Demand for good journalism remains unchanged
- İBRAHIM ALTAY,
- Aug 27, 2018
Everyone has heard the phrase "talk is cheap." It is somewhat flawed as only through discourse can we translate collective will into action. But there is something to take away from the phrase because too much debate without actual suggestions might see us stuck in a loop of inaction. It is something we see often in every part of our daily lives. We are always quick to offer criticism after the fact, yet rarely provide solid suggestions that can result in positive outcomes. That is not something I intend to imitate in this corner. While a sizable portion of Reader's Corner articles are aimed at holding media's feet to the fire, due to its nature, it must also offer suggestions and solutions or at the very least encourage and carry on debates on finding a way out. Thus, we try to aim for moderation even in articles critical of a particular problem in terms of its causes and possible solutions.
If you had been following this corner for some time, you would find that one of the chief subjects we try to tackle is the perception that presupposes a looming threat that will eradicate the mainstream media in the short or middle term. The assumption is that to stay relevant, today's media must fundamentally change to bend to the whips of current and future realities. And there are many who believe these changes must come fast. Yet in last week's article we talked about how a "too much, too fast" change can devastate a branch of journalism. It is also not far-fetched to think that an overwhelming sprint to change to capture the attention of viewers and readers can result in the same devastation in terms of credibility and everything that makes journalism an integral part of a society.
But does that mean that media is doing okay? Or that going on without some form of adaptation or even evolution is feasible? Of course not. In the end we are living in a society where the free market regulates our lives. If media fails to meet the demand in terms of modernity or adaptation to the technological landscape, it is likely to become obsolete in its current form. However, that does not mean that the need to stay informed of individuals and society formed by those individuals will vanish. Neither it does mean that principles and ethics of journalism will become obsolete. They may get better because there is always room for improvement, but that can be done by building on them, not by abandoning them wholesale.
What we need to focus on during our attempts to modernize is the methods of news gathering and methods of delivering that news to the public. And there is a great example before us that we can take notes of. Not to mention that even though this example has little to do with news or journalism it is somewhat connected as it deals with media of a different sort.
We all know streaming services. Many of use them. There are all sorts of companies that are either entrenched or trying to get into the scene. The first one that comes to mind is probably Netflix though the sector is not a monopoly as we have other runner ups such as Hulu, Amazon's Prime and so forth. Established cable companies such as HBO also offer streaming services with their exclusive content. In Turkey we have PuhuTV entering the fray. How did it all start though?
Our younger readers might not be familiar with the concept of renting movies from a store to view them instead of buying VHS tapes, VCDs or DVDs. It was a huge sector with a big market presence. You went to the store, made your selection and for a small individual fee or a monthly subscription rented the movie for a couple of days. Netflix for example started as a mail order company that allowed people to rent movies from the comfort of their home as their chosen media was delivered to their home via mail. They also had the option of purchasing the movie outright for a while as well. As the technology progressed and the business model started to become obsolete however, the bells were ringing for the sector.
Some companies decided to stick to their guns with competitive pricing, advertisement, promotion and so forth. In other words, they applied first aid to the problem. It even got them a bigger part of the pie, but the problem wasn't their ratio of the pie. The pie itself was shrinking. So even though bigger companies managed to squeeze out the smaller ones or small stores managed to bring down their costs or achieve successful localized advertisements and promotions, it did not matter in the long run. Renting movies might still exist but is a fraction of a fraction compared to its heyday.
Now let's take a break from our narrative and draw parallels to our situation. Did the people's demand to watch movies disappear? No, not really. The movie business is better than ever if we are to consider the money in it. Budgets expand, profits expand. So the demand isn't at fault for this decline. The same can be said for mainstream media's situation. Do people no longer care about what is happening in their country or around the world? Did they stop caring about their right to stay informed? The answer is the same. With technological improvements in transportation and communication, demand is better than before. With that out of the way, let's continue with our example.
Better than ever
There were some who not only managed to continue unscathed but emerged as global titans from the eventual doom of their sector. After all, Netflix managed to became a household name in most Western countries along with many others in other parts of the globe. It became so big that apart from streaming media produced by others, it has huge productions that manage to become global sensations in their own right. They are not alone in this success either. Another example would be Syfy. It was once the go to channel for science fiction shows, yet its highly acclaimed recent show called "The Expanse" was cancelled after a couple of seasons, only to be bought by Amazon. Nowadays, these streaming services compete not only with their overall library and pricing, but also their exclusive content, something that was not feasible until recently.
Although the going was still relatively good, Netflix managed to recognize its method of delivery was becoming obsolete. Demand was still there, but the methods were unsuitable for that demand. Did they change the core service? Not really. After all, they still allow me to see media I do not own a copy of for a small monthly fee. The product they sell is the same. Yet their business is booming better than ever in the history of their company. The reason is quite crucial yet simple. They managed to adapt to technological advancement and the changing demands of their customers.
What we must do as mainstream media is the same. We must adapt without changing the core of what we offer to the public. And at its core is that we offer or at least should offer factual and credible journalism. The delivery methods might need tweaking. News gathering might need changes to keep up. But we cannot compromise our basic principles just because we have notions that demand is changed. Demand is the same. It just has different expectations when it comes to convenience. And hopefully next week, we will offer some alternatives both present and successful when it comes to changing methods while keeping the core mechanics the same in journalism.