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Newspaper, radio and television in the multi-platform digital age
1/8/2017 15:7' Send Print
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Difficulties of traditional media

Digitalization is irreversible in the world's current development. And the media, as one of the branches which contact and react most rapidly to any social change, definitely cannot stay out of this development. In this evolution, the traditional media, including radio, television, and print newspapers are the most affected. It can be said that we are standing before the "threshold of journalism history." If this is not properly perceived, and appropriate changes and responses are not taken, lagging behind is a certainty.

In a report produced in late 2015, the Brookings Institute, the world's leading research agency in the United States, released following data of the world's largest newspaper market, the United States: the number of printed publications per 100 million people fell from 1,400 in 1945 to 400 in 2014. The amount of circulated capital in the printing industry dropped from 35% to 15%. The number of registered journalists decreased from 43,000 in 1978 to 33,000 in 2015. A number of prestigious and age-old print newspapers in the United States had to close down or halted printing publications and shift to electronic publications. In addition to the US, the world's second-largest newspaper market, Europe, also witnessed a sharp decline in print media. Since 2008, half of the printed newspapers in the UK has cut down staff or reduced the number of their publications.

In Vietnam, the downward trend of newspapers is also evident, some newspapers had to reduce the number of circulations, even stop operation due to losses. Television after a long period of high growth is now facing many challenges; Radio also has to cope with a lot of difficulties.

Meanwhile, the Internet has exploded and the number of users has rocketed each year. In 2016, the number of users in the world increased by 10% compared to 2015, the number of people using social networks increased by 21%. In the end of 2016, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provided the following data: 3.77 billion people had access to the Internet, accounting for 50% of the world population; 2.79 billion registered to social network, representing 37% of the world's population; 4.9 billion people used mobile devices, accounting for 66% of the world's population; 2.5 billion people got on social network through mobile devices. Human life is now increasingly tied to devices and technology applications. Modern humans, especially in big cities, are virtually inseparable from technological devices and digital platforms in their personal and working life. "Addiction" to smartphone and social network has become common, especially among the young and through which all users’ channels for access to information and enjoyment are also increasingly digitized.

Another statistics of the World Association of Newspaper Publishers (WAN-IFRA) pointed out that the most viewed sites in the world today are aggregate search engines (Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia), social network (Facebook), entertainment and video interaction (YouTube), and e-commerce channel (Amazon). That means, just sitting in front of the computers, or the tablets or smartphones, users’ needs from information reception, social contacts to entertainment and personal needs are satisfied. Given the convenience, there is no need for them to follow traditional providers, such as radio, television or newspapers, for information. Radio, television and the print media are facing this challenge in this digital age; therefore, they must equip new tools, skills and thinking to reach out to readers who are now more likely to get all information via computers, smartphones or tablets.

The trend of radio and television in the digital age

According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, public broadcasters (State-run) are standing at a four-way intersection- or at least at a three-way intersection, for a long time. However, the problem is not choosing which way but rather how to redefine their position, existence and development. In other words, it is necessary to determine the role, effectiveness and efficiency of public radio and television broadcasters in the digital era. In 2010, the European Council identified four structural changes affecting public broadcasters, including digitalization (digital roadmap); change of audience’s habit of access to information; pressures between politics and economics; the competition for commercial advertisement.

According to the Open Society Institute, there are three main reasons leading to the crisis in public broadcasting in Europe: First, public broadcasters have been organized, operated and managed following the old patterns of the past; Second, there is increasingly fierce competition from private media companies and a drastic reduction in the public’s need for paid contents; Third, governments in many countries seem to pay more attention to public radio and television censorship rather than facilitating and creating mechanisms for public broadcasters to easily adapt to the new media environment.

Specifically, today's radio and television stations are different from radio and television stations of the 20th century, and are bound to be much different in the future, even in the near future. The development of the Internet technology and digitalization has changed radio and television’s audience. In the past, radio and television decided for the audiences what, when and how they listen to, and watch. Now, the audiences have switched to an active role, controlled, and chosen what they want to listen to and watch, as well as time, and channels. The public’s clicks on remote control devices of traditional radio and television are changing day by day. Changes cannot only been found in listening, watching and choosing what radio and television channels. The audiences nowadays are changing themselves into both receivers and providers of information. They interact with the media and with each other. The Internet and digital technology have profoundly altered how the public contacts with the outside world. With television, it is the arrival of the largest social network of video sharing in 2005 - YouTube. To date, with more than 1 billion people, equivalent to one-seventh of the world's population, using this social network a new trend of information and entertainment provision has been created with the most popular YouTube channels attracting a large number of viewers much bigger than those of many major television channels. YouTube can also make a person a star through the Internet no less effective than television. Anyone can get on YouTube and can successfully upload their products to the public without a bulky system like traditional television.

This situation has prompted many researchers to believe that the Internet has created challenges for radio and television. The number of newspaper readers, radio listeners, television viewers do not increase but will decrease; meanwhile, the number of viewers, listeners and readers of Internet contents increases in terms of the amount of information and time. Viewers spend twice the time watching online videos than traditional TV. Some experts say that the digital shift helps reposition the role of radio and television, not only creating difficulties and challenges, but also bringing about new and big opportunities. Radio and television stations are an integral part of the process to renew and make content appealing. New media technologies complement, rather than replace the old ones, and user-generated contents will always play an important role in the excessively evolving technology landscape amid a relative scarce of professionally produced and supplied contents.

According to analysts of the British newspaper The Guardian, in the digital age traditional radio and television must understand the audiences’ interests and behaviors, target audiences’ diversity, their motivations and methods to access and "consume" media products. The evolution of the Internet and the change in access to multiple media sources have forced media conglomerates to take a deeper look at how the public is using new technology, the way they approach and interact with contents of radio and television.

Professor Raymond Kuhn from the University of London held that public media organizations in the digital age are facing major problems, especially while fulfilling their tasks, playing their role and catching up with the new trend. During this process, the media must take into consideration four key issues including political feature, information reliability, funding sources and commercial revenue in order to maintain trust, identify sources of information, skills needed for journalists in the digital age, communication tools to be mastered and the need for multimedia training.

In the field of radio, listeners around the world are no longer tied to traditional FM/AM radio. In January 2017, Norway became the first country in the world to officially halt radio broadcasts on FM, and will transfer 100% to digital technology. After Norway, it is expected that many countries in the world will gradually experiment and move away from FM to fully convert to digital broadcasting with better sound quality, integrating and synchronizing radio with other media platforms including podcast with much lower operation cost (in the case in Norway eight times lower) than traditional broadcasts.

Norway is a special case for us to study. Though it will take some time for this trend to explode in the world and will first occur in markets with developed media and technology infrastructure, the strength of digital technology in radio broadcasting as mentioned above is undeniable. Traditional radio is bound to be geared towards digital technology, digital technology application to expand coverage, attract more young audiences that are tied to technology devices, increase service quality to community and reduce operation costs. Radio is not limited to listening to radio on FM but also interacting on the web and on social networks. This development requires a multi-platform approach in which the mobile platform is prioritized because by 2016, mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) surpassed desktops to become the world's largest Internet access devices (51.3% access to the Internet via smartphones and tablet and 48.7% via desktops).

The apparent effect of the transition

In the explosion of the digital age, mastering technological tools and skills is not a prerequisite for journalism success. The development of today's technology requires journalism, including radio, television and print media, to change drastically to adapt to changes and to meet new needs of readers. To some extent, the impact of technology has changed journalism practices, especially when every citizen can now become an obvious (and perhaps brilliant) information providers in terms of contents, images and video through the so-called flourishing "citizen journalism" on social networks. But it is not easy for mainstream media to follow and compete that way, because however big a media house is it cannot compete with a social network or a website having hundreds of thousands of interactive users like Facebook or Twitter.

Therefore, despite major investment in technology, for mainstream media, content is always vital and number one priority. The lesson of the world's leading newspaper, the New York Times, is that it has shifted from print to digital newspaper not pursuing hits but focusing on content development and sale. The New York Times' strategy is to provide powerful stories that millions of people are willing to pay for reading. Thanks to that strategy, in 2016, the New York Times earned US$500 million in revenue only from the digital version, higher than any other major newspapers’ revenue combined. By January 2017, the New York Times had more than 1.5 million digital subscriptions, up by 0.5 million as compared with the year before. Six years ago when deciding to shift from print to digital newspaper and focus on paid contents, this subscription was 0. This move is a live or dead option for the New York Times because at that time, the revenue from advertisement on printed publications had decreased due to competition from the Internet. In fact, current technology giants, such as Google and Facebook account for 99% of revenue from online advertisement or communication marketing. The change in time helped the New York Times stand firm and with its current "content is number one" strategy, the New York Times sets a target of $800 million in revenue from the digital version by 2020.

The success of the New York Times and several other major newspapers in the world show that even in the digital age the print media can stand firm if it make appropriate changes by converging with digital technology and focusing on the traditional strength of the mainstream media which is quality of information. This has also been proven in the broadcasting sector, with the example of CNN of the US now having 25 million followers on Facebook. It launched the CNNGo app in 2014 which does not only allow users to continuously receiving information but also reach out to other areas, such as e-commerce or services.

In short, in the current digital age, the print media, radio and television must change if they want to exist. These changes include changes in management (at national level as well as ministries, sectors and localities), application of technology in editorial management, investment in new technology platforms at each media house and in the last level: media professionals. They also have to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to be able to work most effectively; their news, articles, video and images must be made available for all platforms from print and electronic newspaper, to television and radio. To maintain their distinctive features, stand firm and develop in face of the competition from social media, and citizen journalism, the mainstream print media, radio and television must bring into play their strength which is quality of information.

The development of communication technology has given the media a new direction, which is the convergence of means of communication. This is an objective development trend, meeting the information needs of the public. The impact of technology and social network on the media and the public is growing, and this is both a challenge and a great opportunity for both the media and society. Core requirements for journalists at all times are acting fast with accuracy in a scientific manner with humanism, high social responsibility, political acumen, professionalism and professional ethics. In the digital age, journalists must always be ready to work anytime, anywhere. Besides providing new, "hot", fast and accurate information, journalists must discover and report new, necessary, useful and humanistic issues of public interest. Editors and reporters have to constantly change their ways of thinking, methods, and ways of doing things, and be creative to turn out quality, interesting not boring, and monotonous products. In the digital age, newspapers, radio and television are important tools of communication, education, connection and sharing of information, ideas, and emotion on the Internet and other new forms of communication.

This article was published on Communist Review No. 896 (June 2017)

Assoc. Prof. Nguyen The Ky. PhDMember of the Party Central Committee, General Director of Radio Voice of Vietnam