For whom the (media) bell tolls

The sudden demise of widely respected technology news website Gigaom (RIP) has sent a chill through media circles. If an outlet with a monthly readership in the millions, an authoritative roster of journalists and a diverse business model that extends into research and events can’t make it — even after several successful funding rounds  — what hope can there possibly be for the rest of us?

It’ll be a while before the post-mortems are concluded. But one of the reigning — and more disheartening — theories so far is that Gigaom was in essence punished for doing everything right. Its determination to avoid the sensationalism and ‘clickbait’ that litters much of the Internet media landscape was well known, as was its doggedly independent editorial stance, which didn’t endear it to many potential customers and advertisers. Slate‘s Will Oremus (http://slate.me/1Byz4d6) and Jason Bloomberg in Forbes (http://onforb.es/1D8vGZJ) have both produced riveting reads on this theme.

Another possibility is that Gigaom simply took on more money than it could handle — see this piece by Danny Sullivan in Medium (http://bit.ly/1C5kgGn). While this obviously leaves Gigaom looking slightly less heroic, Sullivan’s point that venture capital isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for media companies, is spot on. We don’t discount the idea entirely, but our experiences suggest Gigaom wasn’t killed off for refusing to play ball with big technology vendors. It’s not only readers who respect and value journalistic independence — the best advertisers do too, because they’re confident enough to not only withstand a little scrutiny, but welcome it.

 

Words from a gatekeeper

As far as we know, it’s not too often that a star literary agent opens up on the state of the industry, so this candid interview with rainmaker Chris Parris-Lamb in the always-illuminating Guernica magazine is well worth a read: http://bit.ly/1AyPEWk.

Despite the changes sweeping the publishing world Parris-Lamb remains defiantly traditional in some of his beliefs – not least that writers deserve to earn a respectable living and that good editors are still very much a necessity in the days of self-publishing. Full agreement from the n/n bunker on both counts.

The most dangerous gift

There’s been a very interesting conversation unfolding on Twitter over the last couple of days under the #AdviceForYoungJournalists hashtag. Recommendations for budding hacks has come fast and furious, and has ranged from the depressing (from @joemfbrown, “learn to weld”) to the practical (“always carry toilet paper with you,” @melissakchan advises those working overseas) and the sublime (“go into the world humbly,” @JulieMcCarthyJM). As with all worthy insights, a lot of these would fall into the #AdviceForYoungAnyone category (if it existed). Full disclosure: we chimed in as well, with a recommendation to study and absorb William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style (really. It’s that good.).

And then, an actual young journalist came along with some input that pretty much blew everything else away. For anyone contemplating (or still in) the industry, this fine piece by Will Butler in Medium should be required reading: http://bit.ly/1zYRDpW. Besides, what kind of self-respecting journalist listens to their elders anyway?

 

The news agencies of tomorrow

It’ll require some fancy mouse-work, but do check out the lead story in the latest edition of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong’s magazine, in which a member of the n/n team (among others) weighs in on how the digital environment is changing the news business. The entire publication can be viewed via the following link, with the cover story starting on page 12:

http://www.fcchk.org/article/correspondent-january-february-2015

For those who find it a click too far, the key takeaways: The Internet and mobile platforms represent both an opportunity and a threat to the traditional titans of the industry — news agencies like Reuters, AP and Bloomberg. Helped by their considerable resources and talent, most are already adjusting their strategies to match. And they may find themselves going head-to-head with some of their own customers in the process.

Light in the print media tunnel

Stories about the state of the print media industry are almost relentlessly grim, so it’s nice to see a couple about signs of life in one segment — magazines. The New York Post notes that last year was a banner one for magazine launches (http://bit.ly/13KnDlJ) while NPR has published an uplifting piece on the lasting appeal of literary journals (http://n.pr/1vBWpFG).

On the flipside, both the Atlantic (http://theatln.tc/1zuXlSM) and Bloomberg Businessweek (http://buswk.co/1BW72cw) seem skeptical about the prospects for newly cashed-up Next Issue Media, which offers a Netflix-like app for the magazine world, allowing consumers to access multiple titles with a single monthly subscription. Now granted, these venerable titles may be home to more than a few die-hard print traditionalists, but their core arguments ring true. Glossy pages just don’t look or feel the same on an iPad, and most magazines have perfectly good, responsive websites that make a paid-for app somewhat redundant. Just because a new medium exists doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to use it.

The more ‘things’ stay the same

Some compelling thoughts from global consulting giant Deloitte in their annual list of telecommunications, technology and media (TMT) predictions:

http://deloi.tt/1DF7BcD

The key (and perhaps most encouraging) takeaways from our perspective — first, that a lot of the hype about how the ‘Internet of Things,’ or connected ‘smart’ devices, is going to to revolutionise the way the average consumer goes about their business may be just that. As long as it’s associated with $99 lightbulbs (http://bit.ly/1BXXPhv), the IoT will remain more aspiration than reality. As Deloitte points out however, it may be a different story for enterprises, which have bigger pocketbooks and are already well-established users of smart gadgets. And the data some of those devices generate will open new marketing and content possibilities.

Also nice to hear that e-readers are a long way from displacing physical books completely, even among the younger crowd. Many are reportedly still attached to print books because they appreciate their smell and the sight of full bookshelves. We couldn’t agree more — is there anything quite like a leisurely browse in a crammed bookshop on a rainy day? Which is why we were disheartened by the news of the demise of yet another bookstore chain in our hometown (http://bit.ly/1C5CmDm). Show the love by splashing out on some real page-turners today, folks!

Finally, Deloitte’s less than sold on the financial prospects for short-form (under 20 minutes) video, hailed by many as the future of television. It seems it’s easy enough for short-form video to get eyeballs, but not repeat viewings or commitment — which should be far more important for content creators. For all the talk about shorter attention spans, audiences will still make time for a longer story — as long as it’s engaging, and well-told.

 

 

 

Data, dressed up

Happy New Year, everyone. In line with our prediction that data (compellingly delivered) will be used to build audiences and tell more stories this year, here’s a gem of an outfit that gets data visualisation right – Information is Beautiful (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/). It’s created some arresting presentations on everything from air safety to diversity in the technology industry, but us being who we are, these two on must-read books are probably our favourites:

http://bit.ly/12E1CEy

http://bit.ly/1vTUBu4

IIB’s also produced a very handy cocktail recipe guide for those who aren’t inclined to let the holiday celebrations end just yet. Enjoy (ahem, responsibly): http://bit.ly/1Jw2Q6G

A holiday wish

2014 was a big year, for New Narrative and our hometown of Hong Kong. We’re looking forward to a brief holiday break before we plunge in to a new year that’s likely to be no less eventful. Our thanks and warmest holiday wishes to our clients, friends and industry peers. May your 2015 be crammed with great content, and new beginnings.

 

What the future of content looks like

Another year coming to a close means the year-end lists are multiplying thick and fast. Buried in the onslaught of holiday-fuelled, feel-good indulgence and clickbait (Exhibit A: http://bzfd.it/1yq0D6t) are a number of compelling predictions about where the media industry, content marketing and social networks are going in 2015. We found some of those from Contently (http://bit.ly/130GLfS) and Say Daily (http://bit.ly/1ENZZCK) particularly insightful.

Definitive statements on the future are always dangerous, but the n/n team agrees some clear trends are emerging that are only likely to gain momentum in the year ahead. In no particular order:

Media/content marketing convergence: As more brands look to publish their own material rather than relying on news outlets to do it for them, more news outlets will create teams and outlets to attract, produce and distribute sponsored content. While this could raise ethical questions, the borders between advertising and news have always been more porous than they appear. Provided sponsored content is clearly differentiated from the non-sponsored variety, this will be on balance a positive development for traditional media and its audience, as it will relieve some of the industry’s financial pressures and ensure more journalists are paid something above subsistence wages.

The (continued) mobile takeover: While we’re not convinced 2015 will see wearable technology take off on a big way, more people than ever will be accessing content on mobile devices. Rather than devising a separate mobile strategy, companies will have to ensure their content is built from the ground up with mobile displays and interactivity in mind — which means a focus on accessibility, ease of use and the ruthless pruning of unnecessary clutter.

Even bigger, and better-looking, data: Analytics, and particularly social media analytics, are growing even more sophisticated, so expect more media and other companies to use data to predict what their audiences want – and produce accordingly. Rich data visualisation will also become an increasingly important way of telling a story in its own right, as seen in some of the excellent infographics produced by the likes of Quartz (http://qz.com/). Quartz recently made one of its in-house graphics tools, Chart Builder, open source, which should encourage even more to pick up the visual journalism mantle. Take a look at how it works, or try your hand at chart creation, here: http://quartz.github.io/Chartbuilder/

 

Outsourcing the message

We really enjoyed this article from the talented folks at the Guardian on a profession that probably didn’t exist even a few years ago — social media management: http://bit.ly/1B33SFn 

Keeping Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages updated with fresh content is now a complex and time-consuming enough job that people are prepared to outsource it. And despite the author’s discomfort with being ‘ventriloquised,’ it sounds like these particular hash-tag happy ghostwriters did an admirable job, taking the time to get to know their client and her goals and crafting their — her? — messages to match.

So are social media managers really necessary? As we advise some companies on social media strategies ourselves, we may be biased. But we’d say — if your Facebook/Twitter output goes mainly to friends and/or consists principally of food or cat pictures, probably not.

If you’ve got a reputation to maintain or are keen to build a following, a little professional input might not hurt. But just like @CocozzaPaula, be wary of any attempts to ‘refresh’ or replace your voice. A good social media manager isn’t there to tell you what to say, but to help refine the ideas and expertise you’ve already developed for a brave new medium.