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What started off as a distribution issue has become fundamental to the nature of journalism: Ros Atkins BBC

05-April-2016
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What started off as a distribution issue has become fundamental to the nature of journalism: Ros Atkins BBC

The digital revolution is changing the very nature of media consumption and news organizations are feeling the heat in a highly fluid and constantly evolving ecosystem. BBC World News' Ros Atkins, who currently hosts the show "Outside Source”, is one who believes in the power of the digital medium and the opportunities it provides to both journalists and content creators. His own show, "Outside Source" is, in his words, about, "combine (ing) the best we have inside BBC with the best of the rest of the information that is out there."

Atkins was in India last week, we caught up with him at exchange4media and BBC's "One on One" with Yes Bank's MD and CEO Rana Kapoor, he spoke about how journalism is being impacted by the rising digital wave and more.

Excerpts:

How has journalism changed with the evolution of the digital medium?
Digital has changed journalism in two fundamental ways. The first is how we distribute the content we make. Earlier, we used to do this via the radio and television; when the internet came along, increasingly we distributed through websites. Now you have the next generation of digital products, primarily, social media and apps, which allow alternatives to distribution as well. But it goes deeper than that because the way you distribute content also shapes the content. What works on Facebook might not work on Twitter, may or may not work on television. So what we are doing is approaching a story with different mediums in mind and then making informed decisions about what form the story should take in which medium; whether it is TV or radio or any number of different digital platforms. So, what started off as a distribution issue has become more fundamental to the nature of journalism.

Does digital journalism need a regulatory framework like TV and print?
Aggregation is right at the centre of the digital experience and whether content producers like it or not, actually what we are all doing on social media is aggregating content that we want. When we go on social media, to look at stories for instance, we are going through an aggregation of content that is being created by our network of friends and colleagues. Aggregation as an activity in the digital arena is clearly central and it is not going anywhere.

There are clearly issues if a website that is putting together a lot of content that it has not produced and then presenting it to make profit, but this is where media regulations come in. Each country will have its own approach of what can and cannot be done. A good example is Google News, which when it launched, a lot of content providers were against it but it survived and is now an essential part of delivering traffic. For me, aggregating is central to how people are going to consume news. You cannot have an individual or company illegally making money out of anybody else's content, but as long as you have rules, aggregation is going to be the heart of how we consume news as well as the distribution of content.

Are new age digital media companies a cause for worry to legacy establishments like, say, a Times or BBC?
I don't know whether I would say that they are a threat to an organization the size of BBC. What we do at the BBC is very different from what they would do. What I can say is that there are now a greater variety of sources on any story that you are covering. I think, increasingly, the big beasts are understanding that it is time to acknowledge the contribution that all of these smaller organizations are making. 

If you look at my show, 'Outside Source'; it is called that because it combines the best we have inside BBC with the best of the rest of the information that is out there. I don't see individuals or small groups of people who are producing journalism or just sharing experiences as a threat but as a huge opportunity for us to improve the accuracy and the breadth of our coverage.

What would be your advice to Indian media houses when it comes to making the best use of the digital medium?
I am not sure I would be so bold as to tell Indian media companies what to do. I also think you have to be careful about generalizing revenue models that work. People might be prepared to download a TV show that they want to watch multiple times with their family, if it is news they might not want to download, so if you want to make money off it then you might want to put some advertising around it or apply a subscription model.

So, the first thing is to not believe any generalizations about media consumptions or business models. There is no single approach to distribution or business models that works. You have to look at the product you have, the best means of distributing the content. Once you have decided that, then by all means figure out a way to monetize it but you have to approach it step by step. Whatever you do, don't go looking at other media, which aren't like yours and drawing conclusions. This is a very fluid medium and the best thing you can do is look at a lot of different examples and learn from different organizations' experiences and then apply these for a unique solution for you, which in time will pay dividends.

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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.