Opinionista Lance Claasen 10 October 2013

Typhoon Twitter wreaks havoc with traditional media

The scary thing about climate change is that it happens before your eyes, without you realising it is too late. This has happened to journalism and the media industry. While the industry had become used to the regularity of a temperate climate, it has been swept aside by a typhoon called Twitter.

In the old days of 2005, those of us who ran newsrooms could tell the public what was important and what news they should consume. But the kingdom of the editor has been overthrown and replaced by the masses who run Twitter and Facebook.

Media houses, newsmakers and power-brokers are all held to account by the new-found democracy of the Net, where everyone has a say and the collective holds sway.

The well-considered opinions, insights and investigations of professional journalists have to fight for space between rumour, conjecture and downright untruths that swirl around social media.

No longer does the audience have to wait in line to have their say on call-in shows, nor do they have to have a sub-editor twist their words if they wrote a strongly worded letter to the editor. If consumers want to get their news they can follow the newsmaker directly on Twitter with no need for interpretation by a media house. If they want to comment, they can do so immediately without needing more than a 140 characters.

What happens then to the traditional rag, where you would make an appointment with yourself in the morning to read the newspaper while sipping on first coffee or those who loved the ink coming off on their hands as they flicked through yesterday’s news?

Do we have to bring out the life-support for an industry that is supposedly on its last legs?

Well, not yet, anyway. Thanks to slow broadband, SA print has been given a stay of execution. The death sentence has been deferred, but not commuted. But what does the print news industry have to do to avoid the noose of irrelevance?

It has to realise that the business model has changed. No longer can you squeeze adverts between the content and hope that you’ll hook a few readers into buying the product or service that is on offer. They have to accept that audiences will be smaller and more niched and that you are not a major international paper of record, with paywalls to garner in revenue.

This is where print can learn from radio broadcasting, regarded as the bridesmaid of media. Radio has always had a warmer relationship than print with those who consume it. Maybe it is because you take it with you into your most intimate spaces. You can sing along in the car to your favourite tune, or allow it to make you late due to a contentious talk topic.

The secret to radio is that it has commercialised the relationship with those who consume it. If a DJ or host endorses a product, it is bound to sell. We have seen this at Kaya FM. If we create events like SMME and personal finance workshops, our listeners respond. The same with events like a cruise or a family day. Listeners want to feel part of something bigger, more wholesome and that connects them to the world.

Newspapers do not have a human being who can act as a bonding agent for the relationship they have with their readers.

What it does have is the credibility of print on paper. Instead of being bigger it needs to be smaller, more neighbourly. Looking at the business and the issues on the block, rather than compete with all the news houses that are doing the same stories as you.

Media baron Rupert Murdoch seems to think that this is the way to go and has been gobbling newspapers all over USA hoping to implement this model. Newspapers also have to view themselves as a brand and use this brand power on more platforms.

The Mail & Guardian has moved into radio podcasts and had opened up a restaurant in their building. Business television channel, Summit, has renamed itself Business Day TV and moved to have a closer relationship with the print edition. Journalists who work for The New Age have to now file copy for ANN7.

This is because they are selling the wrong thing. They are selling the content, or at least the spaces between the content, and not commercialising the relationship they have with their consumers.

Advertisers will pay a premium to get direct leads. Media houses have to create different platforms for consumers and for advertisers to interact with them. Build the relationship then commercialise it. Without looking at these new models, the media industry will be the victims of change and not part of those that determine it. DM

Lance Claasen is the Head of News and Talk at Kaya FM. He is also an MBA candidate at Henley Business School, where he focusing on the transformation of traditional media.

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