How and Where Your News is Changing
Mark Peters, Managing Director in Accenture’s Media Industry Group
The core pillars of news production have always been gathering, creating and distributing. These are technologically dependent activities, but new technologies often drive major changes to the news-making process. The way we get our news has significantly changed – and will continue to change - due to technology platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. This is altering the quality and quantity of the news we consume, and the pace at which that news reaches each person around the globe.
For much of modern times, having a news platform has been tantamount to legitimacy. What separates the trusted news anchor from the man raving on the corner has largely been a question of resources – resources to gather, create and distribute. Each of these pillars has been - up until very recently - labor and resource intensive. With the latest wave of technological development, we see that is no longer necessarily the case. This ‘democratization’ of news lowers the barrier to entry, influences the aesthetics and alters the consumption possibilities and behaviors of customers.
By looking at the technological changes across the news supply chain we can see both the new opportunities as well as challenges news companies must grapple with. Sometimes that technological change can be so great that it may change who is able to participate and may even alter the definition of news itself.
Ability to gather
Once the exception, citizen journalists are now critical to the operation of news organizations. News gathering tools now sit in virtually everyone’s pocket. Examples of citizen journalism include platforms such as Stringr or the website Citizen.com, which is designed to provide consumers with real-time safety alerts and instant access to verified 911 information.
Consumers are racing towards social media sites and their influencers, and away from traditional journalists, and this can affect the accuracy of the news. There is an enormous demand to fact check high-profile individuals, historical events, and timelines. This has created a strong demand for archivists to pull content from years and decades ago. Fortunately, the process is getting increasingly easy with access to online data and key technologies such as machine vision that can process meta data in seconds. In the future, fact-checking accountability will likely rest with those platforms with the technology sophisticated enough to meet the demand.
Ability to create
A new and interesting trend appearing today is where journalists join marketplace-type exchange websites such as Talk to the Press or WeBUYStories and sell their stories to the highest bidder. However, this informal arrangement between professional news organizations and the man on the street has other ramifications. The low production value of amateur footage has become synonymous with legitimacy – the shaky footage and unmixed audio gives the product an “I was there” factor. The immediacy and rawness of this user-generated content is preferable in many cases and is beginning to devalue the investment that legacy news organizations have made in production tech. While these marketplace sites are currently low-scale with a low news factor today, are transforming into a model for higher news value in the future when mobile devices and 5G networks enable higher quality production and faster processing and ingesting of content to these types of news exchanges.
Ability to distribute – new platforms
The emergence of these new social and crowdsourced news platforms is decoupling aspects of news-making that previously seemed to be so intertwined they were all but indistinguishable. Platform and production value for example no longer go hand-in-hand. The modern cable news experience pioneered by CNN in the 80s and perfected through a technology race between the major three letter broadcasters is the synthesis of production value and platform. This homogenized news experience has been really the only legitimate news experience for decades. For example, it needs to look a certain way, from the graphics to the camera cuts and to the lighting, because looking good is equated with newsworthiness. It said “we’re the pros, and our budgets validate that.”
The benefit of these new platforms is that you – the reader – can reach global audiences that don’t have access to traditional news distribution methods. The challenge, however, is that it is difficult to control your content’s monetization. With these new aggregation-style platforms, the story is decoupled from the outlet producing it, allowing people to consume it on platforms the content creator cannot monetize.
This is impacting hyper local news stories that don’t scale to fit the new revenue model where you need to do massive numbers on a consistent basis to break-even. Local broadcasters used to depend on revenue from local businesses such as car dealers, mechanics or hardware stores. However, they are now being approached by social media companies who can target exactly who they want…by age, location, interest and much more. This access to data is shifting ad dollars away from local news, which is already under immense pressure by these new entrants. To compete in the future, they need to reinvent themselves and the news experience they are delivering to consumers. The traditional news programmer will be forced to find innovative ways to report on the news and decide what to cover and what not to cover.
News will continue to change
Based on the opportunities and challenges outlined above, news is undergoing a change similar in magnitude to the changes brought by the invention of the printing press. Whenever a new information technology comes along, and this includes the printing press, among the very first groups to be ‘loud’ about it are the people who were silenced in the earlier system. In the future, we believe that traditional news-making needs to shift to a decentralized production model supported by a centralized technology stack.