What is the Future of Media?

October 20, 2016

Why the Shift to Online Media Isn’t the End of the World

By Madison Dettlinger

Madison is a senior with a double major in English and political science and is working on her thesis in fiction this year. She is the on-campus editor for The Tab as well as an editor for The Every Three Weekly, and the marketing director for PAWS! She loves to read and her favorite books are the Harry Potter series.

Most times, when people tell me I shouldn’t go into journalism because newspapers are becoming obsolete, I give a self-conscious little laugh and shrug my shoulders, hoping to move onto a topic besides my imminent unemployment and the death of the written word. Sometimes, however, I say what I’m thinking, which is that journalism isn’t dying, it’s simply changing. And that’s nothing to be afraid of.

Over the past few years, print newspapers have seen a startling decline in value, with papers across the country drastically cutting down on circulation. Our major Detroit papers, the Free Press and the Detroit News, have each reduced their circulation to only three days a week. Things aren’t looking good for newspapers. So why haven’t I hung up my notebook and fled toward a more stable career path like, say, consulting? Because while newspapers are closing their doors, the demand for news is not going down. The need for thought-provoking written work is showing itself in a new medium online.

I spent this past summer in New York working for The Tab, a national publication that started in the UK and has since moved to the US. I’m also the editor for our regional affiliate, The Tab Michigan. The Tab is unique in that it operates exclusively online, and the summer gave me a rare look into what that entails, and into the unique benefits of this type of media.

For one thing, online media creates a shift in accessibility on a broad scale. In the past, newspapers have had a history of catering to certain groups. Media conglomerates are largely owned by corporations, which may have questionable motives when it comes to reporting the news. Online media creates a shift in which grassroots journalism is more possible, and people have the means to spread information right from the source. It also means that people who can’t afford to drop any extra cash on, say, a Wall Street Journal, can go to their local library and find the news of the day online. At The Tab, I had the privilege of covering Hillary Clinton’s speech in Brooklyn, where we livestreamed the speech from the press box, helping to create wider access.

Furthermore, readers no longer have to cut out an article from a paper and mail it just to share their opinion. They can post it on their Facebook walls or send it over text and email and receive an instant response. There has never been a more exciting time for sharing and receiving information, and online media is a major part of that. Another major benefit of online media lies in its lack of temporal restrictions. If something of note occurs on campus or in a national setting, we can keep readers updated in real time, instead of waiting until our next printing day.

As with every new technology, there are risks to online media, as well. In particular, quality of information can suffer when every site is trying to be the first to report certain information. We’ve seen this time and time again with major news networks such as CNN. Incidental exposure is also majorly decreased when comparing online news and newspapers. When you pick up a newspaper and read, say, a sports news article, your eye is still drawn to the rest of the paper, and you’re exposed to other sections like editorial, news, etc. You also may be exposed to different opinions about an issue. In contrast, someone coming across an article on Facebook may only read that article, or may be directed to a site that’s strongly tailored to a certain issue or set of opinions. There’s also less vetting that needs to happen with the internet’s infinite space, which allows for lower quality pieces to take center stage.

But sites like The Tab are aware of these risks and working every day to help combat them. Readers respond to good, well-written media—whether it’s online or in print—creating a push for online publications to maintain high standards. We fact-check extensively and attempt to bring a wide range of voices to the sphere. At The Tab Michigan, in particular, I’m working on a goal for this year of having more hard news and in-depth pieces, and less opinion articles, so that we have an efficient balance between the two. Being aware of these issues is the first step in combatting them, and ensuring that the shift from print to online media doesn’t correlate with a lowering of standards. Online media is the future, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“The need for thought-provoking written work is showing itself in a new medium online.”


Cut It Down, Media!

By Benjamin Decatur

Benjamin Decatur is a junior studying political science with a minor in business. He serves as the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Morning Brew and is an active member of Greek Life, serving as the Treasurer of his fraternity. During his free time, Benjamin loves to golf and go to Michigan hockey games.

Perhaps American Marine Ira Hayes said it best: “No one ever complains about a speech being too short!” The same can be said about an article in a newspaper. People are so busy these days that it can be tough for even a news guru to keep in touch with what’s going on in the world. In order to stay informed I find myself having to wake up extra early before class in order to read the Wall Street Journal or my favorite magazine Foreign Policy. Coming from a person who values sleep, this is difficult.

Why is it so difficult to keep up with the news? I believe the answer is quite simple: newspapers, magazines, and cable news are all too lengthy, cumbersome and boring. People are intimidated and don’t even know where to begin, leading many to shun the news altogether. Online articles pose different problems, but are no more effective. For one, it is difficult for anyone to choose between the thousands of articles that are churned out every minute. Second, the most popular articles are typically not “real” news. And lastly, the articles are still too long.

The solution to the problem is quite simple too: the future of media lies in short, condensed articles. Last year I began working for Morning Brew, a daily business and technology e-newsletter, founded by two Michigan business students. CEO and founder Alex Lieberman came up with the idea after realizing that many of his BBA peers were not following business news and found the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times to be too dense and dry. Morning Brew largely solves these problems, as it features top stories from the previous day all in a hundred words or less. The brevity of the Brew and its witty, conversational tone has allowed the e-newsletter to expand rapidly across the country and become a fan favorite among millennials.

From working for the Brew I have learned that short articles leave everyone better off. If mainstream media were able to explain top stories of the day in less than a hundred words, think of the vast array of topics the public could explore. Readers would no longer be limited to three or four stories, as there is only so much time in everyone’s hectic day, but instead would be able to dive into the world of politics, technology, business and foreign affairs. Condensed media allow people to efficiently stay informed.

It cannot be forgotten that conciseness equals accessibility. The shorter the article, the easier it is to grasp. Less text on the page makes it easier and less daunting to jump into a story. Now at this point, some of you might be thinking that 100-word articles would be great, but would lead readers to miss some aspects of the story. That’s fair. But what do people really remember hours after reading an article? The highlights. No one is going to remember the stats, figures or quotes that contribute to articles being so unnecessarily long. This is why the media should cut out the fluff, summarize the story and include hyperlinks to other sources for those who want more information.

Critics might also argue that a 100-word limit on a story stifles all creativity for the writers. This could not be more wrong. One of the main challenges Morning Brew faces is that business news, for the most part, is inherently boring. Earnings reports, jobs data and failed mergers can’t possibly compete with reading about the latest nicknames Trump and Hillary have cooked up for each other. But this is where I am challenged. Not only must I get to the heart of the story in very few words, but these words must also jump off the page. The Brew’s sarcastic tone, wit, references to pop culture and analogies make it fun to write and more importantly, fun to read.

So wake up mainstream media! Email newsletters that emphasize brevity like theSkimm, with its over 1.5 million subscribers, the Hustle, Finimize and the Brew are beating you. People are excited to read these sources and are thankful for all of the time it saves them.

“Condensed media allow people to efficiently stay informed.”


A digital future grounded in print values

By Michael Sugerman

Michael is a senior in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy with a concentration in the intersection between journalism and policymaking. He has spent the last four years rotating through a plethora of roles on the Michigan Daily, and likes taking walks through the Arb in his free time.

I was prompted to write this column with a question about my belief in the future of print journalism, and the fact of the matter is, it’s complicated.

I could give you the doomsday spiel. Newspaper circulation is falling, as are revenues. Newsroom employment has been dropping for years. There are plenty of high-profile examples of newspaper publishing companies declaring bankruptcy. People in our generation increasingly get their political news from Facebook. Admittedly, none of it sounds good.

These are problems I’ve witnessed in numerous arenas.

As an intern in the Office of the Publisher for the Los Angeles Times two summers ago, I was part of a team that was working to make the Times’ content more digitally marketable by exploring a number of strategies — from launching newsletters and podcasts to just encouraging reporters to be more active on social media sites like Twitter.

Similarly, my previous experiences on the Michigan Daily have been reflective of the issues facing most newspapers. I’ve served in a few roles on the Daily: a student government beat reporter, a senior news editor advising the administration beat and currently, a columnist.

During my time as an editor, I was part of the Daily’s internal body of governance, MDesk. Comprised of the publication’s senior editors across all of its sections, MDesk regularly talks about ways to improve Daily content, reach and revenue.

Our conversations resembled those of the professionals: we argued about redesigns to our website, pitched new ideas for digital news coverage and debated the merit of implementing features like Google Surveys to pump up digital ad revenue.

The aforementioned “doomsday spiel” comes from the harsh reality that news consumption is changing, whether you’re a professional or a student journalist. But there is an upside. We need print journalism, on local and national levels, because journalists do an invaluable service.

Journalism is about going behind the scenes and telling the stories that deserve to be told, whether it’s for the sake of checking those in power, contextualizing current events, or simply giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s about making connections with others and satisfying a thirst for information.

Our standards for “truth-telling” are high, and it’s a responsibility that few other professions bear. Just about anybody can put information online nowadays, which makes it even more important to have journalists as an objective gauntlet for that information.

At a time when I see people repost memes with falsified quotes from presidential candidates and factually incomplete or skewed information from über-partisan groups like “Occupy Democrats” on Facebook more than they do hard news articles, I think journalism is more important than ever, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.

So what does the future look like? I’d say it’s digital-first, but from trusted, previously print sources. Facebook and Twitter news use is on the rise; research shows that the online audience for newspapers is growing and that longform news consumption has a following in our increasingly mobile-centric world. It’s also no coincidence that big print publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post or the L.A. Times have launched free apps and newsletters with daily news briefings, targeted, without a doubt, at younger consumers.

Among my friends (a skewed sample because of their political leanings and educational levels), I also see the rising popularity of online-first, analysis-driven publications like Vox, FiveThirtyEight or Politico — all sites that are fueled by original reporting on news events from traditionally print publications, and sites that may have originally paved the way for a market driven by thorough and free email newsletters.

The drive toward digital has also led to awesome innovations in news reporting, like the incorporation of virtual reality. My takeaway: times are changing, but the basic need for reporting certainly is not. Subsequently, despite cynicism from within and outside of the news industry, I remain resolute in my commitment to journalism.

A few years ago, Detroit Free Press sportswriter Mitch Albom was speaking to a group of people at my synagogue back home. Because I was thousands of miles away at school, my dad asked a question on my behalf about career prospects for young journalists and recorded the response.

Despite admitting certain pitfalls, Albom concluded that journalism is the path to follow “If the passion is true, and strong, and you want to get into it for the right reasons … and that right reason is that there is a beauty in telling the truth, and a need and necessity to tell the truth, particularly now in a world where all that matters is eyeballs.”

He called journalism “the most important job you can do.” I agree.

“We need print journalism, on local and national levels, because journalists do an invaluable service.”


Swimming Up a Waterfall

By Alex Rakestraw

Alex Rakestraw is a junior in the Ross School of Business and the Digital Features Editor of SHEI Magazine. He is also a member of the Every Three Weekly and the Michigan Running Club, in addition to writing his own blog at http://asrakestraw.com.  

A mere three decades after creating the “Information Superhighway,” we’ve come to a fork in the road.

On one side lies the path most traveled: popular media will inevitably become more digital. Forty-five percent of the world now has Internet access, and as that number continues to grow, the same fundamental tendencies that link us all will live online as well. As a species, humans seek novelty, convenience and stimulus, all three of which are breathtakingly more efficient to transmit through fiber-optic cabling than pressed letterhead. As Digital Features Editor of SHEI, it is my job to facilitate that transmission.

On any given week, I edit 2-4000 words of text, provide everything from language consultation to art direction and publish original content to SHEI’s many-thousands readership, all from a laptop that cost me less than one month’s rent. What used to take a newsroom and a factory press is now the sole charge of a college junior who needs a Google Calendar alert to remember rent is due.

What a time to be alive.

The purpose of the above isn’t to flex SHEI’s production ability – instead, it’s all about efficiency. If one bored kid in a Starbucks (whose only real costs are his laptop and a latte) can do what once took the work of many, there becomes a rational economic argument for change. Add in the information commoditization offered by social media and the advent of free-to-consumer, advertising-driven news sources, and that rational economic argument only grows louder.

In 2016, we are living in the aftermath of that conflict’s opening salvo: “new media publishers” like Buzzfeed and the Daily Beast have eaten traditional publishers’ lunch to the point where the formerly-impenetrable stalwarts (the New York Times; Conde Nast) must either adapt to this digitization (and its accompanying revenue models) or face some rather uncomfortable choices. The Times chose T Brand Studio; Conde chose magazine closures. Both were forced into layoffs.

In short: the future of media is digital. Denying this fact is like swimming up a waterfall.

However, while our shimmering digital future appears bright at first, it is naught but gilded: the same economic arguments that dictate the print-to-digital transition have directly sown the seeds of digital media’s worst offenses.

In the last year alone, we’ve seen a tide of ethical breaches directly linked to our hurried embrace of ad-driven, real-time “free” media: Facebook’s trending topics, emboldened native advertisers and the scourge that is algorithmic news filtering. None of the preceding would exist without the new and unfamiliar goal of media to inform people of events that conform to how their world is shaped, not the events that shape their world.

Simply put, if you wrap that novelty/convenience/stimulus trifecta in content someone already agrees with, that person is more susceptible to your message – whether that’s “vote Trump” or “buy these shoes.” What they are not is an analytical, informed, individual human being.

The solution to this stunting of growth lies squarely on that “other path.” I believe the future of thought remains soundly with the past: safely, securely, in print. While those rational economic arguments from the above may mean it’s no longer possible to make a ruinous fortune in publishing, the printed word – in its traditional human-curated, “pay for access” form - must survive.

Are humans inherently biased? Yes. But in the age of digital media, that bias is mitigated by the tangible publishing of a static object. Printed newspapers don’t change in real time because you googled “Nike sneakers.”

In addition, the selection of worthy articles by a vision-driven professional team will provide the diversity of thought needed to nurture a complex, nuanced view of the world. You and I will learn from the same Wall Street Journal, not from personalized newsfeeds that hand-feed us only what we already want to see.

For these reasons, it is my firm opinion that digital media is biased against providing the intellectual discomfort human beings need to develop, leaving print media to nurture thought and stoke positive growth.

To tie it in a bow: SHEI is fortunate enough to publish both on the web and in a biannual printed magazine. While our website is “viewed” by thousands, when writers look to publish the sort of original editorial content that makes an impact on their world, they ask me first to put it in ink.

I’m more optimistic than I am offended.

“Digital media is biased against providing the intellectual discomfort human beings need to develop…”