How did digital imploded the traditional media models? Audience engagement

Oct 5, 2012
Digital revolution shatters traditional media models, transforming audience engagement and challenging media power structures.
During the 20th century, mass media reached its peak. Due to technological restrictions and regulation, the press was almost entirely controlled by the government or entities close to it. Only in countries with stronger institutions and more consolidated democracy was there a press truly determined to challenge government measures. Even so, it was always within large corporations. For these groups, the recipe was always simple: address the subjects that supposedly aroused the greatest interest, which spoke of geographically closer subjects and related to the local population (to cite an unfortunate example: in Brazil, an air accident only arouses interest if there were Brazilians on board). This scenario no longer exists. The end of distance and the technological revolution have pulverized focuses of interest and made distant situations as close as the corner right there. This change has left the media schizophrenic.
From the beginning, the questions the journalist asked himself were: what to report? Why? For whom? In what way? All of this was relatively simple to define when two of the variables were static - your audience and the medium through which you spoke (TV, radio, print, etc). However, once these variables became multiple, the rest of the process became uncertain. Today, your audience is not just in your city, but spread around the world; your reader/viewer may be receiving your information on TV, computer, notebook, cell phone, tablet, or social media. To complicate things, those who pay your bill - the advertisers - also migrated and want to follow the old audience, which was calm and stable like a cow in a pen.
The models of media power have been dismantled by the digital deluge. We are going through a process where power, previously controlled only and exclusively by an extremely concentrated and immutable elite, is moving to a group still far from utopic democracy, but which has representation from more sectors than the media barons and their political connections and is dangerously dynamic, with leaders who can succumb in a few years (see, for example, MySpace). There is still an uneven concentration of power (just look that the today's global digital media responds to four titans - Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook) who have infinitely more power than the rest. This is a long process, but it has removed homogeneity, whether from content, previously static and made to somehow reach the greatest number of people (who could not have any interaction in the communication process) to a new scenario in which a dispersed audience demands specific content and actively interacts, simply abandoning the players who insist on not listening. The press (and the media in general) increasingly leaves its uniform aspect to transform into a disfigured and sometimes, conflicting universe, with positive and negative changes.
Traces of the dilemma that affects the media are simple to see. Newsrooms of large newspapers still do not know how to work with this new diversity because in most cases they do not have the tools for this. The expansion of the potential audience demands a growth in the quantity of content production that media companies cannot meet unless through the use of agency material that has lost efficiency for two reasons: even being of quality as in the case of Reuters and Associated Press, it is more generic than this "new audience" wants (because it knows that it no longer needs to read what is offered but what it really wants) and also because this material is a commodity offered by countless other competitors. To the new public, more personalized content must be offered, whose production must necessarily come from more sources, a scenario that suggests the systematic growth of collaborative production, or crowdsourced, where the user increasingly becomes part of the production, increasing the plurality of the equation.
The hardest part is a cultural change. Convincing media professionals that the change in audience characteristics and the consequent need to change production methods, coupled with the technological tsunami imply drastic changes (although not necessarily immediate) to keep up with the needs of society. Few or no industries were as affected as the media by technology in the last 15 years. Paradoxically, this is the industry that has the most difficulty adapting.
PS: Cultural changes are no longer the hardest ones because the legacy operations that dared not to change are dead or sold. The real danger now is how media has been weaponised by the alt-right everywhere, and how liberal elites keep yelling and screaming about their superiority without noticing that no one outside their circle of friends is listening. Trump won in 2016 because of this void left alone, and he will win again this year (2024) unless a deus ex machina comes from somewhere to prevent him from running.

© Cassiano Gobbet 2023 - 2024