Sunday December 17 2017

Review of 2017: The media in crisis


By Timothy Kalyegira

We have less than two weeks to the end of the year. It is time now to do a retrospective on 2017.

In 2017, the world economy saw a steady recovery from the recession and lethargic recovery that followed the world economic crisis of late 2008.

One year into the erratic and unorthodox presidency of Donald Trump, the US economy, the world’s largest, has remained robust.

The stock market has seen a near-continuous rise, New York’s Dow Jones Industrial Average and the tech-heavy NASDAQ indices setting new all-time high records every few weeks.

But the one industry that has continued to struggle and whose fortunes continue to decline at an alarming rate every year for the past 10 years is the media.

This is a bitter irony, considering that in this same decade, the media - thanks to the pervasive smartphone and the exponential growth of social media - has become one of the most visible and influential industries.

More people are reading news and watching it than ever before.
Everyone, in effect, has become a journalist of some sort by virtue of their tweets, posts, shared links and just being on Facebook and Twitter.

So why should the media industry that has seen such an explosion in readership of newspapers and viewership of videos be struggling at a time it should be thriving on account of increased engagement by the public?

The answer might lie in this same growth.
Traditionally, the formula for the media was to publish any kind of news or commentary, attract a following, readership or audience, then sell that audience to advertisers.

But that has all changed because, as stated, everyone is now a journalist and every company is now also a media company.

A telecom, beer company, bank, supermarket or insurance firm, by virtue of owning its own Facebook page or Twitter handle is to a degree a media company in the way a print newspaper or TV station is.

This telecom, bank or beer company has followers on its page, just like a newspaper. It publishes updates as posts, just like a newspaper.

It occasionally uploads a video onto its page of its activities, just as a TV station does.
Some telecom companies in Uganda have more than 500,000 Facebook followers, just like the major national newspapers.

So why should these companies advertise in a newspaper when they have become “newspapers” themselves by virtue of owning their own Facebook pages?
That is part of the crisis facing the media.

In this new world, digital technology and aggregator platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter have created a level playing field for everyone.

The media that curved out a unique position for itself in the 100 years before around 2003, when starting a TV station, radio station or print newspaper was expensive, has now lost that uniqueness.

To stand out, the media has to do something drastic.
In my view, that something drastic has to be what China is now being forced to start doing: going up the value chain.

Since 1978, China has grown into a world economic power by manufacturing cheap, low-quality goods for export.

With labour costs rising, China is losing that competitive edge on price and low wages.
It is being forced to start focusing on higher quality, higher margin goods that require a lot of research, development and sophisticated marketing.

Likewise, the media that until now was used to publishing or broadcasting any bland press conference or workshop story will have to upgrade the richness and depth of its content if it is to reclaim its hold on the public and the advertisers.
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