Part One: Surviving the “Me” era

 

If one thing is clear about the web, it is that it has changed the way people consume their news and entertainment. People were once people were forced to build their lives around the schedules and availability of news delivery. Now audiences are able to construct a highly personalised media experience.

This has provided great opportunities and great challenges to journalists and news organisations. While no longer limited by geographic boundaries or time constraints, media companies have struggled to maintain control over their content while trying to allow as much user freedom as possible.

Mainstream media has not had an easy time sorting out this balancing act. But the pursuit of balance is being successfully exploited by many companies. However, devising a strategy to thrive in the user-centred media economy is more than just putting up a website. It involves looking at what the “Me” era of journalism is going to mean for journalists, and learning how to find a place not in the traditional journalism paradigm, but in the universe of the individual reader.

The “Me” era

There are several elements that will almost certainly play a part. the user-centred era of journalism:

  • Citizen journalism: Both in terms of bloggers and citizens working with traditional media, we are going to continue to see a rise of citizen journalism, especially as computers and phones become better connected and more powerful, thus ensuring that everyday citizens will be the first to record almost any major event.
  • Social news: Social news sites such as Digg and Reddit allow users to vote on the content they feel is important. Inevitably, new social news sites will become more niche-oriented and focus on smaller topics.
  • RSS readers/personal homepages: Services such as Pageonce, My Yahoo! and Google Personal Home page allow users to create their own personal news desk. They can mix and match the sources they want in the order they want and look through all of the days news at a glance.
  • Media embedding: Sites such as YouTube and Voxant Newsroom allows web publishers to embed media content into their sites. This allows users to view a journalist’s work without even being on the original site.
  • Time shifting: The effects of the “Me” era are not limited to the Internet. Television, as well as radio to a lesser extent, are experiencing time shifting issues as users take advantage of digital records and podcasts to listen to broadcasts at convenient times for them.

Simply put, the “Me” era is going to be marked by the user taking control of their media experience and deciding when, where and how they are going to consume the content they want. This provides both great opportunities and great problems for journalists seeking to operate in this climate.

The good news

User-centred journalism brings with it a series of opportunities to expand both the reach and the frequency of contact with consumers.
image
Traditional borders and limitations of journalism become meaningless. Newspapers are no longer restricted to a geographic region, television stations and news broadcasts are no longer limited to a set schedule and radio is no longer just limited to being played on traditional receivers within the range of the signal.

This lets all media outlets reach consumers who, previously, would have been well beyond their reach and it also opens up news companies to experiment with other media types. Television stations can publish articles to their site while newspapers and radio can put up video feeds.

Also gone are the cost limitations of reaching such a large audience, with a website, reaching tens of thousands of people per day does not cost significantly more than just reaching one or two. Unlike print products, where every reader is an expense, or broadcast programmes for which expanding the signal is a major investment, media in the “Me” age scales relatively cheaply.

Finally, size no longer matters. With it being inexpensive to reach a large audience, small players can compete on almost the same footing as much larger competitors. Since users arrange their own schedules and create their own publications, there is little head-to-head competition and more room for inclusion of alternate sources.

The bad news

While consumers have more media at their disposal, in more forms than ever before, they are spending less time with content. A recent study found that offline media has already fallen behind the web in the amount consumed - but (frighteningly) the difference in time is not made up by time spent consuming media via the Internet.

Much of this can likely be attributed to greater efficiency with reading news content. Since it takes less time to obtain the same amount of information, consumers are able to spend less time with their media. It makes sense, but it also leads to frustration when it comes to selling ad space.

Advertising is another sore point for this particular era of journalism. When users have near-total control over the content they view, one of the first things to vanish is advertising. Whether they use DVRs to skip over television commercials, AdBlockPlus to remove ads on the web or another device to separate the content from the advertising that supports it, users can view the media without the ads.

Conclusions

Mitigating these drawbacks and problems while exploiting the advantages is a tough balancing act for any company. However, in the second part of this article, we will discuss general ways journalists and news organisations and can reach out to consumers while controlling their content and encouraging readers to support the finished product.

—-
Flickr photo from user “inju”, via Nieman Reports