Digital News Media: Everything Old Is, Err, Old Again
Anyone who's worked in the news media for a while, as is the case with me, would likely be tremendously excited by the arrival of so many of new distribution platforms. They hold so much promise and truly democratize the landscape.
Viewership is more fractionalized than ever, and the younger you are the more likely you are to consume media and acquire information you trust differently. Mobile devices, social platforms, OTT - they're where the action is for generations of younger media consumers.
NEWS: DIVING INTO DIGITAL
To reach those audiences, everyone is diving as fast as possible into digital. All the major networks are looking to create (or already have) alternatives to their news offerings, and there are litanies of digital entrants. Virtually every name you can think of is making a content play around news and current topics, delivered "the new way".
Yet, here's the big surprise. The content being produced on many of these platforms is remarkably similar to what's airing on "old media" That sameness is a letdown.
They routinely turn to "newspeak" - often hackneyed and trite, they often sit behind anchor desks, and they make all the same storytelling and production mistakes. They're also not delivering new, deeper, more informative takeaways. The backstory is almost never explained. The content isn't any more engaging.
WHAT DIGITAL AUDIENCES SAY THEY WANT
Younger, disenfranchised news consumers place very little trust in traditional news media, and they don't use it much. They hate being talked at. They disdain bloviators or obfuscators. They want authenticity and value-added. They're so swamped with news flow from all the sources on their handhelds that news stories without anything to add are a big turn-off. I hear it all the time: "Tell me something I don't know."
They also want what they want when they want it. They don't want to sit through some same-old same-old waiting for the story they're most interested in. Watching my son thumbing through Reddit, pausing only for the stuff that interests him, is a metaphor for the new generation of news consumers. They'll decide for themselves what's interesting, what they want to know, and move squarely in that direction. That poses a significant threat to all linear media, whether it's via traditional broadcast or streamed. Streaming services will need to countermand that risk is by putting on a first-class package that is compellingly attractive - editorially and visually.
THE STORYTELLING AND PRODUCTION IS SURPRISINGLY WEAK
As for the visuals - why are the newbies in the game turning back to all the traditional means of production? Why so boring? Why telegraph the predictable with even more predictable production landscapes? I'm not a "change the set, change the graphics, fire the anchors" change-for-change's sake kind of guy, but there are a litany of new tools available today to enhance information delivery. Hardly anyone's using them. Great graphics and animations, more sound, immersive images through augmented reality, even something as simple as more active videography. The biggest news stories of the day can be taken out of the hands of the traditionalists and packed with qualities that transform them into something more exciting to watch, while going deeper, and delivering more context. I'll bet you that the first player to do that on a regular basis will generate much higher levels of engagement - triggering shares, recommendations to friends, and earning greater loyalty.
I've been watching - a lot. I don't see the denizens of digital delivering a dose of breakthroughs. Rather, I see a lot of imitation. Many of today's digital news leaders are getting hired to produce and provide what business leaders hope will be the next big thing: fresh, breakout TV. But they can't, because they're held hostage by their own bad habits, acquired in linear, conventional television - or at smaller shops where they may well have had neither the tools nor the training.
YOUNGER JOURNALISTS AREN'T ALWAYS YOUNGER THINKERS
And here's something remarkable: A lot of recent graduates of journalism and television production programs from some of the best schools in the country are adhering to dated paradigms in editorial and presentation. Many of them are writing badly, don't know how to create context or weave sound and story together for meaning, and bringing almost nothing fresh to the table. Those expected to be the most progressive and Avant Garde in their storytelling and production are often anything but.
I've talked to a -ton- of millennials, gen-y, gen-z, even disenfranchised boomers. I hear the same criticisms everywhere I travel. "Don't lecture me, don't talk at me, don't repeat the same crap over and over, don't paint a one-sided rhetorical picture, and above all else, tell me something new and show me stuff that I didn't know." That's what they're saying. I don't see a lot of evidence the digiscape is listening.
IT'S TIME TO MAKE GOOD ON THE PROMISE
The time is at hand for true reinvention. It's more important than ever for younger audiences to be interested in, and have access to sources they trust - providing engaging, truthful, accurate, informative, enlightening and memorable news coverage. If they sample one of the services and are dissatisfied, they may not be back for another try. There is almost limitless potential and promise here - but it's crucial to fashion great content well-matched to this vast and still underserved audience. Here's to getting it right.