How chat and Artificial Intelligence will redefine ‘news’
Late last year when Mark Zuckerberg wrote an article about Free Basics in the Times of India, one would expect it to be the most shared/read article. Instead, a Quartz article explaining what Zuck said was shared more than the original post. This trend of ‘content aggregators’ piggybacking on ‘content generators’ is the earliest signs of why the middlemen are in trouble.
From the New York Times to Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, everyone’s tinkering with how they disseminate news. Be it Facebook, Twitter or SnapChat, the medium is steadily becoming bigger than the message. I’ve written about this in detail here. A few have managed to escape the black hole.
The venerable New York Times’ digital subscriptions revenue surpassed digital advertising revenue. The Financial Times now has 780,000 paying readers allowing them to flex their muscles. And flexing, they did. When the Head of Marcom at HP wrote to a journalist with the classic ‘we will pull off our ad budgets for FT’ threat with this line — “FT management should consider the impact of unacceptable biases on its relationships with advertisers”, the journalist shot right back. Lucy Kellaway wrote, “It is my editors’ steadfast refusal to consider the impact of stories on advertisers that makes us the decent newspaper we are.”
Make no mistake about it. Brands don’t like journalists sniffing around. A considerable effort has been made to control the narrative. From the likes of Walmart to General Electric, to India’s own, Flipkart, there is a concentrated effort to control the message.
There is a lot to be spoken about the opportunities in rich media and how brands can use mediums to control their own reputations. But that’s outside the scope of this article. I’m more focused on what the next wave of ‘news’ will look like.
Look deeper and you find some media companies trying to understand this new wave of communication. These new companies are trying to add rich media content to offer more immersive reader experiences. They don’t want to focus on news — which is a ‘push’ effort; an editor decides what the larger public will consume and reporters toe that line. Instead, there is a focus on the ‘pull’ — what does a reader want to know, AFTER they get the bare essentials. Yes, there are opinion columns, but more importantly, there’s chat as a platform. And that is the next big wave of news.
To best explain this new wave, one doesn’t have to look too far. Quartz, which recently launched its app, understood this phenomenon of moving to messaging instead of forcing users to come to the app. The Quartz app aims to be ‘Search’ + ‘News’ + ‘Artificial Intelligence’ bundled into one. To elaborate — the app will summarise news that I want to know, and give me more context when I ‘ask’ for specific information by chatting with a bot.
In India, Factor Daily could be building a similar service. The idea is to make the best use of the bounties of rich media content available on the internet. And somehow, no media house has been able to fully tap these resources apart from a few like the New York Times, WSJ and BBC. Check the image below to understand this better -
It’s not about user experience. You can have the best UI/UX and yet not have users come to your app. Many figured ‘push notifications’ will drive that traffic, but the increasing volumes of these notifications mean that your notifications are a drop in the well.
Besides, it’s much easier for Facebook/Twitter to ‘filter’ your news and give you content that you’re more likely to read. Facebook’s ‘Instant Articles’ for example, is fast, far more engaging and publishers are increasingly seeing more value. While ‘chat’ will harness the power of AI to build a more conversational platform, the ownership of news will change. To sum it all up -
First, there were the agencies — they reported news as was. Then there were the middlemen who wanted to add a layer of editorialising on top of news. Then came the aggregators, who played on virality and ‘featured’ ‘news’ that’s popular. Then came mobile and the need to summarise news. Then came the need to dissect news, make more meaning out of it and leave vanilla reportage to the oldies — much like an offshoot of Information overload. Then came apps that dumbed down news for a generation with an attention span lesser than that of a goldfish. We largely missed out on customising news based on consumption patterns, something Facebook has taken upon itself. Now we have chat, social networks with GIFs, reactions, memes and cat videos.
It’s not quite the trajectory Howard Beale had prophesied in the 1967 cult classic, ‘Network’. Instead, news is playing along with contemporary culture by trying to satiate one’s needs with the best of what technology has to offer; and all that while staying true to its core journalistic ethics.