Traditional media around the world is struggling. At first it was the advent of social media. In the panic to stay relevant, many media houses gave their content away and then wondered why they couldn’t sell newspapers.
Then the pandemic hit and people couldn’t get out to buy newspapers because of lockdown – and if they could, many were scared they might catch Covid from reading one.
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Traditional radio and television struggled before Covid-19
That was print. Traditional radio and television were already struggling, when their own disruption hit: video on demand, the ability to download content to watch and enjoy it when they want – and without advertising in the middle – meant that fewer and fewer people turned on their TVs like they used to.
The real crisis was that everyone was facing the same problem but no one seemed to have an answer, or the pockets of a massive newspaper like the New York Times which actually committed to a digital first approach and invested in it, to meet this threat head on. Today it’s a roaring success, but there aren’t too many others. Hopefully that will change.
Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre
The recent Global Media Congress hosted at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre by WAM, the Emirates News Agency, could well be a catalyst for exactly that. Held under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the deputy prime minister of the UAE, it is intended that this will become an annual event.
The most burning ones were discussed in detail, from surviving in a globalised world to making sense to curbing disinformation and fake news campaigns, training new journalists and keeping the ones we’ve got but that are wanting to bail. But media isn’t alone, as UAE Minister for Youth Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui pointed out, the greater challenge is to keep relevant for our audience’s needs who are becoming increasingly frustrated by algorithms that tell them what they already know or, even worse, play to their prejudices.
She has a refreshingly positive view of the role of media in an ever-changing, ever disrupted always on world, and one that we should all take to heart, that we do and can change people’s lives, inform their habits and influence their choices.
But if we accept that, then we must accept the responsibility to be worthy of that challenge, to re-look at the concept of public interest journalism rather than just what interests the public in the quest for click bait, eyeballs and sales.
If it bleeds it leads
Her most burning question rings in the ears of all who heard her speak: how can we bemoan the future of the media, when the future of the planet is at stake? We need to move beyond the hoary old adage of “if it bleeds it leads” and find constructive ways of putting climate change front and centre of the new agenda – and instead of terrifying readers or viewers, encourage them to be part of a movement to make that change by showing them how and showcasing the people who are at the vanguard of this revolution.
Media is far more than the traditional print and broadcast sector; it includes film producers and the exploding social media sector. How do we make sense of this in a world where wars are being fought on the one hand and the metaverse is slowly but surely bridging the divide between the physical and the virtual?
Most of all, how do we understand the youth, those of us who started our careers in the Jurassic Age of hot metal printing?
Creating engaging content
How do we create content that keeps them engaged, that actually keeps the faith with what most of us signed up to do in the first place: to inform, entertain, enlighten and get the conversation going – all in the interest, as Arthur Miller famously said back in the 50s of creating: “a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself”.
Many of us have lost our way; assailed on all sides by plummeting circulation or engagement figures, advertising revenue drying up and our titles or stations circling the drain of financial ruin. Many of the younger generation have struggled to find theirs in newsrooms beset by juniorisation exacerbated by the Great Resignation.
The Global Media Congress provided a brief respite from those pressures and the hope that we can change that narrative and our own by re-learning that none of us are alone: we all face the same problems. The congress provided an opportunity for hope; to hear the media entrepreneurs make their pitch, punt their innovations and let their passion shine through.
But its greatest gift was the promise of a network of like-minded people that could be created across the world; whether journalists, content producers, service providers or PR agencies. These are baby steps, but highly significant ones. Who knows what next year will bring and – perhaps more importantly – who will be there?
Ritchie is the former editor of The Star newspaper and now a media consultant. He attended the Global Media Congress as a guest of WAM.
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