Readers be warned: This is another post that talks about the newspaper industry. Most (if not all) bloggers are inherently news junkies, so this should hardly come as a surprise. Yet I was hesitant to write about this topic given the breadth and depth of quality (and not so quality) arguments happening online and in print about the future of the medium. LatAmThought is and remains a blog dedicated to analysis and further exploration of interesting stories from around Latin America, and this post is not reflective of future analyses. Yet after reading this post, should you be interested in more nuanced reading, in addition to posting comments in the comments section, I recommend taking a look at the work being done over at Harvard’s Nieman Lab, whose editors do a spectacular job analyzing the future of the industry from an insider’s perspective.
Unlike previous posts on LatAmThought, this post aims to show how a particular media conglomerate in Latin America is handling the onslaught, and the importance of leveraging a newspaper’s existing assets to position themselves in the face of fragmentation.
The great irony of the information age is that it is helping to destroy the very gatekeepers of accurate information. Generally speaking, it has historically been newspapers who provide accurate, detailed information about the world around us. Yet the variety of channels on which news is available have eaten into revenue generated by print, the traditional medium of choice for information consumption, causing newspapers to cut staff and thereby decrease their reporting capabilities.
O Globo, one of Brazil’s largest media conglomerates, seems to understand the value of information, and delivers the message beautifully in their communications. The title of this post, “If it exists in the microwave, we’ll cook it” is a translation from a line in this commercial for O Globo, launched in September 2008. The campaign positions O Globo as “much more than just a paper“, and the owner of information across all media, be it online, video, radio, mobile, or even the microwave (after all, advertising often exaggerates a point to drive home its meaning).
An interesting tactic. Instead of running scared from the fragmentation that has led to fewer print subscriptions and declining ad revenue, Brazil’s O Globo is embracing it, acknowledging that today, information exists across a variety of different platforms, and it is the paper’s responsibility to tackle and understand these new forms of communication.
A brief analysis reveals that O Globo’s performance in the new media landscape is not as impressive as their communications might suggest. They have a substantial multimedia section, and offer information on smart phones, RSS feeds, and through e-mail subscription. Yet In spite of more than 3,000 followers, they have not been active on Twitter since 20 February 2009. While they have numerous high quality blogs, they all exist on their home page – a website that people are presumably going to in search of news and information, not necessarily blogs. While I don’t doubt the value of adding blogs to traditional news reporting, I believe the two serve fundamentally different purposes, and newspapers (or, perhaps more appropriately, “Information Agencies”) can have an active voice on blogs around the internet that are already popular.
For example, what if instead of O Globo’s bloggers blogging on their website in the traditional top-down processing model, they had a team of bloggers representing O Globo on Brazil’s most popular blogs? That way, they would have a presence in the new media space without creating more clutter or changing what they do best: reporting. Rather than within the context of a newspaper, their bloggers could be bloggers in the blogosphere, where the intricacies and perceived value of peer-peer communications are not as well-defined. They could serve as guest posters and/or commentators under the O Globo banner, thus proving their fluency with new media and the information available therein.
Yet much of this is a long way off. Today, less than 40% of Brazilians have access to the internet, so any digital strategy O Globo may undertake is still only reaching a minority of Brazilians, for whom the paper still wields significant clout. Print readership has increased substantially within the past few years, suggesting that the medium is not quite yet dead there.
But information fragmentation is a different story, and has caused fear about the future of the industry. Yet in the face of plummeting revenues, there is a giant silver lining: the fragmentation of information presents a terrific opportunity to create a more well-informed population. The more opportunities there are to deliver information, the greater the chances the information will be absorbed. This is why it is so important that newspapers fight to not only claim their stake in these new information spaces by acting appropriately and in the spirit of the medium (i.e. not simply showing up late, but understanding how people are engaging with them), but also leveraging their position as providers of accurate information, so that, in the words of O Globo, “the paper [accurate information] needs to be wherever you want it to be.”