Is Traditional Media Actually Dying and Does it Matter?

January 24, 2014

by Sally Ashley-Cound

“That four thousand word report from the Syrian refugee camp…will not be read as much as ‘10 cats that have got thoughts about Syria’,” New Statesman‘s Deputy Editor Helen Lewis said in her opening statement on the second panel of the Grapevine event at the Frontline Club on Thursday 23 January.

Read highlights of the first panel discussion here.

Merope Mills, Luke Lewis and Pete Picton at the Frontline Club

Merope Mills, Luke Lewis and Pete Picton

The chair head of journalism at City University, George Brock, got straight to the point and asked the panel ‘is traditional media actually dying and does it matter?’

Deputy publisher of Mail Online Pete Picton said categorically:

“If journalism is what we’re talking about then no absolutely not, in fact it’s thriving.”

Editor of Buzzfeed UK Luke Lewis:

“It’s an amazing time for journalism, not just for new outlets like Buzzfeed, the traditional ones are thriving. It was only a week or two ago that The Telegraph posted their figures of a £60million profit last year. The Guardian has had their best scoops in their history.

“Media is a really big place and we don’t need anyone else to fail in order to Buzzfeed to succeed.”

All the panelists agreed that, while media isn’t dead, the business model has to change.

Editor of the Saturday Guardian Merope Mills:

“The way people approach print media has to change…the traditional media money making model is dead.”

H Lewis said that there is a real problem with public interest journalism:

“Who is going to be in an online only economy commissioning that four thousand word report from the Syrian refugee camp – I just don’t see that that’s a viable business model for anybody because it won’t be read by enough people. It will not be read as much as ’10 cats that have got thoughts about Syria’ – no offence to Buzzfeed.”

L Lewis:

“Yes most of it is entertaining lists, you’ll also see some other stuff in there… Max Seddon we’ve got on the ground in Kiev at the moment, he wrote a series of explosive reports on what’s happening in Kiev as good as impact reporting you’ll see anywhere.”

Mills noted the changes she’d recognised in print media:

“There is a theme among the [print publications] that are growing and they do tend to be those longer analytical – the New Statesman is one… Nobody wants to read breaking news anyone, we all know the Victoria Line’s flooded with cement and that will be old by tomorrow.”

Mills echoed the comment made by Mona Chabali in the first panel of the evening:

“All the reporters have to be reporting a more in depth piece, the why’s of the ‘gays in Russia’ rather than the just ‘gays are being beaten up’. That is the piece you want to read at the end of the week.”

In reference to another signifying characteristic of Buzzfeed the idea of a move away from display to native advertising.

L Lewis:

“It’s nothing new, people talk about sponsored posts like it’s a new thing…[in magazines] advertorials have been around for decades. The only thing you have to worry about is that there’s a clear dividing line between what is editorial and what is commercial.”

A question from the audience asked, if you don’t charge for it how can you put a value on it?

Picton said:

“You value it in time. It’s far more competitive to get our readers to read us… time is a big currency now…that’s one of the key metrics for us now, to keep them on the site.”

Another audience member asked the panels opinion on maintaining journalistic integrity in the battle for getting as many clicks as possible in light of the recent CNN headline which seemed to go a step too far.

The panel agreed that the headline missed the mark on the sensitive issue, L Lewis said about the wider topic of click bait:

“You keep hearing this word clickbait and it really annoys me because it suggests there’s another kind of headline you don’t want people to click on. I don’t know who these journalists are who are writing articles that they don’t want people to read.”

H Lewis added:

“Isn’t it sad that the art of the pun is now dead? I loved a good/bad pun.”

To which L Lewis replied:

“I think the pun’s had a good 200 years.”

Following the success of their events, Grapevine are launching a data-focused site in the coming months. Get in touch with Harry Lambert (@harrylambert1), Max Benwell (@maxbenwellreal) or Rebecca Choong Wilkins at [email protected].

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