A long time ago the audience was king and media had to bring a real added value to make people buy what they offered. This added value was at a minimal level information and ideally insights and perspective. The more added value the larger audience the bigger revenue. That used to be true a long time ago when media were mainly paper. Then came the radio and tv who tried to disrupt the “old press” by moving into new fields. The proliferation of media led to a larger choice but also to a kind of saturation. So the purpose of media today is to grab people’s attention even before delivering any added value.
Internet only brought saturation to a much higher level. An unbearable one. It’s not a matter of channels anymore but of an ocean of news streams in which people swim and often drown themselves. So the race for attention began and the form started to prevail over the content : delivering added value is useless if no one comes to get it.
Free content is a myth
Internet changed one more thing by imposing the myth of free content. I say myth because nothing is free : if you don’t pay for content it’s because others pay. They pay to display ads or someone monetizes your data. At this point the value of content becomes secondary : it does not matter if you read or not, what matters is that you see the ad and ideally click on it. What matters is that you give some precious data, consciously or not.
Race for attention and decreasing importance of the value of the content : that’s when things become to wrong.
By the way, please notice that at the beginning of he post I used the word “information” and now the word “content”. That’s for a reason and I’m going to you why I hate the word “content” : it’s the consequence of an evolution that’s regrettable, although inescapable,
Media moved from informing to attracting
Information teaches us something. Insights enriches us. A content defines itself regarding to a container : it’s here to fill the container, no matter the value for the readers. Readers don’t matter, they don’t pay. The goal is to bring the reader to the advertiser, who’s the one who pays. Content does not have any value by itself and its only purpose is to serve as a fishhook. Media are not here to inform anymore but to bait. Of course that’s nothing new but we’re reaching unbearable levels.
We can imagine what the ultimate for of this model could look like : a catchy title with debilitating content. Oh wait…I’m afraid we’re already there.
Buzzfeed. Upworthy. Just to name a few. I’m sure you’ve already clicked on their links and then realized there was absolutely no value in the content. It would have been detrimental to the media at a time when there were real journalists behind, whose job was to deliver value. But the job has changed : factories delivering useless content because the model is not to sell value to the reader anymore but traffic to the advertiser.
Media and journalism don’t go hand in hand anymore and that’s serious
Internet, digital, are a source of progress in many fields, inventing new offers, challenging status quo, forcing established leaders to reinvent themselves and improve. But when it comes to media, I’m afraid we’re on a slippery slope to regression. If the press and traditional media are struggling, it may be partly their fault since they took too much time to reinvent themselves but that’s also because the mediocrity factories I mentioned above are monopolizing people’s attention. Worse : they even may format people’s minds, tastes and expectations in terms of contents. Imagine what a generation born with Buzzfeed consider as good content…
Is monetizing mediocrity the future of digital media ? Is the model parental ? Is so that’s really the end of something. Of an era where media were ran by professionals trying to deliver something to their audience. An era were information and journalism used to prevail over buzz and content.
There’s another path and some try to take it even if looks more complicated. For instance a media like Melty could easily have fallen on the mediocrity side but decided to go for more quality. Wait and pray.
If buzzfeed is the future of media then we can be afraid for the future of society
If buzzfeed and its likes are the future of media let me tell you that a part of the digital revolution will stop at my door. Bring me my printed press back, my real journalists that who to inform me and even make me smarter. Because if the only way for a digital media is to adopt the buzzfeed model, I’m really afraid for the future of society.