Journalism that would really make a difference

By Kazi Mahmood, Guest Editor

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Media practitioners should be more environment conscious

We are living in a world where the scarcity of resources is becoming the number one issue that any corporations – and this include media corporations – should consider before they continue to march on in their destructive paths.

Yes, we are all on a destructive path, one that has been made possible by our heavy dependence on the existing resources that were abundantly available in the last century.

While these resources are getting scarce, the inherited culture that we have dragged with us into this century is cluttering our future with the real dangers of climate change looming on our heads like the sword of Damocles.

True it is that many media organisations have grown aware of the dangers that lay ahead of us.

They have moved on to the digital space, with the best example of all ‘Newsweek’ standing tall after it said bye-bye to its print version.

And that was in 2012, the time when Newsweek showed the way – to journalists – that they  can contribute less to global warming and climate change if they adopted the new medium of online-only publication.

If we do not change and we continue in pressing ahead with the old business model that rests purely and principally – in the case of the media industry – on the cutting of trees, we are digging the future generation’s grave.

But the print media is more than cutting down a few rows of trees to get the beautiful work of journalists printed on paper.

There is also the printing industry itself, which is an industry that has reached its sunset, at least it is for some segments of the industry.

I would take an example from the New York Times (NYT) to explain why modern day print journalists have to rethink the way they are doing their job, and atone on the destruction of trees and the creation of greater environmental havoc that the printing presses represent.

In January, the NYT came out with a Group Report that sheds light on how the newspaper is moving forward with its digitisation plans, and this was published on its website for the entire world to read.

It said that it needed a new approach to some of its sections, mentioning that its current features strategy dates to the time new sections were needed in the 1970’s.

It also said its largely print-centric strategy, while highly successful, has kept it from building a sufficiently successful digital presence and attracting new audiences for its features content.

And it talked of its competitive edge – that is Cooking and Watching which is today part of its digital bets.

In the 1970’s the main attractions for NYT readers were the ability of the newspaper to delight and to offer useful advice about what to cook, what to wear and what to do. The strategy succeeded brilliantly, it said.

But today, it needs a new strategy, both for traditional features (meant to delight and inform) and for guidance (meant to be useful in tangible ways).

And it reproaches the company’s approach that has kept it from building as large a digital presence as the Times brand and journalistic quality that was made possible.

It said in no uncertain terms that its current strategy kept it from making it’s print sections as imaginative, modern and relevant for readers as they could possibly be.

“To be blunt, we have not yet been as ambitious or innovative as our predecessors were in the 1970s,” it said.

There is no doubt that the mother of all newspapers in the USA is now heading for more digitisation and will look into cutting its print according to demand, and this will also involve a well thought audience reach and revenue goals – that are highly ambitious altogether.

Now let me come down to our own reality in Southeast Asia.

Are we moving towards 2020 without a real goal in place and in the absence of editors who are capable of churning a revolution – like the NYT did in the 1970’s?

Well, to my experience, it does not depend on editors alone in this brave new world, it also depend on the quality of the journalism you want to dispense to the poor readers who trusted your modern day skills ‘to delight and inform and for guidance (meant to be useful in tangible ways)’.

I know that people are expecting guidance from editors, not the day-to-day roll of the mill that fills your newspaper pages and you sign-off for the day thinking you did a great job.

However, there is more to it today than there were before and this is to actively persuade the management that a newspaper is supposed to help people record history, curate the culture – just like the NYT thinkers said it –  at a moment when the culture, from television and movies to fashion and style, is changing!

That culture is also about saving trees, stopping the presses before it continue its damaging process to the environment and give the beautiful globe we live in another day to breath!

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