FT Editor: Media needs to clean up its act

FT Editor Lionel Barber delivered a stimultating (once it got past the history of the FT bit) talk at the London College of Communication's annual Hugh Cudlipp lecture. Drawing on but not gloating over fellow journalists phone hacking activities and citing the wikileaks phenomenon and controversy, he made a number of points which collectively all underpinned one message - the collective media (for no one is blameless and immune) needs to get its house in order and find a balance between its commercial masters and traditional journalistic values and ethics, otherwise - if not already - the legislature and hacked off politicians (lobbied by hacked off corporates and 'celebrities') will move to saddle the media with some unwelcome laws that result in constraints rather than regulation.

While specifically addressing current issues such as wikileaking and hacking, the broader challenge for the media lies in balancing the incresing demand for content with the requirement for real, reliable and researched news as opposed to recylcled stories or sensationalist packaging of minimal facts. The challenge to the media is to regain control over the integrity and quality of its reporting and wider output and stem the rot that has manifested itself in the phone hacking scandal and general rush to fill space (whether online, on air or in print) with endless content that sells.

There is enormous pressure on editors and media management to deliver streamlined or 'converged' output and solutions but Mediabeak would argue that the economic and technological drivers behind current convergence in the industry is going to result in what the Beak would term ‘content burnout’ – the public will tire of recycled and reformatted content of little consequence.

While convergence is normally associated with the broadcast and online sectors of the media, it is having equal impact on the print sector. The meeting place for both broadcast and print is the online environment. While the print press is reformatting itself and merging print and online operations, broadcasters are exploring the market for online and tv on demand as well as UGC.

Convergence is bringing about consolidation at a corporate level and consequently at the point and mode of delivery. The next step will be a consolidation of content. At present we have a vast and fragmented market. Take a close look at the core businesses in that market and one can see that newspaper circulation is in decline (ref stats) and ratings figures are being diluted and yielding to online viewing. The consumers who have seemingly ‘dumbed down’ and who are paying premium prices for repackaged content or sporting events they used to see for free will eventually wise up.

As with other industries where markets have become oversaturated with supply, there will be a flight to quality. Consumers will tire of junk food and go in search of the fresh and organic option. But with the market so full how will they determine where to shop? This is the question media organisations should be asking themselves now. As with other consumable goods, the public will look for content and brands they can trust. Such trust will be born out of brand strength – which will favour larger public sector broadcasters such as the BBC or popular commercial organisations such as Sky or other cable and satellite broadcasters in the UK or globally. It will also grow from trust in the actual content any given outlet delivers – at this level the marketplace is open for large and small organisations alike as niche blogs share their global platform with the biggest media players.
So for those who may seek and enjoy a short-term gain from the debasement of their trade there is a clear warning – the public might be taken in by the headlines but the enduring message will reside in the manner and method of their delivery

Read Lionel Barber's lecture - courtesy of The Guardian

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