Technology is not the anchor, it’s the lifesaver

June 5, José Llorente

A few days ago I discovered this magnificent Gallego & Rey vignette which, in my opinion, perfectly describes what is happening in the newspaper industry: the exhaustion of an obsolete business model and its necessary (and urgent) transformation.

Many are the voices that blame new technologies for the decline of traditional journalism. Newspapers shutting down, journalists queuing up at job centers or communities that are "marginalized" without local news dailies, are some of the consequences of the immediacy (RRSS), disintermediation of the profession (anyone with a smartphone can share news with the rest of the world and become viral) and dehumanization (the birth of so-called "robotic journalism software").

New technologies have arrived, yes, and they have done so to stay, but it should not be seen as a threat, but as a real and challenging opportunity. Just as the medium has changed, so must the content and the way of presenting it. Replicating the paper edition to a digital one, with traditional uses and models in which only the channel changes, is an error that many media have committed.

We must differentiate between digitalization and digital transformation. Paper and the digital environment are far from being the same business and must be approached differently: they do not have the same audience, the form of monetization is not the same and neither are the expectations of the reader.

Today's media outlet must be able to attract a new type of reader profile, which will be its lifesaver tomorrow: a digital native, much more critical and demanding, and who requires more personalized, immediate and participatory content.

For someone who has read a news story in RRSS, has followed it in a live stream and has shared it through WhatsApp with their relatives, colleagues and friends, for that information to appear the following morning occupying the covers of the great headers of our country, is not only irrelevant, but almost prehistoric.

However, if the following day (or even several days after the event occurs), that information appears in the online edition treated in greater depth, accompanied by interactive infographics, with a video of the opinions of different experts from all over the world regarding the matter... things change.

In this sense, the media cases that have exploited the network to grow are widely known. The Financial Times multiplied its subscriptions thanks to the work of journalists who reinvented themselves and have been writing for years for a web that, as an appendix, has a printed newspaper. On this same track, the British newspaper The Times saw its net subscriptions rise 200 percent in a year, after its publishers decided to break with "breaking news", to turn its strategy into one of background content. The Telegraph's success also skyrocketed by establishing a payment wall and by betting on premium content. In just over four months, the subscriber rate soared 300 percent and that of unique visitors did so by 400 percent.

But, did they not say that the young of today are the "generation that does not spend"? They have grown up with online portals with a wealth of free multimedia content (music, series, movies ...) and yet today they prefer to pay subscriptions to platforms like Netflix or Spotify that guarantee content of quality, personalization and variety, and which they can access from multiple platforms.

What is the challenge then? That the media learn from the changes in consumer habits. The reality is not that the generations to come do not want to pay, but that what is on offer does not fit their expectations. It is time to develop new business models.

To grow (and maintain) a loyal user audience and monetize it, new products have to be offered that provide value that consumers cannot get elsewhere. In this sense, today's consumers (and readers are still news consumers) have learned to demand experiences. Thus, to involve them with the content, work on the user experience, dare, innovate, be disruptive and explore the endless opportunities that technology offers (Internet of Things, mass data management in Big Data ...) are some of the ways that editors must have the courage to exploit, to save quality journalism from the claws of those who are trying to kill it off through social media and the spreading of fake news.

Just as the most disruptive brands are doing, the media should focus on concepts such as the "phygital" experiences, that is, the convergence between the physical and the digital planes, immersive content, augmented or virtual reality, and live narratives.

Also, online advertising has to go beyond banners and leave behind its intrusive role to become part of the user experience when visiting media sites. I am referring to so-called native advertising, a type of advertising that adapts to the need for personalization of users by suggesting content according to our tastes. Or the advertising Tweets that we can see in our timelines, which integrate perfectly into the user experience. In this, information supplied by Big Data, for use in segmentation, and tracking the information patterns of readers, has to be a priority.

A machine can never surpass us in intelligence, motivation, feelings, intuition, creativity or awareness. In potency, speed of calculation, in precision: yes; in empathy and internal knowledge about humans, never.

Therefore, the solution is to reinvent ourselves and learn to work together with machines, to grow together. As Erik Brynjolfsson, an expert in information economics says:

"We are in the midst of the transformation towards 21st century society, and the result is still open: either with a shared wealth or, on the contrary, with a higher inequality. This decision is the consequence of individual choices and of society as a whole. Power is in our hands. Technology is only a tool."

A tool that should serve to better the quality of content and media's credibility. In short the lifeline of good journalism.

No comments yet
required