How do we save the news at Mason? (part 2)
Fourth Estate Editors Frank Muraca and Hau Chu spend a lot of time discussing how best to inform the Mason community. In rapidly changing world of journalism and media, they thought it'd be most helpful to have this discussion publicly. More importantly, we want to hear from you, the reader. Share your thoughts below or send us an email! Your ideas and feedback is important to us.
I think we are definitely in an interesting transition period in online story content and journalism.
Just to touch on the first point of your question, I think — and hope — that what would compel readers to sit down and actually engage in content by reading and maybe commenting is the quality of the content being provided. It’s almost a copout answer by how simple it is, but putting out content that stimulates something in your mind is the best way to engage a populace of readers.
I think this point in time is interesting because I think with our model of converging resources to better serve Mason is a more micro model of the macro convergence of resources in mainstream media. Before this decade I think across the Internet you saw a lot more fracturing in terms of coverage. Every website wanted to cater to a specific audience and only briefly touch on other subjects that might be of interest to their readers. An example I can think off the top of my head is ESPN. They were more interested in just providing sports coverage — sensationalized with narratives and not — they only devoted a small section of their website to something called Page 2, which would be more of a woven narrative of the intersection of sports and pop culture.
Now, ESPN has invested a lot of money in trying to reach a wider audience by investing money in Bill Simmons — a former Page 2 writer — and creating Grantland. This site has been the butt of jokes since its inception, but it has definitely struck a nerve with a sect of readers and is the most well-funded website to read long-form features on athletes and sports stories in addition to getting daily news about what’s going on in the movie, television and music industry.
This is a growing macro trend toward a convergence model where websites become more of a one-stop shop for all one’s content needs. I think more websites are seeing the value in the fact that readers who would be interested in one type of media in one subject matter are also likely to be interested in the same type of media in another.
So, to touch on the second point of your question more succinctly, yes, I think the answer has been ‘found.’ I’m just not sure if this is the model that websites and media organizations will be built on now, or if we are merely scratching the surface.
With the rise of these one-stop shops for all things culture come websites — like you mentioned — such as BuzzFeed and UpWorthy.
I think UpWorthy is a scourge on society. I’ll just say that upfront and I do no think they bring any redeeming value to society. I think BuzzFeed is also devaluing the media structure and only fueling the awful 24-hour news cycle that exists today. I will concede that with the resources that BuzzFeed is accruing, they are developing interesting long-form feature stories and have hired and featured writers whose work I enjoy.
While throwing all this shade on websites that are fueled through click-bait-y headlines, I again have to concede that this style of media has obviously connected with readers. People like listicles, and readers have been conditioned to streamlined content. There’s almost a beauty in getting people to read about some relevant topic in politics even if it is through the guise of various animal .gifs.
Between the two of us, we always bring up the question, “what do people want to read and what do people need to read?” I think there is another layer to that question where we — and media organizations — have to reflect on which audience do we want to appeal to? I have rambled on about the idea of converging media to avoid audience fragmentation, but do we want to engage everyone and bring their interests in hard news coverage with looser, more freeform content that’s easily breezed through? Or are we happy with targeting an audience that only wants the deeper feature stories at the cost of low click-through from a wider audience?
Just from my dumb ramblings back and forth straddling both viewpoints, I hope you can tell that my answer to your third point is, I don’t know if this macro media convergence is a good solution. I think it’s a no-brainer, in our case, to pool resources and maintain an online and print presence because it is necessary to avoid obsolescence. It is tougher for us because we serve such a specific audience, the Mason community, and really don’t have the resources or vision — yet — to serve this dual audience interest of wanting to be informed and wanting easily digestible content.