When Will the New York Times Hire Their First Customer Experience Designer?
This commentary was originally published by the American Marketing Association as part of its MBA Perspectives series. It was Co-Authored by Sonya Denton, Priyanka D’souza, Wojtek Gidzinski, Lisa Noble, Mustafa Shareef, and Brad Stastook.
An objective, honest, bi-partisan media experience may be a widely held modern expectation, but it is not a historically permanent one. Today, the media experience is increasingly moving along the “Truth Cycle” and reverting to the subjective, partisan, and aggressive version more common during the late 1700s, when the invention of the printing press brought about the age of mass media (Thompson 2016). After all, it was the 3rd, not the 45th, U.S. President (Thomas Jefferson 1807) who said, “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.” This is the same view that highbrow media-types sling at BuzzFeed today (Fisher 2016). At the dawn of this modern incarnation of the post-factual era, we look at the cultural implications through this transition to see how media companies will succeed in the future.
There is a massive shift in how people consume news today. According to a Pew Research Center survey (Gottfried et al. 2016) conducted in January 2016, 35% of respondents between ages 18 and 29 stated that social media was the “most helpful” source of information during the presidential election. Every 6 of 10 Americans get their news from online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit (Gottfried and Shearer 2016). In fact, many people today said they are more inclined to trust news and political information shared by friends on social media, over news delivered through traditional sources.
The elevated perceived status of Tech Entrepreneurs or Disruptors over classic value creation is a cultural shift with massive impacts in why consumers choose new channels and vendors for media. Cultural preference is given to newcomers over stagnant models, merely because of their open challenge to the old-guard stalemates. This cultural force manifests itself in the “Tesla Effect” – modern cultural forces positively push laypeople to want to own a Tesla, and to not consider a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, because Silicon Valley is more desirable than big-auto, despite objective cost/benefit analyses. There are strong undertones of counter-culture forces here.
With the “Always On” cultural aspect of connectivity, blurring lines between work/life balance, quick and succinct news delivery is favoured over traditional delivery. The pressure is to be constantly up to date with occurring events in real time, which is at odds with the traditional consumption of media at predicated times of before work or with the evening television news.
The thirst for information is a function of the quest related to the achievement of social status (Curry 2016), “be the most informed and up to date” – which is a huge cultural shift from “I read this so I am the most informed.” The brand of the source of media used to matter to consumers. Viewers would show their economic, intellectual, and political status by consuming specific pieces from WSJ vs. NYT. The customer experience of how to achieve this “most informed” status drives lower brand and channel loyalty in media source selection, re-enforcing and invigorating the “always on” cultural force as well. This also means dissemination is critical to the market, and that customers do not care where their news comes from, whether in an app, social media channels, direct browser, news amalgamator, or homepage; users do not care because the cultural force is different, so what does this mean for the future of media:
1. Free is Awesome:
Traditional media had a profitable value proposition – $1 for a newspaper in exchange for all the news and entertainment available, with the positive experience of enjoying the read during your commute or with your morning coffee. However, the power of “free” is overwhelming. Now viewers can get informed and entertained for free from hundreds of sources, in ways that are enjoyable at their convenience, hunched over a phone. Paywalls have not proven a successful revenue tool for most content creators.
2. Advertorials? Customers Don’t Care:
The argument on whether consumers are OK with advertorials is moot – people vote with their feet (now their clicks) and BuzzFeed is stealing market share from everyone. The debate over viewers accepting advertorials is only important to professionals that are losing the battle. Journalism is a respected profession, but customers care about content and if it provides them value on their quest to be informed.
3. Internal Culture of Traditional Media:
The results of new cultural shifts have shocked old-guard media because of ingrained corporate cultures that still value journalistic integrity above all else. A function of that culture is their siloed organizational structure, and their failing business model of “produce news content and then sell ads.” The business model for BuzzFeed is to accumulate views – and use this number to charge for branded content. By focusing and succeeding on the share-ability of all content, BuzzFeed gains exposure to (potential) revenue generating content, and increasing revenue. Even if the quantity of shares is related to the reputation of the media or author producing the content, the amount of available content to be shared is not comparable. The NYT publishes 230 content pieces a day (Meyer 2016) versus BuzzFeed’s over 700 content pieces a day (Smith 2016). Traditional media is saddled with organizational structures and corporate culture that do not mesh with the cultural forces affecting the market.
4. Topical Challenges:
The question now becomes; what can media companies do to stay relevant, and be adaptable to the new media consumption practices resulting from cultural shifts. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and co-founder of Facebook has famously claimed that his company is a tech company and not a media company (Seetharaman 2016). After repeated accusations that the site’s “fake news problem” helped get Donald Trump elected, Facebook will need to address this issue to retain its credibility.
5. Technology Won’t Solve The Root Issues:
The newspaper industry is capable of changing channels and leveraging technology through social media integration, putting web first, reporting through multiple platforms including mobile, real-time reporting integration, and allowing the organization and reader to connect by creating communication forums. Unfortunately, while these address part of the cultural issues of being “always on” they alone have not proven a strong enough revenue generator to sustain the conglomerates like in the pre-free content days.
If sites like BuzzFeed can make changes to increase their credibility and respectability, and old guard newspapers like the New York Times can pour money into virtual reality initiatives like Daily 360, then media consumers will get the best of both worlds. Ironically, the news amalgamation technology that facilitates this solution to the culturally demanded customer experience journey just might be the tech that saves the old-guard media. Sites and apps that are amalgamators like Google News allow traditional and new media producers to coexist in a harmonious customer experience. The modern cultural forces driving this revolution of the truth cycle prove that you do not need a huge editorial team, organizational structure, and overhead to be successful. You only need a Customer Experience Designer to lead, productive content creators working (sometimes) closely with the sales team, and a handful of coders to facilitate dissemination.
Curry, Kevin (2016), “More and More People Get Their News Via Social Media. Is that Good or Bad?” The Washington Post.
Fisher, Marc (2014), “Who Cares if it’s True,” Columbia Journalism Review.
Gottfried, Jeffrey and Elisa Shearer (2016), “News use across social media platforms,” Pew Research Centre.
Gottfried, Jeffrey, Michael Barthel, Elisa Shearer and Amy Mitchell (2016), “The 2016 Presidential Campaign – a News Event That’s Hard to Miss,” Pew Research Centre.
Meyer, Robinson (2016), “How Many Stories Do Newspapers Publish Per Day,” The Atlantic.
Seetharaman, Deepa (2016), “Facebook Leaders Call it a Tech Company, Not a Media Company,” Wall Street Journal.
Smith, Craig, (2016), “By the Numbers; 28 Amazing Buzzfeed Statistics,” DMR Expanded Ramblings.
Thompson, Clive (2016), “For Those Clutching Pearls Over Buzzfeed: A History of Newspapers Reveals That It’s Always Been This Way,” Smithsonian Magazine.