Binary battles will dictate future of news producers

Binary battles will dictate future of news producers

If you're reading this article online at www.dundalkdemocrat.ie, 'hello'; if you're reading it on a piece of dead tree, 'hello' also. Welcome to the world of the modern newspaper.

Everything in life can be broken down into simple binaries - ying versus yang , positive versus negative, yes versus no, good versus bad - the list unfolds ad nauseum. In our endangered world we now have print versus digital.

August is one of those months were anybody with any semblance of sense packs the bag, picks a flight somewhere hot and sunny and makes like a banana.

This mindset is even truer still in the world of media. Nothing, I repeat nothing, happens during this month.

Leinster House is empty, the local councillors are MIA and even the district courts have brought the gavel down on proceedings for a few weeks.

Now for anybody dealing solely in digital news this is not a terribly bad thing. Sure your number of page views and site visitors will dip temporarily and you'll find yourself clicking the top of your pen more than your mouse, while staring aimlessly out the window - but it's not detrimental.

For us good folk who have to produce a set number of actual physical pages for the masses to purchase and enjoy, it leaves things a little bit dicier.

What in the name of all that is good do you fill the paper with?

For the clued-in and clever in the PR industry now is the time to get your press releases in. You are guaranteed a bigger picture, more coverage and a headline big enough to sink the Titanic for your client in August.

Ordinarily, the above kind of stuff would fill a 50-word brief buried in the middle of the paper, but not in August; oh no, you'll get the kind of attention reserved for visiting Vice-Presidents of the United States. It's not called the 'silly season' for nothing.

In August the news agenda can be set by the supposedly more trivial and less substantial of stories.

In last week's Irish Times Hugh Linehan spoke about this phenomenon and the fact that the traditional news cycle has all but disappeared thanks to digital.

His argument is that with so much news going instantly online the only way for traditional media to compete is to decide what to leave out as opposed to what goes in.

This is a valid point. There's no denying that those of us working in newspapers spend a lot of time searching the internet for stories. It has become a valuable source all on its own.

But everything is already on the internet by the time you find it. For instance, a story that you find on someone's Facebook page has already been shared and liked hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times by the time you get to it. So what exactly can you add to it to make it fresher and more appealing for your readers?

You could contact the person directly and do an interesting interview or in-depth feature piece. You could investigate it a... Oh wait a minute, something else is after popping up on Twitter, right gotta go...

And on goes the race to the bottom. It all seems to be about getting something, anything, up online as soon as possible. Generate enough clicks to satisfy a new breed of advertisers and then move on to something else. Job done.

Now I'm not a luddite - well not entirely - I happen to agree that digital is the way foward for all news media. Newspapers cannot afford to sit on their hands and assume that they can keep churning out physical papers and it will remain sustainable.

And apart from it not being sustainable in the long term it will eventually render the news organisation completely irrelevant too - a fate much worse than simply falling circulation and advertising.

There needs to be some sort of understanding between Content Generators (for that is what journalists are evolving into *shudder*) and Readers as to what exactly is the definition of 'news' in the digital world.

There was some welcome news on this front last week with the announcement by Facebook that it will reduce the amount of 'click-bait' articles (those soulless online stories that start with something like 'You won't believe what happened next when this girl said 'yes' to her fiance!!') clogging up it's newsfeed.

It's always been a numbers game though. Whether it was circulation and advertising in the 20th century, or online users and page views today. But what these metrics fail to truly establish is something we all want and desire from our news producers - quality.

Here's one final binary for you - quality versus quantity. I know which side I'm on.

But it ain't cheap.