The media’s ‘tortoise and hare race’ is about to get ugly…

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By Adam Vincenzini

In the last 48 hours, two articles that originated in ‘traditional’ media (aka the tortoise), but wound up being shared heavily in ‘social’ media circles (aka the hare), have been playing on my mind.

These two articles neatly sum up the real problems facing mass media, particularly newspapers.

The ironic part? Both articles were about trends ‘developing’ in social media.

Let me explain…

The offending articles

First up, The Guardian posed this question: Is Foursquare the next Twitter?

Talk about getting to the dance a little more than fashionably late.

This debate has been raging in social media circles for months.

Then the Daily Mail had a pop at chatroulette, making it out to be an immoral scandal (no surprises there), but again, that ship set sail weeks ago.

Unfortunately, both publications couldn’t have possibly broached either subject any earlier because it would have been ‘beyond’ their audiences (especially as most of their readers are still trying to get their heads around Twitter).

But it’s not the subject matter which is the problem.

It’s the antiquated notion of ‘audiences’.

The Guardian and Daily Mail are forced to cater to a very rigid readership profile.

Social media, on the other hand, has paved way for a totally bespoke form of news – shaped to suit each individual person’s needs and wants.

(Actually, a great example of this is paper.li – the online daily newspaper constructed from your Twitter stream – it is customized based on who you follow and what you are interested in – here’s my latest edition)

What can newspapers do?

Well they can’t produce 6 billion editions a day…can they?

Sadly, no matter which way you look at it, physical ‘papers’ don’t have many places to run.

They can’t be customized.

They can’t be personalized.

And they can’t be monetized.

Will iPads save the day?

Will quality journalism survive beyond all these changes?

Or will these outlets stop playing safe and get back to setting trends, instead of jumping on them six months late?

The media outlets that make ‘people’ the centre of their product, instead of ‘audiences’ will not only survive, but they’ll probably thrive.

If they don’t, we might be in the process of witnessing the first time the tortoise loses out to the hare…and then what do we do…re-write that?!?

Adam

Note: This post is part of my year-long series look at media consumption, based heavily around an experiment I’m conducting which involves not reading physical newspapers for 12 months – for more information about the experiment, click here.

3 Comments

  • Reply April 27, 2010

    Christina

    Interesting considerations Adam. I really am quite intrigued as to where print media is going.

    I often think that newspapers write for owners, advertisers and then as you say an ‘audience’. You are right, if they can actually start focussing on people they may well come up with a relevant product.

    In the same vein as your article, Media Watch (ABC Australia) dedicated one epsiode to looking at what traditional print media is facing in terms of maintaining quality journalism and surviving online – moving to reader pays..: http://ow.ly/1DuEF

  • Reply April 27, 2010

    Ben Bush

    There’s a parallel with the way social media stories are reported on the radio, particularly Radio 4. Ironically, this is a medium that actually lends itself rather well to a certain amount of social media interaction. Indeed they encourage text and emails that they can mention on air, and even indulge in a certain amount of Twitter interaction. And yet they still say terms like ‘social media’ and Twitter as if they’re (at best) curiosities and (at worst) dirty words. A small part of me recognises the ‘audience’ problem they have but mostly I think it’s time they credited that audience with a bit of intelligence. Still, every loves shouting at the radio, right? Good to have another excuse!

  • Reply April 27, 2010

    Diane Meyer

    First…love the photo of the tortoise and the hare. It seems as though the tortoise is saying to the hare…”Not this time!”

    Delighted that I was able to inspire a talented, already inspired, PR Professional. Regarding paper.li, it does reflect who you follow in your Twitter stream, however, if a person follows a diversified group, organizations, associations, it can be quite an interesting news piece. Print media just seems to be doing the same ole, same ole.

    However, interesting enough, last evening in our local newspaper on one page they had all the articles about a paragraph long, the heading wss Business/Technology and it was extremely varied in content. They did refer to some of the articles being available on line in more detail. I love it. To me that is “thinking outside the box”. (By the way, just heard where that expression came from and it is from Alcatraz…could be another blog here.)

    In any event, newspapers in particular have to stop remembering why people liked getting the newspaper and start thinking, learning and listening to why they are not. Don’t know who said this so I can’t give credit but it is , “You can turn back the clock but you can’t turn back time.”

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