We are living in a golden age of media. We have access to multiple sources of content, as well as the capabilities to direct that content to people where it matters. The pitfall of this is that we still need better ways of understanding what people want and how to get it out to them in the way that they want to read, watch or listen to. We need to make that content relevant.
This challenge is particularly evident in Asia, where the impetus for change is lacking. This is primarily because many of Asia’s big media organisations such as ABS-CBN in the Philippines and Media Prima in Malaysia are owned by political groups or large companies. Their publications and legacy newsrooms exist as they serve a political or commercial function, the economics of which has shielded them from the disruption in media that we’ve seen in Europe and the United States, where advertisers have shifted money away from traditional advertising media in favour of digital platforms where there are better options for targeting specific audiences. This shift has caused hundreds of publications to consolidate or collapse, and many surviving media organisations to prioritise digital products.
“Ultimately, media needs to be relevant to attract talent. If not, it will continue the worrying trend of losing young talent to other industries…”
But newsrooms in Asia still largely operate the same way as they’ve always done. They haven’t changed their cost structures, which remain unsustainably high and in misalignment to market conditions. They also tend to look at their product as a physical newspaper driven by advertiser – not reader – demands, and at their audience as a monolithic entity rather than people with different interests who access information across different platforms.
Ultimately, media needs to be relevant to attract talent. If not, it will continue the worrying trend of losing young talent to other industries, namely PR and marketing, both of which pay better than journalism. There’s also more respect and a clear sense of interesting opportunities and career growth in both of these fields – needs which are just not being met in the traditional newsroom.
Since we started the Splice Newsroom in 2015, my partner Rishad Patel and I have come to realise that real change will only come when spurred by small, independently owned media organisations, which are currently a rarity in Asia. At Splice, we want to help launch 100 media startups in Asia over the next three years because we need innovation. We need new products and more people asking what consumers want and how media can deliver it.
It’s not so much about creating more content – we are all inundated with content. But we need a better way of sorting and delivering relevant content to consumers. People don’t want to just know about current events, they want to know information that will help them make better decisions, whether it’s about products, politics or the new MRT line.
Financial media organisations have tackled this streamlining really well. For example, Bloomberg was founded to help provide investors with financial data and analysis that would help them make better investments. They charge a fee for access to that privilege, and are one of the most successful financial publications in the business.
The South China Morning Post is also making great strides in this space. They are looking at their product – which in traditional terms has always been a physical newspaper – and asking, who are we trying to reach? How can we unbundle our product so that we can be in multiple platforms and reach multiple audiences?
“Media organisations must think of journalism as a product, treat their audience as customers, learn what they need or want and deliver it”
In last eight months, the company has launched several interesting products, including Abacus, a website which focuses on how technology is changing China. If you go to the site there is little of the newspaper’s branding on it. Their goal is not to serve their traditional audience – it’s to seek a new one.
I believe that in five years, all content will have to be microtargeted to specific people in this way. Media organisations must think of journalism as a product, treat their audience as customers, learn what they need or want and deliver it. Fill the gaps. That’s what utility and relevance looks like for me – helping people find value in the work that you do.
Illustrations by Studio Takeuma
This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine