When World Wide Web arrived, who would have thought it could emerge as a reliable source of news; leave alone the possibility of building a viable business model around such news! Yes, it was supposed to be the storehouse of information and a convenient and cost-effective way of communication. But could it have been thought of as a replacement for newspapers and television channels? However, developments in the online world have been so rapid and vast that everyone is surprised. Today, it has become a viable, stable and reliable platform for content based projects and has opened the floodgates for everyone to become a publisher.
In the online news world, newspaper houses are competing with technology companies such as Yahoo, MSN and Google; and journalists with aggregators and automated scripts as popularity is measured not by your writing and analytical skills but by the hits, views or diggs you get.
The art and craft of Journalism, first hit by new age brand managers of newspaper houses themselves, has faced another blow from the online world which is questioning the relevance of the word ‘journalism’ itself! In an online news world, there are technology specialists, there are content writers, there are news crawlers, there are automated scripts and there are search engines, but no journalists! Old media has seen a process of systematically eroding the institution of journalism and new media which believes in plain information has virtually no role for it as algorithm is more important here than analysis!
Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired is ruthless in his reaction, “I don't use the word "media." I don't use the word "news." I don't think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like a horseless carriage.”
Writing on the walls is clear. It is not just the print media which is in danger. Journalism itself is under threat and in effect the system of scrutiny that keeps our democracy and society under check.
But why did the western media let things go out of hands? Why did they allow a facilitator to turn into a competitor?
If you ask media maverick Rupert Murdock of News Corp, he will put blame on Internet companies such as Google, which ‘are stealing content from newspaper websites without sharing advertising revenue.’ His stand is difficult to fathom as newspapers have generally benefited from search engines sending millions of visitors to their websites every day. How many successful websites or portals could have been there without the existence of search engines? After all, they have played the most important part in the success of World Wide Web!
There is a late realization in the western press that their web-content needs to be charged for. A few years ago, when the practice of putting news content on websites and portals had started, they didn’t even bother to think about its marketability. The goal was to use Internet for expanding their reach, generating brand value and finding more readers rather than making money. Now that Internet is flooding with free content of every conceivable kind, they want to use news content to earn the revenue they desperately need. In the meantime, however, the Web has become synonymous with ‘free content’. Make your content chargeable and the surfers will find another home. (Rupert Murdock’s Wall Street Journal, though, is a successful example of charged news content, but most other experiments at paid online subscription have failed. Our own India Today group had to close its online newspaper ‘The Newspaper Today’ after the experiment of charging the users fell flat.)
Newspapers are at fault for filtering out serious journalism which could have given them the much needed edge today. Business interests of newspapers left little space for core journalistic values, strengths and flavours to thrive.
Do you remember any big scoop broken by your favourite newspaper in the past one month? How many great analyses are being written today? Compare the ‘worth’ of today’s daily newspaper with that of 20 years back and you will realize the difference. They may have become more attractive and colourful but are they as rich of exclusive information that they used to be? Are they as impartial and honest as they were a few decades ago?
The question is, what extra and noteworthy content does a reader get in a newspaper today that he doesn’t get on television and online media?
Another failure has been the print’s inability to devise ways of converting its web traffic into circulation and revenue. Newspaper houses have not shown enough understanding of this emerging new medium which follows rules that are fundamentally different from those in Print. Now, the traditional mindsets are finding it difficult to make rapport with the notion that content can be free. They needed to accept that free too can be profitable in an online world, like Google is. They need to cash in on their brand value in the online world by investing in new ideas, entering new areas, new services and new products. To thrive in the new media, they need to break free in areas such as services and commerce. Limiting themselves to news, and serving similar content on multiple print, electronic and digital platforms would not get results.