around almost all news reported on their publications and channels.
So what happens to all those laid off from news rooms, and reporting bureaus? Here’s a word of advice!
There are two more emerging categories of media- “owned” and “earned” which are now becoming a business model. In the case of “Owned Media” Coca-Cola, for instance, has upended its online presence to make it a crowd-sourced engagement platform, other experiments which have gained ground are niche aggregation platforms such as American Express Open Forum. In my opinion, there are viable options to profit from contributing news stories, articles, if not, ghost-ed authored pieces.
“Earned Media” is the model that developed out of traffic to blogs, aggregated by crowd-sourced news engines such as Huff Post. If you have a blog, which attracts readers/viewers, and gets mentioned in these publications, the ad revenues can be enough for sustaining the blogger, though it takes great effort to get the audience in place.
So finally, what happens to news? The role of guided discovery that newspapers played in the 20th century, and TV in the last few decades is now in the hands of the smartphone wielding instagram app powered socially networked citizen. The role of editorial control is being debated in law courts around the world, where Google, Twitter, Facebook, the new platforms for content that makes news, are hauled in for hosting content which their servers do not have access to read and edit. Even if there was a technology solution, un-touched by human hand, is the zeitgeist of the times.
And unless people powered with the same devices, vote for “editorially curated content” and “opinions they are willing to pay for”, the news organization, as one knew it, is almost at the verge of closure.
The NEW, news organization will emerge when “editorial standards” includes one more question to the 4W+1H for a news story, and that is,
“How does this content and opinion connect with the expressions, interests and ‘like’s of the readers/viewers?”