Paradoxes in Today's Digital Newsrooms

Nowadays, media are facing ample of paradoxes. Media people are tugged between two extremes in the equations. They have to produce instant news reporting while at the same time ensure the creation of in-depth stories. 

As the information engine, newsroom serves like a factory that create large quantity of published news contents while keep crafting original contents. Other paradoxes are cheaper production costs versus optimized monetization; hyperlocal reporting and community voices versus global impact and many more.

The afore-mentioned paradoxes are getting deeper and deeper happening within media organizations and affecting the industry as well. With the digital innovation and internet, currently, newsrooms anywhere in the world have no other option but turn into digital and embrace each and every ramification of consequences and risks or facing their instant demises.

All legacy newsrooms, be it print, broadcast, radio, are all facing that their platforms are now merged into one single online platform which can accommodate contents of any platforms, with all for relatively cheaper production costs. Should they continue running their legacy business or should they close them down? Should they radically jump into the online bandwagon, or should they keep both cards in their hands?

Uncertainties are very high, leaving only one certainty that is none of the players holding firm the future. If online news media is the David, then their Goliath is not big online news competitors, but other online heavyweights, such as e-commerce giants, digital tech companies, fintech startups, social media networks. All those players are looking for bigger stakes in the burgeoning digital markets.

In today’s world, digital newsroom people should bear in mind that news as the core product of their industry is not the only source of information for today’s netizens. Newsrooms are witnessing that their influence to the lives of the audience and society is getting less and less.

It is no wonder that journalists look into ways to reestablish historic relationship by putting more attention to the readers’ emotion. They try harder to find ways to captivate the readers’ emotions in order to better influence their thoughts and in turn actions.

Emotion is where the battle once won by editorial people in the forgotten past with opinion pieces and op-ed written by the newspaper did impact to real actions and public policy making. Emotion, which is for some time, has become the domain of marketing and advertising people who read religiously readers’ trends and behaviors in order to exploit them for selling ads, now becomes an element that digital journalism should begin to impart in their news and reporting approaches. How journalists have to present their stories in more user-friendly interfaces, easy to digest stories and at the same time amusing.

In the meantime, despite apparently dwindling advertisement revenue, some legacy media still see ad revenue from flowing into their legacy media pocket, more than those into their digital media arm. Monetization becomes new challenge. Unlike their legacy newsroom predecessors, the online media have their own challenge to prove at least to themselves that their business is lucrative and promising. Seeing that many online startups aggressively use traditional billboards, TV ads, radio ads and print ads perfectly displays this very paradox. How could that be?  

On the other hand, platform-wise, the online news media carry along great potentials. It is now journalists have in their hands powers to translate news into compelling stories in best possible platforms suitable to the nature of their news or stories. Elements of visual, audio, and text are now available at their disposals. Of course, today’s journalists have to learn new set of skills to better use of the different platform of storytelling. Journalists may have to enrich themselves with other interdisciplinary approaches, such as dramaturgy, data analysis and design. 

Interestingly, today’s journalists should impart all those knowledge and skills to better invoke emotion and captivate their audience/readers.

Today’s journalists and editors have also to understand complex technical requirements as required by ever-changing Google search engine algorithm to stay standing out in the industry.

Unending pursuit of breaking news in the name of instant reporting to generate page views has been replaced by the awareness that compelling and engaging stories, of greater relevance, making the audience proud, inspiring yet remain newsy, are more important that quick yet unnatural spikes in website analytics charts.

Some old-school journalists might believe that the advent of online media brought along subdued practices of second-grade journalism, instant news with less verified and balanced reporting in the name of speed and high rate of page views or unique visits. They call it the dusk of quality journalism. However, some other journalists have different perspective as they have the faith that this would be the dawn of new era to improve even perfect journalism as we know it. They put high expectations that the online journalism promise much richer ways of storytelling thanks to the diverse platform the online media have.

Different from print media, broadcast TV and radio where space and frequency is limited, online media do not face such constraints. Real time analytics, interactivity and measurability has become new currencies in digital media industry. By harnessing the power of social media networks, online newsroom could also make stories going viral as well within seconds.
Content-wise, the nature of the content is getting more hyperlocal, yet the perspective should be more global to ensure that newsroom are still relevant to their audience/readers. Geographical locations are no longer relevant in the more connected world thanks to internet penetration worldwide. That explains well why paper circulation plummeted drastically these past few years.

The behavior of the audience and readers is also displaying some changes. And, the changes are simply in continuous permutations. Long form stories prove to enjoy longer life shelf than the shorter ones, apparently suggesting that people still read lengthy and serious reports, even though some may still do ‘news snacking’ of breaking news, ‘click-bait tips’ and easy to digest information.

The paradoxes will be getting more complex and intense in the near future as information technology reach their new level with the development of Big Data, Virtual Reality, cell phone apps and internet superhighway connections. How could each and every newsroom respond to those state-of-the-art tech advancements? Will these technologies leave journalism into relic or else it opens up unlimited possibilities for transforming journalism. 

by Damar Harsanto

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