Looking for new business models for journalism
Mar 10, 2011
The shift towards crowdsource content production and the transformation of advertising and news consumption.
I often contemplate the unlikely scenario of a Neanderthal man climbing a prehistoric abyss and observing a valley full of omnipotent dinosaurs, pondering that someday, they would vanish without a trace. Today, we can relate to this feeling. We observe giants who will succumb to their own size and mostly lack the ability to reverse the situation. Journalism has not ended nor will it end, but the current model is doomed.
Last week, at the Digital Age event in São Paulo, various speakers shared their thoughts on the new environment. It is visibly a Wild West, with room for everyone who wants to establish themselves (and who have the capital to support until they reach break-even), in all aspects. From content production to the policies of choosing mediums for ad publication, everything needs a lifting. There is no sector of communication that is suitable for the new moment - not even the audience.
Crowdsource in content production is a definitive change. Ignore any type of label that tries to define it as devaluation of the journalist's work, drop in quality, exploitation of labor, etc. Crowdsource is nothing more than a revolution in the work environment that takes journalism out of the Industrial Age and places it in a new Age (I'm not exactly sure if post-industrial is the best name.) Newsrooms like the ones newspapers pride themselves on having are doomed to disappear, like the dinosaurs that our Neanderthal must have seen from the edge of the abyss. This does not mean a loss of quality, this does not mean worse wages (I already spoke in a previous post about the minimum wages in Brazil, skinned to exhaustion by the mainstream media), this does not mean less attribution. It is simply a division of power and responsibility.
But it's not just crowdsource that represents a step forward in the digital environment. In addition to readers and content producers, advertisers are also about to have a new scenario where they escape from the claws of gatekeepers, who, today, are the agencies. An interesting lecture from Fernando Taralli at the Digital Age pointed out how the advertising medium has not yet surrendered to the efficiency of digital media. Taralli's speech aligns with an NMA article that says spending on social media still does not reflect its adoption by users. Some agencies have realized that they can no longer manipulate customers to the media that pay the best BV. I myself have heard from an important advertiser that there is great resistance to digital advertising by his peers (as pointed out by the NMA article) because digital is 100% measurable. Until today, the advertiser depended on the agency's integrity to have their money employed most efficiently. With digital measurements, the agency will have no choice but to put the advertiser's money in the most efficient communication medium. And the best agencies are already savvy to this.
But there is still doubt about who will produce the content if news has become a commodity of low or zero value. Before clarifying this, an observation - the news has not become a zero-value commodity: it is simply no longer sellable in direct terms. People are willing to pay for the news, but not with money. Their audience has turned into capital and it is up to companies to monetize it - something that large companies can do, as long as they do not have a mob of braggarts in their marketing and sales departments.
Returning from the digression, who will create the content. Tom Forenski, in an article on ZDNet, questions what the future of content production will be. Today, many of the important sites and blogs simply "cook" (journalistic slang that means to read and rewrite an article) material made by others and do not give credit. This non-attribution punishes the "cook" in the long run, but responsible curation of material is healthy in this new environment. Producing content will return to have an inherent value, since "industrial" content generation will become unviable or at least, deficitary. We will not reach a situation where everyone just "cooks" material and the audience will look for who can offer genuine material.
Journalism and content production are shedding their skin. On one hand, the traditional industry, which still makes a lot of money, wants to maintain the status quo; on the other, technology has put the industry in check and points to the end of a model that is a legacy of the Industrial Revolution. It may take more or less time, but the checkmate has already been given. There are no examples in history where technological evolution has been defeated.