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How the internet is altering the news landscape

Robert Bu
26th Aug 2016
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Where will you get the next news break from?

About a decade ago, this question would have been easy to answer— the TV or a newspaper. But in the subsequent years, the answer seems to have blurred.

Overwhelmingly, social media is winning the race to deliver your next news break, news feature or news analysis. Be it the refugee crisis in Europe, US presidential election debates, spats between different political parties in India, the public reaction to the scenario in Indian cricket, games, movies or events, whether crises or celebrations, we find our news now being frequently broken on social media platforms, rather than on traditional media. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say news has become social.

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Image credit- Shutterstock

The reasons are not hard to see — users have their smartphones with them all the time. Major networking sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, have shaken up content delivery, enabling news delivery within nanoseconds. People are getting to know about events and reacting to, say, earthquakes or major government policy decisions on social platforms through smartphones, rather than their TVs. The former are `omnipresent’ and easily score over traditional media. For the millennials, news is on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and the like, while for the older generation, social media complements their already existing news sources.

But where `social networking news’ doesn’t score is professional, trustworthy delivery. Thankfully, the world has not come to a stage where every tweet or blog is taken at its face value. If that had been the case, gossip peddlers would have had a field day. And here is the big opportunity for traditional media houses to leverage multiple platforms so their trustworthy brands and news feeds reach a far wider audience. For example, the UC News App, powered by big data technology, matches trending keywords on Facebook and Twitter to suggest relevant news from trustworthy publications to users.

The faster media houses and users get assisted by tools like news aggregators, the better it will be. Although television remains the leading source of news across the world, online channels (social media and news sites) have a large share of the market. In the United States, 74 percent of people use online sources, in the UK 73 percent do, with 91 percent in Brazil, 90 percent in Finland, and 85 percent in Denmark, according to a Digital News Report Survey. And the shift to social platforms has been made easier with every upgrade.

For example, in 2009, Twitter allowed users to post photos and, later, videos — both the features made news delivery, among other things, more lively. Facebook, with more than 1.5 billion users worldwide, has more reach than any news media organisation in the world. In any 24-hour window, millions of people are on this popular social platform, exchanging their holiday pictures, or updating news and articles on what they believe their friends might also be interested in.

Not surprisingly, the future of content and news consumption is more like, `content looking for the right users’ than `users looking for the right content’. Through machine learning and big data analysis, smart apps are able to deliver news that users care about.

There are about 7 billon people on the planet, and about half of them use mobile phones. As connectivity improves, and more and more people rely on smartphones, news delivery on social networks will grow. Real-time, on-the-ground news that comes directly from the people who are affected is more compelling and trustworthy, particularly in calamities like tsunamis or earthquakes, than carefully crafted news reports and editorials. Here, time and accessibility are of the essence; social media scores over the newspaper that will be delivered next day, and the TV, which is not as easily accessible on the go as a tweet, or a news feed on Facebook.

News organisations are also dependent on search engines like Google and social networking apps and sites to reach out to their audience. They are also increasingly vulnerable to changes that technology driven platforms are introducing. Even technology firms are reaching out to companies that create more ‘stickiness’ with their products and services. Just recently, Microsoft paid a whopping $26 billion to buy professional networking site LinkedIn, which has a portfolio of more than 400 million working professionals globally. They use the platform to network, and, increasingly, to consume information and news. Such tie-ups point to the future of news and information consumption— it’s going to be via apps and sites, and not newspapers.

Despite the attractiveness and convenience of social media as a carrier of news, they suffer from a handicap. They are still dependent on traditional media for `trustworthy’ content. Would you rely on a blog by an unknown person to know about an impending merger & acquisition or political developments? We are in an era of real-time information and news delivery that’s coming from multiple channels— from traditional and new media companies employing journalists, and from bloggers and independent writers.

The future is set for close collaboration between news organisations and the platforms that carry news. While blogs, if written by unknown or little known writers, should be vetted by experts to ensure credibility and authenticity of information. That’s why strong brands with credible reputations still matter. The challenge is to maintain financial strength (of media houses/newspapers) and technological savviness (of social platforms) to foster those brands. At least in the short term, closer collaboration between news organisations and social media platforms seems inevitable.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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Authors
Robert Bu
Robert Bu is General Manager, UCWeb India - a business within Alibaba Mobile Business Group. He oversees the overall growth and business development for the company in India and holds an International MBA and Engineering Masters from Sun Yat-Sen University, China. He has been in the ICT industry for over 9 years, having worked for top telecom companies including Ericsson and Nortel.

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