In The Sunday Times this weekend, I read an interesting article that genuinely shocked me it was entitled “Big Tech Tries to Blank the Press”.
The article covered the fact that big tech companies in Silicon Valley are annoyed at how the media is treating them, and now they are actively starting to bypass journalists, and even PR teams altogether, in a bid to communicate directly with consumers, stakeholders and their wider audiences. This stems from a distinct and increasing lack of trust from the corporates in journalists – they don’t trust them to write positive news stories about their brands anymore.
In the article Jason Calacanis, a prominent Silicon Valley investor, is quoted as saying:
“It’s the lack of resources, the lack of fact-checking, the link-baiting headlines and the picking-a-side-ism,” Calacanis said. “It feels like what we do, as subjects, doesn’t matter, so many people are saying, ‘You know what, it’s not worth the trouble. We’re out.'”
Blog writing since 2007
I have been writing on this blog since 2007, and I started it because even back then I believed that the traditional media was dying a slow and painful death and it saddened me, and I wanted the industry to wake up. However, in the last 14 years, although those circulations have continued to dwindle, I have changed my view slightly. I started to think the media was beginning to get its shit together and make some comeback, albeit in a somewhat different manner. There was going to be a stronger focus on better quality hyper-local and investigative journalism.
The importance of the media
I firmly believe we still need strong journalism from a brilliant set of newspapers with plugged-in local journalists to get those stories we all crave. How important has the media been during the last twelve months? I would argue probably more important than ever and against Trump even more so.
When I started my public relations career in 2000 at Harvard PR we used to send out press releases and features in the snail mail, and most national news titles only had one email address for the entire publication. The media has moved on (albeit very slowly) and now, and they are much more digital, you can email, and tweet journalists and are much more open to different types of digital content. However, one of the more disappointing things has been to watch the media’s slow implosion from afar. Why couldn’t these vast media companies figure out how to make money from their content, clicks and engagement when the big tech companies could do it easily? Don’t be filled this hasn’t happened overnight – I just pointed out I started writing this blog about this very subject 14 years ago.
Big Tech companies make billions from the content.
Facebook, Google, Apple, and many big tech brands have managed to make billions in advertising. Yet, our newspaper groups have struggled to keep pace, innovate and break-even, despite many of these businesses changing hands time and time again for less and less.
Not all have done badly, some newspaper groups have made small amounts of profit, The Sunday Times is profitable because it’s brilliant but the sector seems to have lost its way overall, they don’t know how to make money from the brilliant content they create which is a real shame. I feel like the industry needs shaking up – it needs a disruptor brand or an Elon Musk to grab it by the balls. Take a look at The Athletic in football journalism, for instance, a media title that understood its audience were interested in content that was better than everything else in the traditional press. People would be willing to pay a subscription for the inside track. In Sept it reported subscribers had passed 1 million already. So it can be done and it isn’t impossible to make a profit from great content in 2021.
We know that newspapers still write some brilliant content. We still need investigative journalists to hold the big corporate companies to account and keep an eye on our Government and its processes.
Why can’t the media make money?
My question is this, why can the big Tech companies make money from journalism and ride the back of the headlines in clickbait journalism but the traditional media cannot with a fair balanced view. Or why can’t a tech company back a high-quality newspaper and help it develop the technology to move forward?
The bit that’s become tiresome is the technology companies are now being held to account by the media and they have become too powerful. We need these journos to fight the battle and balance out the arguments.
These companies are creating their in-house newsrooms, creating their fancy one-sided publications. Tesla recently disbanded its entire press operation, now I don’t know about you, but that surely is a worrying move for any democracy.
Suppose these companies choose to go direct by the public through podcasts, blogs, newsletters, Twitch and YouTube channels. It will mean that more journos are moving inside corporate businesses and helping them find the most exciting stories, this is nothing new, but the fact they are turning their backs altogether is the worrying element.
Is the press about to be cut out altogether never to return?
Are we going to see corporations in-house teams capabilities growing and the media’s circulations dwindling until we’ve only got one or two large media publications left?
In my view, big tech needs to invest in great PR, communications and journalism. Journalism on the other hand needs to constantly invest in technology and I am including AI in that – it really needs to up its game before it becomes obsolete.