Many people see tech giants as the death of journalism. For one thing, they suck up much of the ad revenue that used to go to newspapers. For another, they make users accustomed to being given content for free. But rather than killing the news, are big digital players like Google simply forcing it to be reinvented?
This is what Robert Andrews suggests in an article, published today by paidContent, which covers a meeting of Paley Center’s international council of media executives in Madrid. Andrews quotes the head of news products and Google+ programming at Google, Richard Gingras, and Facebook’s journalism manager Vadim Lavrusik, who both presented the media executives with ways that journalism would be reformed with technology.
Among the points that Gingras made, was that technology was upending the traditional story form. “There will be a day – and it should not be far from now – where we can create persistent forms of stories not written in narrative form but in (Google) Fusion Tables and query strings, status updates and tweets,” said Gingras, quoted by Andrews.
Not only the form of a story, but the way it is displayed needs to be changed, argued Gingras. “Seventy-five percent of uniques are coming from external sources, only 25 percent are coming to the homepage,” he said, yet he told media executives that when they redesign their content “90 percent of your focus is on the homepage, because that’s how you present yourself to the world.” This balance needs to be flipped.
Both Gingras and Lavrusik suggested that the web favours targeted articles or analysis, rather than sheer volume of content. Rather than constant news updates, Lavrusik argued that, in the digital age, “people want analysis from journalists.” He suggested that ”posts with journalists’ analysis receive 20 percent more referral clicks (than others).” Gingras added that media organisations should consider becoming more focused on certain specialisms to compete with the large volume of niche content available online.
Although, according to the article, Gingras stressed that Google is “not a news company,” there’s little doubt that the lines between traditional media and technology giants are becoming increasingly blurred. As we recently reported, Martin Clarke, the publisher of Mail Online, which has been named by comScore as the most-visited newspaper website in the world, recently told investors that the publication had a “new competitive set," not made up of other traditional news organisations, but of digital companies too. “Our aim is to become quite simply one of the biggest digital news providers in the world,” said Clarke. “We're already bigger than BBC News, The New York Times, Fox News and ABC News - and we're not that far behind digital-only giants like AOL-Huff Po and MSN,” he stated.
It’s not uncommon for digital executives to be hired as the heads of traditional media companies, for example former Microsoft VP Ashley Highfield, who was hired as the CEO of Johnston Press last summer, or former Digitas CEO Laura Lang, who was take on by Time Inc as its chief executive. Digital companies are themselves blurring the lines between being a passive platform for content and acting as an active media company: the social media and blogging platform Tumblr recently hired its first editor-in-chief, who was interviewed earlier this week by AdWeek.
In the rapidly evolving media landscape it’s hard to be sure of much, but one thing seems certain: as tradition and digital media companies continue to blur together, predictions from the likes of Google and Facebook about the future of the media can only become more important.