Editorial: August 2016 | Is the survival of good solid journalism possible?

Hear me out. There will always be a significant portion of us who like to read. Sure there are, as you will see from our cover story this month

By | Mon 1 Aug 2016

As a member of the traditional (read: old) media, we at Citylife view new media with respect, awe, a smidgen of scorn, and more than a few hues of envy. The sheer reach of new media is a threat to our very existence.

From time to time I’ve thought about both giving up and giving in. Closing shop and painting landscapes in my home in the mountains sounds like a far less stressful life choice, and the seduction of being done with ink and moving the whole operation online, slashing overheads and expenses is appealing. But call me a purist (or an idiot), I still have great faith in the relevance of traditional media. I may sound like Candide’s Pangloss, but I genuinely believe that we are heading towards a comeback.

Hear me out.

There will always be a significant portion of us who like to read. Sure there are, as you will see from our cover story this month, a similarly significant number of people who have no interest in the written word whatsoever. But the readers amongst us — yes you — tend to be more discerning when it comes to consuming information. We want to make sure that what we read either entertains, informs or inspires.

It is easy enough for anyone to set up a blog to entertain and inspire; all you need is some basic online savvy, the ability to write and a clear idea. But to inform, well, that is a whole ‘nother matter. I recently read that in North America, 80% of blogs generate content from, and link back to, only four major legacy media houses, the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yet, while these traditional media resources are constantly quoted, referred to and used as a foundation for the creation of new media content, it is vexing that the grand old Washington Post was recently sold for as low as 250 million dollars, when compared to Facebook’s 1 billion dollar buyout of Instagram a few years back.

It can takes months to produce a good story, and sometimes after lengthy research, the story doesn’t even pan out. We investigate, do the leg work, draw from our education and experiences to write, fact check and do our due diligence, a slow and methodical process that is seemingly no longer financially viable.

And this is because we simply haven’t figured out how to monitise our content. When faced with the speed with which new media is disseminated, the impressive impact of viral marketing, the extraordinary reach of new platforms, and the instant gratification of online channels, many of us in the traditional media are barely able to catch up, let alone stay abreast or dream of pulling ahead.

Also, news today is increasingly a shared and social experience. Fewer people pick up a printed publication, let alone visit a publication’s web site, instead relying on receiving links from friends and families.

The downside of new media, of course is oversaturation and unreliable content. Increasingly, we are seeing online content fail in all journalistic principals, whether they are poorly researched, have deep bias or are agenda — or advertising — driven. It is also hard to curate content when a new item pops up to vie with last second’s breaking story.

The slide into irrelevance of traditional media, which began in the late noughties, I believe, is levelling out. There is just so much nonsense we can consume on a daily basis. We are now finding ourselves acting as editor, filtering the plethora of content that our devices present to us at any given moment. As consumers become savvier, I expect they will return the role of editor to actual editors, bringing back value to the fourth estate.

To be honest, new media has in fact, been great for us. As our extinction loomed, it led to much soul searching. Those of us who survived had to dramatically downsize. We demanded more from our staff and were surprised to find that they were capable of so much more than we had previously given them credit for. We culled the fat from those heady days, streamlining our often cumbrous houses into more efficient operations. We jumped onto the new media bandwagon, finding our reach increase exponentially and exciting possibilities materialised as we dived into new channels, putting us more in touch with our readership than ever before.

I believe that the panic following the initial, and terribly overwhelming, surge of new media, is abating. Good solid journalism will and must exist. We are just still figuring out how to find and define our new path. New media relies on traditional media for much of its content and symbiotically we rely on their technology and reach. I expect a happy medium will be found and unlike the librarian, travel agent and perhaps referee, we will have a future. We expect
to be entertaining, informing and inspiring you for many years to come.

Like Professor Pangloss, I remain quietly optimistic.

Citylife this month:

Having done my bit to defend my relevance, you may find it amusing to read of how irrelevant old media is when viewed from the social media phenomenon that is Thailand’s Net Idols. I interview three hot young locals who have selfied themselves into fame and fortune.

But talk about journalism, maybe you would be interested in our past intern Edie Wilson’s look at Book Re:Public, a bookshop that has received both international awards and national censorship. Aydan Stuart also discovers a fascinating social experiment in Lamphun which could teach Chiang Mai a few lessons on citizen participation.