Archive for the ‘Media’ Category
From a Q&A session for a journalism student’s project, not edited much for language or clarity and a bit rambling.
1. As the newspaper industry in India is a growing one, do you think there is a need for integration, as in the West it is mostly done to prevent the death of newspapers.
I am not quite sure what exactly does “integration” stand for here. If it means cross-publication integration, as seen in the case of Times of India and Hindustan Times, there is an absolute need for it. Granted, that traditional media is still growing at a rapid pace in India, mainly because we are still a fair bit away from market saturation (more readers/viewers being added to the group and a growing number of English-speaking and newly literate junta) and also because we are about five to seven years behind the curve in the internet penetration game in relation to the West. But it is a given that the scenario won’t be the same forever.
The closer you get to such a situation, the more pressure publications and their managements would feel to increase efficiencies and cut costs. And one of the ways to get something like that done is to integrate across organizations, especially in emerging market segments and niches that don’t justify the cost or the expense of two or more players going at each other just because the other one is getting into that market. I also think we would soon see publications pooling resources on commonplace reporting and coverage, like press conferences and industry events, to cut out the agencies in the longer run.
Within organizations, there is already an increased thrust on integration within themselves. For instance, one of the interesting things we had done with CNN-IBN was to have a deeply-integrated online operation with the channel and while we have been successful, arguably, more than anyone else, there is still a huge distance to go for us. For newspapers, the primary issue is technology, followed by mindsets. It is easier for a television channel to invest in a decent online publishing system than it is for a print publication. There are decent automated publishing solutions available for print publications to push out online content without much additional effort from the existing teams, but they cost a hell of a lot of cash and often involves upgrades to existing print software, thus scaring off a lot of cost-conscious organizations.
In any case, being online, by itself cannot save the print organizations. There are decent revenues coming in from the online operations, but not enough by any means to cover the existing cost structures of print media. There are also issues with scaling. After a certain point, it costs a whole lot more of money to support huge levels of traffic on these websites and the support personnel to keep them going. Thus, the need to integrate is very much there, but how it should be done is a question to which the answer is not clear yet.
2. You stated that HT as an organisation is one of the least change-friendly places in Indian media. Do you think integration in HT will be successful?
HT has a reputation for being a very “babu” joint. But it is a problem that is not limited just to HT, it is probably visible to a much greater extent there than anywhere else. But they are trying to turn a new leaf, with their new initiatives, though the degree of success they have achieved is something that is not very visible right now. Given enough incentive, initiative and clarity, almost anyone can be successful, but most organisations don’t back up the intent with the seriousness, dedication or resources (financial, infrastructural and human) that is required to pull something like that off.
3. Will integration result in downsizing of employees who are not competent in handling multi-media?
If you ask me, I come from the school of thought that skills are portable and that tools are just things that you use to exercise and leverage those skills. Any good professional will need to be adequately tooled to adapt to his/her working environment, if the skills are to be used right and compensated for in the right manner. A god sub-edtior is a good sub-editor, irrespective of whether he/she is in a print, television or an online environment.
So, the whole issue of competency is a non-starter if you don’t hold on to the thought that the tool is much more important the skill that it brings out.
Those who don’t adapt will lose out.
4. Is integration an attempt to increase the paper’s readership and retain the brand image of the paper, as today, many get their news from the television and internet?
Most of the integration are attempts that fall under the “let us do something!” domain. Most attempts don’t have a clear cut idea of what is the eventual objective than an almost unquestioned worshipping of buzz words and catch phrases. But, I guess, the more important part is that things are being attempted right now, than being totally ignored. A large part of those attempts are driven by desperation, seeing the events elsewhere and trying to keep the wolf out of the door at a future date. The others are business-led initiatives, where companies want to maximise the revenue from the content they have already produced and published. There are very few editorially driven initiatives in the domain.
I do not think there is a reverse flow of audiences from online to newspapers purely as a derivative of their online presence. One of the fallacies of cross-media promotions is that there is a direct correlation between sustained audience growth as a result of context switching (television, print and online being the contexts). Yes, it does have an impact in terms of branding, marketing and recall, but I have not seen anything yet that drives sustained growth in usage.
5. What is the future of print media?
That is a tough one to answer and the answer it itself probably lies in the fact that kids who will be born 10 years from now won’t have a primary instinct to write on or read anything from a piece of paper. Their primary instincts would be driven towards handheld devices or to a keyboard on a computing device. The current usage of print media is sustained by generations who have the primary instinct to write on and read off a paper. Maybe, some twenty or thirty years from now, that generation won’t be the ones who hold the purse strings in terms of spending. From that point of view, the future is very bleak for print media.
That said, print also has been one of the oldest forms that have been around. It has survived radio and television till date and I don’t see why it would not survive the onslaught of the internet. The internet is more of a tectonic change that has consequences much beyond the little sphere of media, so it would be unnatural to assume that print would be left untouched by it. I think what will save print would eventually be technology. It may well not survive as the print we know of now — of being printed on deadwood — and probably move into a form that is only similar in shape, but in the end it may just surprise us all by surviving and doing well 40 years from now.
In “You Don’t Understand Our Audience,” John Hockenberry writes about his time while working with NBC on Dateline NBC and the things he had learned from his time there.
It is quite a long piece and I don’t have the time to go through all the points, but there is one bit that stands out in it, which has bothered me (being someone who started out as a journalist) for a while now:
While Six Sigma’s goal-oriented blather and obsession with measuring everything was jarring, it was also weirdly familiar, inasmuch as it was strikingly reminiscent of my college Maoism I class. Mao seemed to be a good model for Jack Welch and his Six Sigma foot soldiers; Six Sigma’s “Champions” and “Black Belts” were Mao’s “Cadres” and “Squad Leaders.”
While quantifying results, targets and every possible variable is almost a given in any operation, it is, perhaps, not best applied in a news or a media environment. It may look like commonsense that results may not always be in line with effort in a news operation for most media people (read journalists, producers etc), the same is not what can be said about top level executives who are not from a media background.
The reasons are quite simple:
- 20% of your top-performing content will always do well, irrespective of the incremental effort you put into it. This segment will always have lousy marginal productivity, since the story by itself will do well.
- The bottom 20% of your content will always suck and never do well, even if you were to break your head against the wall and also the heads of the rest of your editorial team. This segment is a place where you have no business putting anything more than your cursory effort into.
- The middle 30% is where your hidden gems are often to be found. If you need to make something like Sig Sigma work, you need to consider this 60% as the 100% subset you got to work with.
Obviously, for a top level executive who has seen Six Sigma work wonders across the production line, it is an impossible situation to fathom that you can’t eliminate all inefficiencies when your primary product is something that has inefficiencies which can’t be eliminated.
- A bunch of cats and dogs speaking silly English gets more traction on a regular basis than the political blog of a mainstream television network on WordPress.com
- The most read story on latimes.com is about a transsexual sportswriter coming out in the publication that
heshe writes for.
- OJR’s “Five lessons from 2007” amount to pretty much no lesson at all. Seriously, if getting a breaking news blog, copying sports style and trying to dig the facts out is all that it would take to ‘fix’ media in 2008, I am at a loss for what can be said about the situation.
I do not normally buy magazines. The only time I tend to read them are when friends leave them behind or when I am flying and have nothing better to do other than to flip through one.
This is partly because in the past ten years, the quality of magazines (in terms of writing and coverage) has really gone down the drain. I don’t read a magazine to know what is happening or what has happened. I read a magazine for insight and deeper coverage than what a newspaper or a website will normally provide me and most magazines just don’t do that these days.
In the past couple of weeks, out of sheer curiosity, I happened to pick up two magazines hawked by kids at the traffic lights to see what was it that I could possibly have been missing out on. And to be honest, it felt not very different from the online experience in accessing content.
Most of the upmarket magazines (business, lifestyle and entertainment) have advertisements every second or third page and the only difference between the different segments seem to be in the brands that are associated with them.
Now, it is a well-known fact that the price at which any print publication sells these days is not enough to cover even the printing costs and that the difference is mostly made up through these massive advertising.
But what is interesting is that the same approach, of subsidizing production costs through advertising, when used in an online environment gets the goat of almost everyone.
Let us do a comparison:
- Standard spot banners online features prominently in print as single column or double column advertisements.
- Interstitials are present in print as full page advertisements. You need to flip or click through to get to the content.
- Shoshkeles are also present in print as the newfangled covers that wrap around the original cover.
- Cobranded sections/pages are also found quite frequently in print.
Curiously, the direct cost associated with buying a magazine or a newspaper is much more obvious than what it is compared to accessing a website. In doing the latter you are probably paying only your ISP, but the irritation quotient is much higher with online advertising than it is with advertising in print.
I can’t put my finger on this one, but what really does give here? Is it that you can ‘own’ a publication you bought, compared to a web page which is never yours? Or is it the heightened levels of interaction (or irritation?) that is to blame here?
These are thoughts that have been lingering in my mind for a while now regarding the future of the news publication business. I have been putting off publishing them for a while to write that perfect long winding essay, but spare time being such a luxury these days, numbered points will have to do for the time being.
- The newspaper as we know it, printed on paper and published once or twice a night, won’t survive it to the time when the generation after the next joins the workforce. It is an outdated endeavor that is mostly supported by a dying habit, which won’t find any resonance in the generation to come after the next. Additionally, we’ll also get to save so many trees and help better content to get published by means of cheaper publishing costs, compared to awful and painful experience that procuring newsprint is these days.
- The concept of a newspaper, though, won’t die. While Kindle is not the future, it is a pointer to the direction that we’ll head out in the future. While we have historically been happy to carry more than one portable device (mobile phones, MP3 players, pagers, walkmans etc), the trend definitely is pushing towards converged devices (mobile phones and PIMs, mobile phones and MP3 players, mobile phones and GPS units). Something really has to give here. The gazillion dollar question is how would it be possible to marry the existing form factor with the ease of distribution that is associated with newspapers these days.
- Publications will do something dramatic to survive. In all likelihood, this will be to drop their agency deals and pool resources to cut costs. Think about it: newspapers and television channels push out some fifty reporters at a Prime Minister’s press conference to report the same boring bits and bytes. There used to be a love for the language the way in which was used in the old time that could have earlier justified it. But the new zest is for sharper, crisper language and not 900 word works of art that nobody has the time to read. The unions and the current generation of journalists won’t take to this one lightly, but they can do it the painless way and restructure in peace or do it the painful way: to fight it and make a mess of things. The news publication of the future will have most of its senior reporters covering
non-unique stories, while a pool of common reporters will do what an agency does now, at a considerably lesser cost.
- Distribution will also undergo a major change. We could have, instead of newspaper stalls, subscription points where you can transfer content to your device from kiosks through bluetooth (imagine the security nightmare! Or, if you are smart, you would start investing in a company that provides secure and reliable bluetooth connects through some form of fingerprinting) or wifi. The displays will show leading pages, very much like a normal newspaper vendor’s stall these days, but you won’t be buying the edition, you would be transferring it. Once transferred, you can read, share and suggest the content, making you a subconscious editor of a virtual publication.
The world of blogs is reacting to an Op Ed by Neil Henry about the decline of news and the role that internet properties like Google and Craigslist have played in this decline. This latest missive has been attributed to The Chronicle’s announcement earlier this month that they are going to let go 100 newsroom hands in an effort to save costs.
According to John Battelle, there were around 400 journalists working recently with the publication and I can only share the shock he has expressed about the number. It does not take 400 journalists to bring out any kind of media publication these days. Those numbers belong to online travel agents and their BPO operations; they don’t belong to any self-respecting news organization. As usual, the outrage is justified, but the blame certainly is not Google’s.
The blame squarely lies with the people who run traditional media, who, in the first place, should fire their sales team instead of the journalists. After all, it is not the fault of the journalists that advertising revenue is dropping alarmingly year-on-year. Can you recollect even a single sales head that was fired recently for the decline? I can’t, I’d be surprised if you can.
The sales team should have seen the trend (and that is nothing new, it is at least 3-4 years old now) and used their brains to usher in innovation. Online classifieds are a mix of fairly useless and unorganized listings, flavoured with a nice helping of spam and scams. There IS an opportunity to list and present this information better, the only problem being that they just did not bother. When was the last time you heard a senior sales executive reach out to the online classifieds segment and figured out something innovative in that space?
Moreover, newspapers cannot sit on their asses, leaning on their former glory, with a sulk that would put a menopausal depressive to shame. Get over it; you are fighting with the lolcats for my attention. Now, figure it out how you are going to do it than keep repeating this endless tripe about how someone stole your favourite rag doll.
And as a starting point, please fire your sales team. They are not pro-active, innovative and they have constantly underperformed by any desirable metric.