Disrupting the news industry
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2019 - 12:00am

It had been happening for quite a while now in the United States and other countries with better broadband infrastructure. It is starting to happen here but with our poor internet connectivity, we are at least five years delayed.

My children who live in California do not subscribe to a newspaper, have no cable television subscription and do not watch free on-air television. They get their news from digital sources including Facebook and subscribe to Netflix and a sports channel for entertainment.

That’s the trend among young people including young professionals in their mid to late 30s. I suspect even older people are on board this digital disruption to mainstream mass media as we know it. It is a serious challenge that is also changing the face of journalism, worldwide.

Based on my conversations with the folks at the ABS-CBN newsroom, they are feverishly preparing to meet the digital challenge. Some surveys they have seen already indicate that close to half of the network’s news audience get their news first from their mobile devices.

This explains why the newsroom adopted a policy of “digital first” a couple of years ago. This means they no longer save “scoops” for the main nightly newscast but immediately break it out on the news website and on Facebook.

Last week, the Social Weather Stations confirmed what we have known for some time. The SWS First Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey found that 21 percent of adult Filipinos or an estimated 13.9 million individuals use Facebook daily for reading the news.

Compared to other news media, a majority 60 percent of adults (est. 40.4 million individuals) still consume news daily through television. Meanwhile, only 15 percent (est. 9.7 million individuals) do so through radio. Even fewer adults, only two percent (est. one million individuals), read newspapers daily.

Now the really sad part: SWS confirmed that using Facebook as a daily news source is more common than radio and newspapers combined, and is second only to television.

The SWS survey also found out that reading the news through Facebook is positively related to educational attainment. Half of adult Facebook members who are college (49 percent) and high school graduates (49 percent) read the news daily using the social media site. This is higher compared to 37 percent among elementary graduates and 36 percent among non-elementary graduates.

I earlier said sad because Facebook is effectively eating the breakfast, lunch and dinner of mainstream media. They attract readers to Facebook because of the news gathered, vetted and written by journalists in the employ of mainstream media and all for free.

Yet, mainstream media has no choice but to allow Facebook to carry their news because increasingly, that is the preference of the audience. It is not just Facebook but also Twitter and Google.

In the case of Google, they throw in some peanuts through Google’s AdWords. Google puts in some advertising in news sites and if someone clicked on it, the news site gets something.

The parasitic relationship of Facebook and Twitter with mainstream media is something that must eventually be figured out. If both social media entities expect us to continually produce top news stories, they have to help devise some way of compensating us.

Because both are gaining traction as source for news, Facebook and Twitter also must do a better job of cleaning their sites of fake news. They already started to employ professional journalists to fact check and vet news sites using their platforms. But the danger of misleading their users remain large.

The shift to digital journalism has also put in more stress on newsrooms. Every second, every minute is now deadline time. Journalists must now operate like news wire services because every second lost to competition is lost opportunity to make their audience stick to their sites.

The pressure is not just on being first to post a breaking news story. There is pressure too on vetting a story’s accuracy. The news desks are now forever on adrenalin because lapses can be quite bad for the reputation of the brand.

The local pioneer in digital news operations is Rappler. They are totally accessible only online… from news stories to newscasts. Yet, they field quite a number of young journalists as if they are working for a traditional broadcast network or newspaper.

What I still don’t get is how they manage to finance such an operation. They have the same limitations as the digital websites of the networks and the leading dailies. I have managed a newsroom and it isn’t cheap. This is the part of Rappler that deserves more transparency.

We found out during recent controversies that they have foreign funding from foundations interested in propagating good journalism. They are also trying out a new service that includes a paywall.

The problem with paywalls is that people have been spoiled getting their news for free. Only the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Economist started with digital subscription and have been successful. The New York Times and the Washington Post are now showing some success because of the compelling nature of their reports.

But make no mistake about it. Good journalism is not cheap. Good journalists must be paid well and supported well in the field. Facebook and Twitter must surely realize that. Unless they figure out a fair compensation mechanism for news stories they use, financial realities may force mainstream media to shut down.

Mainstream media on the other hand must more quickly learn how to monetize their stories because the current business model is not sustainable.

Interestingly, even lifestyle news has turned digital. Lisa Gokongwei Pe saw the signs and closed down the successful lifestyle glossies under Summit Media and is now fully digital. That, after all, is the present and very much the future.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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