Lately, I have developed a habit of flipping through my news feed on my phone during breakfast. And of course, over the past few days, stories of the Vietnamese national squad qualifying for the World Cup and new pandemic cases were always on top. The beauty of these news feeds is that they can keep up with my frequently changing interests.
It’s just one example demonstrating that the threat to traditional media is real.
In the 4.0 age, speed has become decisive in delivering news and social media is winning. With social media these days, everyone and anyone with a smartphone can be a reporter. Not only that, social media offers the interaction which most media users desire – a chance to be heard.
For those so-called influencers, social media is not just a communication platform to voice their opinions on issues of interest to their audience. It allows them to interact in ways which did not exist before. Like it or not, social media allows us to view various critical economic, social, and political issues of our life from multiple perspectives, often filling the gaps left by mainstream media.
Traditional media can make up for its weaknesses in interactive ability and speed with data-driven reporting, fact-checking, rigorous analysis, and writing excellence. Furthermore, mainstream media in Vietnam can step up its role in giving critical feedback on issues of concern to the public.
Speed can be a double-edged sword since it does not always allow the content producer enough time to check the facts, verify the details, and view the issue from stakeholders’ perspectives; hence, the credibility and transparency of the content may be in doubt. This, in fact, is traditional media’s fundamental way of working and need to be reinforced in the face of the aforementioned challenges from social media.
The likes of Facebook and Google use algorithms to monitor media consumers’ preferences and tailor content to their shifting interests. Traditional media cannot keep up with this and they should not have to. Instead, they can pick their own battles and choose to embrace technology and learn to work with the likes of Facebook and Google to tailor contents to media consumers’ tastes, knowing full well they must become more open to criticism.
Throughout my 20-year career in public affairs, never have I been told that a certain publication is investing in audience research. Understanding who reads what and why it is paramount to build up the capability to develop the right editorial contents. But audience research should not be limited to reach, scope, and basic media users’ characteristics such as age, gender, and education.
Rather, audience research should be more advanced and include media users’ assessments of specific content and reporting quality. This broader understanding of audience research is not only a means for editorial managers and journalists to learn about their readers, listeners, and viewers but it can also be helpful for advertising managers to design better promotion programmes.
Old habits die hard. As someone who grew up with printed newspapers, I still pick up my favourite newspapers whenever I have the chance but lately it has become exceedingly difficult to find a newsstand on the street. I know I am not the exception. Readers like me are becoming fewer and fewer than those young people belonging to generations X and Z who are satisfied with consuming electronic and social media content only.
Friends of mine working in the publishing business say the costs of printing and distribution are the two highest costs that publications have to bear. While each publication has its own reasons for maintaining its print edition, to serve its political mandate for one, the sad reality is that print editions these days are like critically ill patients on life support. Sooner or later, a hard decision will have to be made about pulling the plug.
On the bright side, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has opened up numerous opportunities for electronic media. In addition, the pandemic has been a catalyst for electronic media to flourish since, with social distancing, people have more time to spend online and the space to do it more comfortably.
Faced with the steep decline in revenues, Vietnam’s electronic media agencies and management authorities have been touting the idea of shifting to a subscription-based model for a couple of years. While this idea has received widespread support from media stakeholders to date, the lack of investment in resources and confidence in producing quality content to attract subscribers has delayed bringing this idea to life. However, recent talks about this topic among communication practitioners have resumed after VietNamNet announced the official launch of its subscription-based edition, VietNamNet Premium.
The truth is that, from the dawn of journalism, quality reporting has never been free. So instead of worrying about driving readers away with the shift to a subscription-based model, publications should focus on getting back to the basics of quality journalism, ensuring that facts are accurate, the story includes views of relevant stakeholders, and details are rigorously analysed.
The day we wake up and do not see the same report in every major media outlet, copied and pasted over and over, is the day we know quality journalism has prevailed. The shift to a subscription-based model may be gradual but its foundation would be solid, as it would be built upon quality journalism.
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