7/17/13

Ambient news: All the news most people want

Ambient news is proving a significant challenge to news organizations trying to serve readers on multiple digital platforms and maintain their print and broadcast news operations.

Contemporary technologies all around us are now delivering breaking news, sports scores, and market updates on electronic screens and displays in elevators, taxis and buses, bars and restaurants, on the sides of buildings, through smartphones, and via social media.

In years past, we all had to deliberately turn to newspapers or radio and television newscasts, or at least glance at headlines at news stands, to get a quick overview of major events. That era is past.

Today news is free and ubiquitous and, unfortunately, provides all the news that most people want. This is bad news for those trying to provide news commercially.

In the past, newspapers and newscasts filled their space and time with non-news features and information designed to attract audiences that wanted only a little news. Most newspapers, for example, rarely carried more than 20 percent hard news during the past 50 years and provided a heavy diet of sports, entertainment, lifestyle and other diversionary content. Today, light news readers who formerly bought papers for non-news articles find plenty of that information for free on television and the Internet and they are abandoning newspapers and news broadcasts.

Those who remain the audiences of newspapers and new broadcasts tend to be heavy news consumers, people who want significant amount of news and serious information. They value the kind of news reporting that provides social benefits. Unfortunately, they are getting less and less of that news as publishers, news producers, and editors continue pursuing the audiences that have left them and are satisfied by ambient news. In doing so, news executives are leaving their prime audiences of heavy news consumers increasingly dissatisfied and without much incentive to pay the increasing prices needed to maintain established news organizations.

If print and broadcast news organizations are to survive and serve the purposes for which they were established, they are going to have to start paying attention to the audiences they have, rather than the audiences they wish they had.

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