Digital's challenge recover the credibility lost by the print

Nov 28, 2012
Digital media struggles to regain credibility lost by print as new generations distrust traditional news sources and seek alternative ways of consuming information.
One day, our parents (and some of us, depending on our age) used to open newspapers and turn on their TVs to discover what was happening in the world. Whatever was reported was accepted as the truth. However, that has changed.
For just over a century, newspapers evolved into multimillion-dollar businesses, and televisions were birthed with the same intention. By controlling information accessible to most of the population worldwide, they generated immense revenues. The new generations, also known as "millennials", born around the turn of the millennium, not only lack the habit of reading newspapers, but also believe that TV and newspapers carry mainly “trash and lies”.
Jim Romenesko's article may sound like a tabloid piece, but it's not an exaggeration. Generations born during the digital communication era don't blindly trust the reports of large media companies. These companies' close relationships with governments and economic groups over the decades shaped their modus operandi for managing news operations, often prioritizing the economic interests of their owners over the interests of the population. There are exceptions, such as the New York Times, the BBC, and El Pais, but generally, these large companies lost credibility while they were still dominant. Some attribute this to the digital revolution, but that's a simplistic perspective.
Romenesko refers to a book that suggests a bleak future where people might not be interested in news. The book also proposes alternatives to generate interest in information within the new generations, beyond the sensationalism that "serious" media outlets resort to in a desperate attempt to maintain an audience.
There are several considerations to make. Some pertain to government, educational, and economic policies, which can make a substantial difference by not producing diploma-holding functional illiterates, and by enforcing regulations that require the holders of government concessions to provide real services to the population, such as quality journalism and social education, rather than focusing on high-audience junk content.
However, there's another observation that doesn't necessarily involve the government. The core of the news industry, including in Brazil, has yet to adapt to the changing habits of the generation that's distancing itself from news consumption. This shift could involve several changes, like the end of the news cycle, the transformation of news-seeking habits (the news must seek the consumer now), the redesign of content production and packaging formats, and the separation of production within the companies themselves, as emerging media cannot support dying ones.
Furthermore (but this is a topic for another post), there's a pressing need to overhaul journalism education worldwide (and in Brazil, where the redesign must also address failed literacy). Journalism schools no longer train journalists, but technicians, who are learning the techniques of a defunct industry. Add to that the complete disconnect between academia and the market, a situation that will only lead to their mutual demise.
The challenge for digital newsrooms and companies aiming to enter the 22nd century is to develop new ways to engage audiences, rethink processes and formats, all with professionals who are not tied to outdated techniques. However, all these assume that the educational issues, namely "endemic functional illiteracy", have been resolved.

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