Chatham House, The new face of news media

On a near freezing Tuesday night, I visited Chatham House to hear a panel of the great and the good of the new, news guard tell us why traditional news media is dead. I know what you are thinking – what a revelation! Why has nobody told me this already?!

It goes without saying that the 6pm news isn’t the primary source of news for those in their teens, 20s or even 30s. TV news attracts an older audience. Yes this is because of the patronising format, no it is not because Millennials – oh how I hate that term – aren’t interested in the world.  This is not a revelation. Nor is it that freedom from the repetitive, merry go round of 24 hour news gives the news producers the space to deliver a different type of content.

Once you get past the fact that everyone realises that traditional news media is dying the death of a thousand paper cuts, it is interesting to hear about the strategies of two organisations who clearly know: who their audiences are; and what they are trying to achieve.  Beyond Fox News I’m not sure I can think of another news network who could describe their purpose with such clarity.

Vice News is currently the fastest growing Channel on YouTube.  They aren’t bound by Ofcom and 30% of their content is watched on a mobile device. Describing what they do Kevin Sutcliffe, Head of News Programming uses words such as: immersive; raw; and embedded.  If you have watched anything that Vice has to offer, Kevin’s description isn’t too far from the truth.  Their skype interview with Canadian IS member Abu Usamah Somali is certainly raw. Avoiding packaging their news in a ‘managed’ way is one of their strategies for demonstrating authenticity and building trust with their audience.

According to Jim Waterson, Deputy Editor of Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed’s strategy for building trust with their audience is to do what it says on the tin.  This requires writing stories that are just as good as the headlines. I’m not going to comment on how good they are at fullfilling this strategy.  To Jim –  click bait is when you fail to deliver on the headline.  Buzzfeed’s headline metrics are based on sharing, rather than clicking though.  They reason, if people are sharing that means they liked it.   These metrics help to explain the rationale behind their new hires, serious journalists who have been hired to write serious stories on behalf of Buzzfeed.  According to Jim, they want their readers to be so amazed, disgusted, appalled or amused by their hard hitting journalism or listicles that they are proud to share. Nothing in between.  To quote Jim ‘You either want to read about Ed Millibands speech, or be amused. No one wants to read the 17 funniest things about Ed Millibands speech’.

I can’t stand it when someone shares a link and it is blocked by a pay wall. It triggers my extreme FOMO.  The third panelist of the evening, Sarah Marshall, is the EMEA Social Media Manager for the WSJ.  It occurs to me that one of the harder jobs in the world is the Social Media Manager responsible for promoting a newspaper from behind a pay wall?   To be fair, she seems to be doing what she can to attract a younger audience to the journal by increasing two way conversation channels.  For example, making journalists available online live to discuss changes in oil prices with the online audience.  She did address the audience in a slightly patronising manner.  But perhaps I’d been primed to feel patronised by that stage.

When I discussed the above thoughts with a friend of mind yesterday, he correctly pointed out the motivations behind the acquisition of Vice News by YouTube (Google).  This made me think, so what? Even if Vice news is about driving 20 year olds to YouTube for content, is that really a bad thing? Or is it bad that Buzzfeed so desperately wants you to share their stuff and that they employ proper journalists?   I don’t think so.  If all these well researched, interestingly presented pieces of content are is ‘advertising’, I’ll take them any day over traditional media advertising.

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