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Mixed Media: Will Twitter kill the newspaper star?

03-August-2009
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Mixed Media: Will Twitter kill the newspaper star?

When I posted the link to an interview of ‘Wired’ Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson with the headline ‘Who needs newspapers when you have Twitter?’ on my Facebook ID, there was near-instant feedback. The really angry ones came to me by mail though.

“I do. Twitter bugs me,” a journalist working as an editor with a book publishing major in Singapore wrote. “I do too. But I also need Twitter and Facebook and Flickr, but not Linked In or Wayn or all that other nonsense,” commented the editor of a Mumbai newsweekly. Reasoned a techie with a media website: “A newspaper has its own value, one cannot be online all the time.”

True, all media forms have their own space, and most often, the mode of delivery dictates how the content is consumed, but things have changed, thanks to technology making cellphone devices smarter and capable of streaming video. That may not be the case here in India, unless you have your mobile hooked on to heavy duty broadband, but it’s getting there.

Anderson’s comments border on the outrageous. When told that demand for quality journalism is growing and even though daily circulation is stable, only ad spends are down, he said: “Newspapers are not important. It may be that their physical, printed form no longer works. But the process of compiling information and analysing it, and adding value to it and distributing it, still works.”

If you read the full text
(http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,638172,00.html) of the German ‘Der Spiegel’ interview reused in ‘Salon’, Anderson has gone on to suggest that journalists could be soon out of jobs. “Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? I just cannot come up with a definition for those words,” he said, adding, “The problem is not that the traditional way of writing articles isn’t valuable anymore. The problem is that this is now in the minority. It used to be a monopoly, it used to be the only way to distribute news… You don’t need access to a commercial channel to distribute (news), anyone can do it. What we do is still useful, but what other people do is equally useful. I don’t think our way is the most important and it is certainly not the only way of conveying information. So, this is why we’re in a funny phase. It’s going to take us a decade or two to figure out what it is we’re doing.”

Before I contribute my two bits on what Anderson has said, here’s what he told interviewer Frank Hornig when he asked how journalists could compete with the large number of people writing online for free. He said: “In the past, the media was a full-time job. But may be the media is going to be a part time job. May be media won’t be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby. There is no law that says that industries have to remain at any given size. Once there were blacksmiths and there were steel workers, but things change. The question is not should journalists have jobs. The question is can people get the information they want, the way they want it? The marketplace will sort this out. If we continue to add value to the Internet, we’ll find a way to make money. But not everything we do has to make money.”

Hmmm, does that make me wonder if I took the right decision to get into the profession? Not really. While I agree that a microblogging platform like Twitter, personal publishing via weblogs and, to an extent, even social networks have transformed the dissemination of information, journalists who are able to adapt to the new technologies will never fade away. Those who’ll survive and thrive will be news mediapersons who bring to the table unique knowledge levels, and not just the skill in being able to tinker with technology.

There’s a fair bit of truth in what Anderson says, and to a great extent, I can see myself practising it. As a force of habit, I almost always have the TweetDeck dashboard on as I have Facebook and my Microsoft Outlook up. Last evening, when I thought I would write this column, I was quite distracted by the ‘Rakhi Ka Swayamvar’ finale until a journo ‘broke’ the story on the winner an hour ahead of it being shown on screen. I saw the show nevertheless and tracked the observations on it on Twitter.

But more than the exchange amongst contacts, it’s the news updates from the media entities I follow that keep me informed that I’m interested in. Whether it was the Sensex peaking the other day or the private airlines’ strike being called off last evening or even a link to the Daily Telegraph story on Emma Watson being related to a 16th century witch that I’m sure many Harry Potter film fans would love to read… Twitter’s my computer-saathi. I don’t visit news sites as often as I did six months back, and more than my RSS feeds newsreader, I think Twitter via the TweetDeck software is now my primary info provider.

Anderson’s rather provocative statements may not come true in India in a hurry, but it’s vital for news companies – and not just newspapers, but even television channels and websites – to reinvent themselves. Ditto for journalists. Okay, I won’t add a negative ‘Adapt or perish’ line, but clearly those who don’t adapt could face tough times.

(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or mail your views at mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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