Old and new jostle for space on the news cycle

What kind of news will we consume in the future and more importantly, how will we access it? The experts battle it out.

Traditional media versus new media is always a key question in the debate around changing news habits. Nicolas Asfouri / AFP
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With Brexit, racial tensions in the US, a coup in Turkey and the Munich shooting, there has been no shortage of news to keep newspaper readers and TV viewers hooked.

But what kind of news will we consume in the future?

According to Amanda Wills, deputy executive at the digital media website Mashable, news outlets will have to become faster to retain an audience increasingly hungry for instant updates.

“They will have to be nimble innovators that can respond very quickly to breaking events and broadcast news in the way people want to receive it,” she says.

Ms Wills, among a number of delegates at Dubai’s Arab Media Forum in May, says even big organisations such as CNN have realised they need to innovate and are taking steps down that path.

The media executive points to platforms such as the social media channel Snapchat, which may one day be used as a creditable news outlet.

Traditional media versus new media is always a key question in the debate around changing news habits. But the industry has become big business as a fast-growing number of broadcast, online and print organisations jostle to break stories first.

Rishi Jaitly, vice president for media, Asia Pacific and the Middle East at Twitter, says social media has evolved with people now turning to it before traditional outlets.

In the recent Dallas police shootings, local resident Michael Kevin Bautista filmed officers sheltering behind cars from the sniper. The video has since been viewed over 3 million times on Facebook.

“What’s interesting is the increasing demand for live news and information and we predict this will only grow in the future,” says Mr Jaitly. “We are thinking hard about ‘live’ at Twitter and you can see this driving product innovation such as the launch of Periscope. What we have to ask ourselves is what remains valuable in a live context and what are the relationships between the platforms.”

But that doesn’t mean local newspapers won’t have a role.

David Weiner, editor at large at Digg.com, an aggregated news website, says local newspapers will still feature in the future as they provide a valuable check on government and powerful companies. He cited the recent Flint water crisis in Michigan, US, where a local newspaper, Flint Journal M Live, held officials to account after publishing evidence that a river was actually toxic despite claims to the contrary.

Whether newspapers survive in printed form, though, remains to be seen.

In March, The Independent became an online-only publication. And in a trial by Trinity Mirror Group, the print-only paper New Day closed in May only 10 weeks after its launch. Although the paper had built a strong Facebook following, it failed to reach the sales target with a circulation of only 40,000.

However, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an Emirati commentator and writer, doesn’t think print will be disappear in the UAE any time soon.

“In the Gulf states newspapers are still used as a method for the government to stay in touch with citizens,” he says. “Additionally and due to tribal norms, many people in the region still take full-page ads in newspapers to congratulate people on getting married or for senior appointments as well as to pay condolences. This means that print media will likely last longer here than in other parts of the world.”

While new media is certainly a threat to traditional media, some experts raise the issue of accountability.

Shobhana Bhartia, chairwoman of the Hindustan Times Group says social media could even widen cultural gaps due to irresponsible publishing of stories without the facts being checked and copy edited.

However, the medium shows no signs of weakening its regional grip. In recent research conducted in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Global Web Index (GWI), a market research agency, found only 4 per cent of respondents avoid social media altogether.

And while evidence suggests that big social networks such as Facebook are experiencing a decline in users, GWI found people are merely using different platforms rather than switching off from a concept altogether.

The changing way we consume news could even result in the rivalry between “old” and “new” media disappear as the new becomes old and starts to become familiar.

Digg.com’s Mr Weiner says: “If you look at Vice [an independent magazine] for example, this is a company that’s as non-traditional as it gets, but as it gets older and bigger, it’s starting to look more and more like the traditional media we believe is dying.”

Regardless of the type of news we will be consuming, it’s almost certain we’ll be consuming it on a smartphone, says Mr Jaitly. The tipping point for mobile being the first choice of device to access the internet is forecast to happen globally in 2019.

However, GWI predicts that in the Mena region this trend will outpace the rest of the world by three years to happen this year. For those in the 16-24 bracket, it’s already happened.

Mr Jaitly adds: “News outlets need to adjust to this change in consumption habits if they want to stay relevant and reach as many people as possible.”


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