This new function of the media is a semblance of notary service. The event has happened, it is known, but we want it to be validated within a certain value system. After that, a disturbing event “comes into effect” as disturbing for certain reasons. Basically, the news media are now needed to explain exactly how outrageous an outrageous event is.
- Interview with Andrey Mir in “Rossiyskaya gazeta”, translation, continued.
- See the beginning: Will journalism survive the internet?
– It may be true that subscription revenue in the press has plummeted. Ad revenue is migrating to the digital platforms, too. But a new way of supporting journalism has emerged. Readers are ready to pay for quality content, aren’t they?
– There is no evidence of industrial-scale payments for quality content. People might pay for content sometimes and sometimes it’s journalism. Besides the poor positions of the news in the market of paid content, there is also the problem of so-called subscription fatigue among users. People get more and more annoyed by digital services of all kinds seeking to sneak and charge them pennies for a subscription to something.
At the same time, tons of content seek to get my attention for free. The suppliers of content compete for my time and attention. They are operating in conditions where they must improve their quality, using, among others, the tools and gimmicks of good-old journalism. As a result, the ecosystem is tuned in such a way that high-quality and highly relevant content, be it news or entertainment, will find me for free. The news media might participate in the production chains, but they will not get money or even traffic for it.
The situation is even worsened by the so-called cannibalism of formats. News outlets must advertise their best articles on the internet, and thus they spend their news asset on advertising, not selling. News teasers on social media give away the assumedly valuable commodity of the news for free. The news media must do it because they must compete for attention.
As a result, everyone’s newsfeed on social media is full of informative headlines and news announcements. Our friends deliver it to us, often with witty and sarcastic comments, adding a value that the initial article might lack. Oftentimes, there is even no need to click and read the original article. And this happens, indeed. People often do not click through and do not visit the news media websites that originated the news. Thus, newsfeeds become a sufficient and even, in fact, very densely packed source of news agenda. As I said, the news media might participate, but they don’t get paid – neither monetarily, nor in traffic.
– As the source of news, traditional media might be losing to the digital. But the respectable media were always distinguished because of their solid approach to commenting and analyzing news, investigative reporting, publicism, and watching hidden tendencies. Can’t all this be that lifeboat that will keep journalism floating?
– Some media brands, indeed, have legacy authority and reputation, and their stances and analyses are interesting. But the evaluation of their virtues is no longer relevant, whether they have those virtues or not. They have lost their monopoly, that’s it. The internet has emancipated the authorship of the masses, but it has also emancipated expertise, investigative reporting and all sorts of gravitas content production.
The widespread assumption that all actors on the internet produce rubbish and only old media supply serious content is rather a symptom of the temporal shock. By the way, the media had never before been praised for the alleged “high quality” of their content. Just twenty years ago, call journalists “responsible” or “professionals”, and you would be mocked. As you might remember, their quality had been always rather denounced by the lay public. All of a sudden, however, they have become high-quality producers. This is obviously not their inherent feature but rather a sign of the backlash in the public’s reception of the internet.
Why would a respectable financial company, a prominent economist, or a political party produce on the internet something of low importance and poor quality? They all compete for attention and recognition. And they do so in a respective and most likely respectable manner, using all possibly available tools and formats of high-quality content production. If they lack them, they will hire journalists and professional editors – unlike old media, they have money for this.
Those respectable old media you mentioned can try to maintain their reputation, but they have already lost their business. By the way, reputation, as it occurs, is hard to maintain without the solid business revenue that is needed to protect their independence from the encroaching of advertisers or the public. The news media’s monopoly has been lost, and comparable or even better-quality content can be produced by the Viral editor. Among the countless attempts to grab our attention, there will be many worthy ones. Squadrons of decent or excellent investigators, commentators and columnists are emerging, with each doing their best, and the natural selection of viral distribution completes the task of content enhancement. Moreover, the environment of emancipated authors will deploy investigations that are omitted or impossible in the institutional media due to their ideological blindness, partisan unwillingness, or lack of resources.
– In your book and interviews, you often use the term “validation” when speaking about future journalism. What do you mean?
– Any given fragment of our newsfeed on social media can be criticized, often justly so. But as a stream it completely satisfies our news needs because it is created by our own demand out of the best possible sources of supply. No old media can compete. But! If something disturbing or frustrating suddenly happens, we learn about it from our news feed, but we still need to validate the value of the event beyond our “social graph”, at the level of social significance. For this, we need an authoritative source responsible for accumulating, maintaining, and expressing our value system for society, not just for us personally. This can be an influential, towering figure, a big media outlet, or a combination of these. They certify, or validate, the news from the perspective of the value system we share with a large group of people at the societal level, not just within our reachable digital surroundings.
This function is a semblance of notary service. The event has happened, it is known, but the event gains an official, or acknowledged, status when the notary sets a stamp on it. The notary does nothing but this. They simply check the event against certain values and validate its value significance. They have a licence from society for this. After that, a disturbing event “comes into effect” as disturbing for certain reasons. Basically, the news media are now needed to explain exactly how outrageous an outrageous event is.
It’s important that such validation is not a news service. The news is delivered by other means. It’s a value-based product. Due to the factor of social significance, this is inevitably a validation that involves political points of view. This is the only media service that could still be in demand, specifically in disturbing times, when disturbing news is frequent.
The dependence of this business on outrageous events causes the media to focus on such events or amplify them, which inevitably amplifies polarization. This is what I call postjournalism: the shift of the media from news supply to news validation due to the decline of the traditional business model.
– In conclusion, let’s go back to the fate of newspapers. Many of them have already moved the focus of their operation onto the digital. They have websites, podcasts, archives, social media representation, and so on. Do you agree that media brands can survive this way, if they go digital and do it smartly?
– Society forms new mechanisms of informing. It goes painfully, through information overload and through the loss of trust in the media and institutions in general. The emancipation of information causes a backlash from people and governments. People and institutions get annoyed with the excess of unsanctioned information, if we compare it to the print era with its limited access to publication. Digital frustration leads to the tightening of internet regulation and censorship. These conditions are seemingly favourable for the revanche of old media. And they try to restore their authority over the news in the new, digital, conditions.
But it’s not going to work. Old media might have moral support from the digitally afflicted public, but, regretfully for them, they do not have business models on the internet. Their cherished authority was based on the business monopoly over news supply and ad delivery. These conditions no longer exist.
Today, neither ads nor the sale of news can subsidize journalism. From one side, the duopoly of Google-Facebook controls up to 70% of the digital ad market. From the other side, the news is free for people. Today, an individual simply cannot help but learn news that is relevant to their interests. They learn it while still in bed, having just opened their eyes and grabbed their phone to check their email and social media, way before they even visit a news media website, if they visit one at all.
Yes, the internet offers newspapers amazing new opportunities. But it offers them to everybody. The only funding model left for the news media to keep them alive for a while is public or government subsidies. But this last source of support will last no longer than the residual demographic demand exists. And this is precisely the public and governmental subsidies that lead journalism to mutate into postjournalism because the public or the government, unlike the market, want the media to stick more to values than to objectivity.
There will be some niche for crowdfunded or state-funded “native propaganda” – by association with “native advertising” – propaganda that strives to seem like journalism. Postjournalism, however, will not write glorious pages in the five-centuries-long history of journalism. The death of those newspapers that have already shut down was at least honorable. On the bright side, we’re lucky enough to observe a grandiose change of epochs. All the previous technological shifts of such magnitude were less tangible because they lasted for generations. This one has been jammed into a couple of decades and is thus unfolding right before our eyes, if you want to see.
- The interview with Andrey Mir in “Rossiyskaya gazeta”, translation, continued.
- See the beginning: Will journalism survive the internet?