MEDIA: To save the industry, you’ll have to kill journalism

THE one thing that many media practitioners continually have to face are well-meaning people with ill-conceived notions.

They have ideas. Lots of them. Some of them are even good ideas. Unfortunately, most of them are predicated on the false premise that the media industry has been resting on its laurels for decades and was blind-sided by the digital revolution.

Nothing could be further from the truth. At least, not in Malaysia, where we could observe what was happening in other markets. We adopted new technologies and adapted to new delivery platforms, experimented with new ideas and explored new opportunities, while tinkering with new business models.

When The Star launched its online version nearly 26 years ago, we did so knowing that nothing would ever be the same again.

Over the years, we – as with many of our esteemed rivals – would keep pushing the envelope. Malaysian publishers rolled out SMS alerts when it was a thing, moved to social media before it became a thing, launched online classified portals for various sectors, had mobile-optimised editions when WAP 2.0 – no, not that song but the Wireless Application Protocol – was rolled out, and even introduced video long before Facebook would mislead publishers and advertisers on its effectiveness.

We transformed newsrooms and re-skilled journalists. Those of us with feet in both ponds repackaged our print editions.

We would fumble here and there, of course. At times, we overstated the potential of some technologies, and missed the mark on others. But we were always on high alert.

Yet, we still got hit. It was not just the Internet, social media, or the ubiquity of smartphones. It was all three, in a triple-whammy, plus factors like changing media consumption patterns, widening market fragmentation, and deepening social polarisation.

And while it is true that not all media publishers were keen on this “whole digital thing”, and while it is also true that many who were keen on it made many missteps, it is frustrating to see many media industry pundits and practitioners themselves make pithy comments that we were complacent and blind, and caught completely off-guard.

Even more frustrating are their suggestions on how to fix this.

“You need to do more stories that ordinary people can relate to”.

“You need to do stories that people want to share”.

“You shouldn't be so negative”.

None of these are bad suggestions, mind you, but when asked to explain what they mean, the answer when shorn of all prevarication, would invariably be: Do more clickbait, fun stories; do simple-to-understand stories (never mind the nuances of the issue); work with the platform that is sucking you dry.

In essence, the advice can be summed up thus: For the media industry to survive, it needs to stop practising that pesky thing called journalism. Give the people what they want, not what they need.

But the thing is, if journalism were to survive on those terms, then we are already lost.

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