Lecture: “New media”

The development of “new media” is the most democratic and most controversial revolution in the history of human communications. Easily affordable digital communication channels and easy access to social networks have ensured freedom of speech to anyone who masters the semantic code of the internet. [1]


From top-down to horizontal communication


The “old” or “traditional media” (the press, radio, television) that are based on the use of highly expensive, capital-intensive communication channels and equipment were only available to media elites connected to state interests (and financing) or political elites connected to financial capital. The technical complexity and high costs of the content delivery channels, supplemented by regulatory procedures (obtaining licenses and frequencies for broadcasting) determined the “broadcasting”, a vertical “top-down” type of communication between editors and the audience, “from one to many”, where the many are anonymous groups, the masses.

The “new media” form a fundamentally different “horizontal” type of communication: “from many to many”.

This multiplicity of “senders” and “recipients” of information and the affordability of smartphones and internet traffic have created an unprecedented situation with hyper-abundance of information. This has changed the pattern of media consumption:

  • now the time of media consumption is potentially equal to the waking hours
  • media consumption – screen communication in the private space
  • the main factor that now influences the user's orientation in the information ocean is the friends page in their social network


The scrimmage for attention


Each user´s informational movements, his or her “clicks” and “likes”, are taken into account, as well as previous information requests. In other words, the users’ personal “pre-histories” have begun to shape the content of their present “agenda”, setting the outlines for their possible “information cocoon” or “information ghetto”. Managing the “agenda” of the target audience was previously the power function of the media editors in the “traditional media”. The “agenda” of the fragmented new-media audiences (with multiple platforms and streams) is now controlled by those “media actors” who have succeeded in the scrimmage to win and retain the users´ attention.

Attention, defined as a person's ability to focus interest on a particular topic or object, has always been a valuable “currency”. Traditional “broadcasting” media used to combine the attention of large anonymous audience groups and sell it to advertisers wholesale. Attention has become an even more scarce resource with the development of social networks and personalised media. Attention can be exhausted and difficult to increase “in a targeted manner”. Therefore, the scrimmage for attention and measuring its levels now constitute one of the “problem issues” occupying the minds of media managers the world over.

Digital technologies for tracking user activities enable us to measure attention in considerable detail, as “involvement”. The analytical company Chartbeat [2] interprets involvement as page loading, window resizing, scrolling with the mouse wheel or the “down” key and so on. Expert analysts tasked with monitoring the audience's reactions to all published material have appeared in modern editorial offices. The results of these analyses, the metrics of the audience involvement, are then displayed on editorial screens, showing the feedback virtually in real time as a kind of “live coverage” of the user's behavior. Bearing these metrics in mind, the editors can then develop principles of notional (semantic) mark-ups and “mock-ups” of journalistic material that lead to an increase in the indicators of involvement.


How to reach the reader's involvement 


Vsevolod Pula, editor-in-chief of Russia Beyond the Headlines (“Rossiyskaya Gazeta” for foreign readers), notes in his article “Six main trends that determine the present and future of American publications” claims that:

American managers have understood it: a separate enormous challenge for modern media consists of reaching the readers´ involvement, a problem that is not solved simply by providing good content. There is a need for targeted efforts to “sell” this content and to communicate actively with its consumers. This need gives birth to new formats – let´s say, the staff of USA Today´s Opinion Department are shooting their daily planning briefs on video and publishing them on the net simultaneously with the columns written following the results of these meetings, providing a completely new level of transparency in making editorial decisions and attracting a thousand or so meticulous readers (viewers). [3]

The emotional involvement of the reader/viewer is now actively used not only by journalists, but also by all content producers (“authors” in social networks, media activists, creators of viral advertising and so on). In this competition for the fragile attention of the audience, several strategies can be identified, and emanating from different value beliefs:

  • using the most powerful stimuli, exploiting people´s basic vital needs and fears
  • daring entertainment
  • appealing to people´s altruistic feelings
  • conscious self-restraint in the choice of topics and means of involvement, while preserving respect for the values and taste of the audience


The need to preserve the values of true journalism 


N.V. Kononov, editor-in-chief of the magazine The Secret of the Firm said the following about the need to preserve the values of true journalism at the MediaMakers conference, 4 December 2015:

Many media managers are now concerned not with objectivity but with expressiveness. Pressing the emotional buttons and transforming the reader into an info-addict, the media gets him hooked not on the desire to find out what happened and what to do with it, but on the thirst for speculation. Thus, the media create an informational noise in a world already contaminated by factoids… But apart from business we have a social mission, and its essence is that truth in any form has a healing quality. A reasonable, unbiased view of the world allows the reader to draw correct conclusions rather than to delve into delusions for many years. We have been carried away by technology and we have shifted our focus from journalism to grow hacks, [4] distribution and other pleasant things. Even though only a small percentage of all media content falls within journalistic material, this percentage is very important. People need to obtain a description of the events and explanations behind them from professionals who are determined to establish the truth. Journalism deals with the question what happened really and is therefore an important and influential institute. [5]

Many editors and researchers express a feeling of anxiety about preserving the mission of journalism in the wake of this unprecedented competition for the fragmented attention of the audience. Editors are striving to improve journalistic work, searching for a balance between a bright form that would keep the reader´s/viewer´s attention and worthy content that would meet the principles of true journalism.

Kellie Riordan, author of Reuters Journalism Institute report “Accuracy, independence and impartiality: how legacy media and digital natives approach standards in the digital age,” [6] writes in the introduction to her work: Journalism is facing many challenges in the 21st century, that traditional business models are becoming more precarious and the internet has become overcrowded with a surfeit of information. In the digital age, one of the most complex challenges is how to re-shape the processes and editorial responsibilities of journalism itself. Which journalistic standards, many of them devised more than a century ago, still fit in the digital age? And which standards form the basis of a new type of journalism being pioneered by hybrid news sites that have come of age in the digital era? [7]


Principles for preservation of true journalism in the digital era  


Kellie Riordan interviewed six leading publishing houses: The Guardian, The New York Times and BBC, representing legacy media, and online publications Vice, BuzzFeed and Quartz, representing new media. Some principles were identified according to their experiences, allowing us to hope for the preservation of the standards of true journalism:

To maintain the attention of its audience, the digital edition must adhere to the following principles. It must have:

  • A high degree of transparency
  • More open forms of journalism (open sources, open publishing of the editorial code, open data that the journalists worked with while preparing the article)
  • A tone that should be formed by specific people, not by an ephemeral brand
  • An analysis based on facts, not opinions
  • A breadth of ideas and perspectives
  • A content that has to be accurate and reliable, but attractive for distribution in social networks
  • Interactivity allowing the reader to become an expert
  • A detailed explanation of the context, the background of events [7]


The students are now ready to work with questions for discussion and/or questions for group work


References and notes:

  1. Castells, Manuel. Communisation Power. Oxford University Press, NY, 2009.
  2. Chartbeat was accredited by the Media Rating Council for the development of 21 indicators from which it is possible to assess user involvement. Chartbeat Publishing is an analytical tool that allows you to monitor the distribution of users' attention on a website, on individual pages of the site and on site content in real time. First and foremost it is a tool for editors who do page coding and directing, and also for producers who are interested in promoting projects and improving the quality indicators of the audience.
  3. Quoted from Vsevolod Pula’s blog 
  4. Growth hacks – “explosive traffic increase” technologies.
  5. “We are transforming the reader into an info-addict.” MediaMakers 2015 speakers on the state of the industry 
  6. Taisiya Larot's article “Editorial standards for new media,” first published in the magazine Journalist, no. 10/2014, is quoted at this webpage.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.


Svetlana Balmaeva, Associate Professor, Head of Journalism Department, The Liberal Arts University, Ekaterinburg

An online manual on intercultural understanding, ethics and human rights to be used by teachers and students in journalism education. Read more.

Email : post@journalism-edu.org

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