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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Finding the confidence it takes to transform the media

May 2, 2024 | By Richard E. Brown, Media Revenue Consultant @richardebrown17
The topline: We can't assume we know what's best for our audience. To transform, media companies must evolve, adapt, and truly engage with those we serve.

I recently found myself reflecting on a transformative time in my life. Spurred by an intense desire to remodel my grandmother’s basement, I worked through a difficult period in my youth. But though I was helped by taking action, not to mention my grandmother’s wisdom, I now see how (and why) the superficial changes I made to her home were not enough to keep it upright. It needed the kind of comprehensive overhaul that required expertise I did not then possess.

The experience also helped me understand how important it is to break the cycle of complacency that stands in the way of radical transformation. This mindset – and need for change – applies to the media industry too.

As I recently wrote, I believe that restoring our confidence, our faith in the power and promise of the media industry is the first step towards transformation. Confidence in the news media industry means embracing change, listening to our audience, and delivering information that serves the greater good. It’s a challenge, but one we must confront to remain a relevant and trusted sources of information.

To rebuild trust, we must immerse ourselves in understanding our audience’s needs and concerns. But, while surveys and feedback loops offer insights, they’re only effective if we act upon them. We can’t rely on old slogans or assume we know what’s best for our audience. Instead, for true transformation, the media industry must evolve, adapt, and truly engage with those we serve.

Thinking through the challenges we face in rebuilding confidence as the news media – and trust in the news media – it’s clear that aligning traditional journalistic values with evolving consumer expectations is no easy task. Nowadays, people are inundated with information from various sources, making them more discerning (or even polarized) about what they believe. They’re not just looking for facts; they want information that validates their worldview. This presents a daunting hurdle for journalists. However, it’s crucial that we remain steadfast in our commitment to truth and integrity. While we must evolve to meet the needs of our audience, we must also stay true to our core principles.

Action is essential for media transformation

A crucial step in rebuilding trust and confidence in news media involves identifying community issues and presenting potential solutions. While journalism informs us about various issues, there’s an opportunity to go beyond sensationalism and focus on actionable steps towards resolution. This approach not only empowers our audience, but also fosters advocacy and drives real change within society.

Throughout history, news media has played a pivotal role in catalyzing social change. For example, the Montgomery Advertiser, a local Alabama paper that documented and supported the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott. Their coverage empowered the Black community, brought national attention to the issue of segregation, and ultimately played a part in desegregating public buses. This is the legacy we must strive to uphold.

It’s essential to recognize this power we hold as media and leverage our platform to continue advocating for truth and altruism. By rebranding ourselves as agents of positive change, dedicated to objective reporting and proactive problem-solving, we reaffirm our commitment to serving the public good and recapture our confidence. However, to achieve this vision, we must embrace a dual mindset. We need to evaluate our existing practices critically while fostering a culture of innovation and adaptation.

As someone who values the importance of taking risks, I believe that stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing innovation is essential. By doing so, we can develop products and processes that resonate with today’s audiences, delivering value in impactful ways. It’s time to redefine our approach, embrace change, and chart a course towards a vibrant and sustainable future for news media. Though the challenges may be significant, the potential rewards of a thriving, trusted news industry are immeasurable.

Trust and transformation

Just as a willingness to tackle a basement project unlocked surprising potential, fostering a culture of innovation within news organizations will help us find the way forward. Media transformation starts with leadership—creating an environment where fresh ideas can flourish, not wither under the weight of tradition. This culture of innovation isn’t just beneficial; it’s essential for our long-term sustainability and profitability.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how a lack of openness to new ideas stifles growth and innovation within organizations. Despite overflowing with potential revenue streams, some organizations remain stagnant due to a resistance to change. However, by creating committees dedicated to exploring new possibilities, encouraging brainstorming sessions that welcome even the most “out-there” ideas, and fostering an atmosphere of trust and respect, organizations can unlock their full potential.

Without this culture of innovation, organizations risk stagnation and irrelevance. They risk losing valuable assets—both in terms of talent and revenue opportunities—to competitors who embrace bold strategies and innovative thinking.

Explore new frontiers

Here’s where innovation gets exciting. Imagine news content that isn’t just informative but truly engaging because it leverages new storytelling techniques. Consider multimedia formats such as data visuals, video, podcasts, and other interactive audience components. These approaches don’t just make for an engaging experience; they can make complex issues accessible to a wider audience.

Furthermore, fostering a culture of innovation allows us to humanize the journalists behind the stories. By featuring stories or even more personal or longer bios about the dedication and passion of those who strive to deliver accurate information, we can rebuild trust and connect with our audience on a deeper level. People want to know the faces and stories behind the news. Showcasing the human element of journalism can go a long way in fostering trust.

We must also find ways to showcase the true impact of journalism. By highlighting investigative reports that led to positive change, we can demonstrate the power of journalism to make a difference in society. When audiences see real-world examples of how journalism has improved lives or held powerful institutions accountable, it strengthens their understanding of the vital role the news media plays in a healthy democracy.

Proactively communicate media transformation

To thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of news media, we must flood the market with our message. Message saturation will define our success in the coming decades. If we don’t take ownership of our narrative, others will shape it for us, potentially in ways that don’t reflect our values or contributions.

It’s crucial to convey that news media is not the enemy; we play a vital role in society’s development, understanding, information and speaking truth to power. By articulating our role, we position ourselves for growth and progress on our terms. This foundation is essential for restoring confidence, as it shapes public perception of who we are and what we stand for. While we may already know our identity and purpose, the sheer volume of information available today requires us to actively engage with our audience. We must strike a balance between confidence and visibility to maintain our relevance and influence in the marketplace. Otherwise, we risk being overshadowed by the constant influx of information.

Navigating the complexities of rebuilding trust and relevance in the news media industry, one thing remains clear: confidence is key. It’s not just about embracing change or asserting our importance; it’s about believing in our ability to make a difference.

By fostering a culture of innovation, embracing new storytelling techniques, and actively engaging with our audience, we can reaffirm our commitment to truth, integrity, and the greater good of democracy. With confidence as our cornerstone, we can chart a bold course toward a vibrant and sustainable future for news media. Though the challenges may be daunting, our belief in the power of journalism to inform, inspire, and empower will propel us forward.

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