in Workplace

it’s a strange and exciting time to be in the media

I was going to start this entry with the headline “It’s a bad time to be in the media”, but I decided to stop short of that doom-and-gloom prognostication. I won’t deny that many media organizations are suffering; some venerable institutions are closing and others are threatening to. However, I believe that those which are positioned and prepared to reinvent themselves as content factories and not as platform companies will be the winners in the long run. Doing so also involves embracing technological change and making technology a core underpinning of their workflow — something that’s going to be very difficult to digest for some.

Mathew Ingram, who’s Communities Editor at The Globe and Mail, recently gave a talk where he stated that one of the reasons "old media" is dying is because new media completely removes the mediation step between content and the consumer. Entire business models that are predicated on printing content onto paper, or cutting content onto playout servers for the 11 o’clock news are being challenged, because consumers can now get all of this content electronically. Not only can they do so, but they can often get it faster — thanks, Twitter. Unless someone invents a method of delivering news faster than the speed of an electron, the days of speed improvements via medium change are over; the leapfrogging of newspapers’ time-to-market by radio, and then in turn by television, have now been surpassed entirely by the Internet.

Now I didn’t say that the Internet was a panacea for news, and that all we have to do is follow a few key people on Twitter and be done with it. The problem with unmediated content is that the burden of determining trustworthiness and factual correctness rests entirely on the end user. Savvy news organizations sould reform themselves into content factories by building upon their already-established reputations for factual accuracy, professionalism, and solid detective skills. Sure, you’ll know about breaking news first via Twitter, but where should you go to get a more in-depth analysis of the story? Hopefully to the content factory.

Of course, this is a very risky proposition, because it requires those in media to take a gamble that readers do want context and analysis. It’s possible that we could just end up in a universe where people want nothing more than an "e-Metro", a need which can very easily be filled by Twitter. I think this is actually a very real possibility, one which would result in what Al Gore might call "the end of reason". Perhaps I just have more faith in humanity to do its homework rather than relying on 140 character tweets for information about the world.

In terms of who’s going to survive in the coming media shakeup, I realize I speak from the luxurious position of working for a dual-media company that creates multimedia assets, because print publications are far more at risk of being supplanted by the World Wide Web. Nevertheless, even a company like CBC has difficulty embracing technological change, and I don’t even mean on the content delivery side. There are convoluted workflows for content production which are a direct result of a failure to either embrace or properly use technology.

There’s a real risk we will continue to laugh about these workflows until the day we are overtaken by our competitors on a time-to-market basis, at which point it will be too late. I know that big corporations change slowly, but time is not on our side. We, like many other conventional media companies, must admit that some outcomes have already happened (like the fact that much broadcast infrastructure is merging with IT infrastructure) and move on. By moving on, I mean recognizing the role of things like open source in not only meeting business objectives, but allowing us to keep one step ahead of our competition and what our users demand. We in the media can fight technological change and we will perish, or we can use it to complement our business and give it a great leap forward.