What publishers use to call “new technologies” are not new anymore. The audience lives in a digitized world using more and more the smartphone to connect, record and compute relevant information and giving to it most of its time and attention. What is less and less understandable for them is the set of activities that didn’t adapt to this environment. Examples? Public administration, politics, and often, newspapers. The infosphere is real now. And it has problems. Journalism has a future. If it doesn’t think at “digital” as “the uncertain future” but as “the present”. Journalism has a future if it thinks at itself as a possible “next big thing”. Is it possible? Yes, if journalism deals with three preconditions that could make this real.
First. The present state of the infosphere is bugged in terms of quality of information. Social networks and other major platforms give not enough attention to quality of information. The traditional culture of journalism has something to say about that.
Journalism generates quality of information if it sticks with a research methodology which makes sure that information is well documented, accurately told, independent and complete, legal. Journalism can be able to start from that methodology to generate places in the infosphere that have meaning. To compete in the infosphere one has to have an identity. And the name of a newspaper can have an identity linked to quality of information and meaning.
That cannot be taken as a given. Some states have not an independent and plural information system. Reporters without borders show that Italy is far low in the ranking, Uk is not at the top of the list, Germany, Poland and Northern Europe are much better positioned. Quality of information is not correlated to the usage of the internet. Is more understandable in terms of some characters of society. Journalism can help improve the civic quality of societies. And that enriches economies, cultures, environments. Content is less king than context.
Journalism can be a way to improve quality of information. Journalism is not a thing that is done by journalists and publishers of newspapers. Journalism is a methodology to generate information that has quality in contexts that have a meaning. It is a project that can give a start to the next big thing.
And it starts with journalists fighting for their freedom, independence, intellectual quality. And it continues with journalists learning technology.
Second. Newspapers are not their paper. Newspapers are the communities that make them using the right methodology and looking for meaning. Communities made by professionals and active or passive audiences. Those communities thrive around special technologies. Which are no more the technologies of the past. The major technologies are digital.
Newspapers need to learn digital technology. Which is not something that you buy. It is something that you deeply understand and contribute to improve. If you don’t innovate digital technology, if you just use it, you are not learning from the experience of digital technology.
Digital technology asks for continuos innovation. Fast innovation. Experiments, failures, improvements, understanding. It asks for collaboration between authors, designers and software people. The intellectual contribution of authors, designers and coders is needed. New projects need to be launched to better serve time and attention of the audience, while earning trust. That can be going to mean that newspapers contribute with new platforms: not alternatives to what already exists, but to create new ways to be online, both in mobility and not. Platforms where people meet not because they like each other but because they have something to do together: for example they have to live in the same territory and be informed enough to decide together in a sensible way. New aggregators, new participatory tools, new factchecking tools. It can be done. There is no reason for it not to be possible.
Independent journalists and technology savvy journalists can then help in implementing new business models.
Third. Business models to achieve success are to be choosen. Advertising is one, but it has flaws. On one hand, present platforms are very good at conquering the advertising budgets. On the other hand, advertising is not always compatible with independence. Models in which the audience pays are much better: if quality of information is the value that one wants to generate, than newspapers that the audience is prepared to pay for are in a better position. But payments can be improved: you can pay with your active time, you can pay with money, you can pay with community money or with digital money. And so on. Projects that deal with this point of view have a chance to get success, don’t they?
Maybe all this is just wishful thinking. But the demand for quality of information is real. Somebody will address it. Why not newspapers? Journalism can be the next big thing. Because in the knowledge economy every business is becoming a sort of publisher, and publishers that are able to generate quality of information can build a huge business. With a meaning.
And even this is not completely new. It has always been done, in a way. And for sure it has already started, somewhere.
ps. These are notes written during #SEEMF2015 an event by SEEMO Media in South East Europe: The Struggle for Success on the Web