It has been some years since I’ve begun to hear about the demise of the media business as we know it. That’s not to gainsay the fact that publications have been closing down with the regularity of a metronome suffering from OCD. The scourge began all the way over in the developed economies – the bastions of the love affair with the printed word – where a mixture of the lower cost of online content delivery and a drop in advertising revenue lead to magazines and newspapers closing. Thankfully, television as a medium seems to be more resilient in the face of the global online tsunami, but we’re getting to the airwaves too.
The Middle East region’s problems in this department took some time coming. When I first came to Oman a refrain that I heard was “people don’t read”. Try telling that to an editor who has just changed jobs from a car magazine that printed more than 100,000 copies a month to one that was in a fledgling state. By the time we reached the stage that people were reading and our title made an impact the new refrain of “people don’t buy hard copy anymore, it’s all online” began. Fortunately for us, we’ve been online from the past eight years and continue to produce a kick ass print magazine, so we’ve even surmounted that hurdle.
So, today we live in the age of the hashtag and the influencer. Somehow, by some convoluted quirk of fate, companies and brands and the folks who steer their interface with the world have decided that these negate the need of regular media. Oh yes, many of my friends on the other side of the media-brand divide would like to tell me that it’s only incremental, but I can assure you that it’s not. I’ve been to many events now where it has become mandatory to have some folk who seem to spend all their time preening, pouting and tossing their hair before, after and during a selfie session or while they are hogging the photographer and cameraman at the event. #Ilooksosexy #Anotherbrandpaysmetobehere. For that’s what the new face of media is looking like. These beauties with the odd car or perfume or gadget somewhere in the picture, while brand managers write out checques to get onboard the gravy train of online eyeballs.
As you see the money moving out of traditional media to this new El Dorado, we also see a slackening of standards. For instance, I’ve always had an apathy towards carrying press releases in toto. Shorn of the self-praise and first person language, these sometimes give useful news, which I carry or else have nothing left that warrants a try. But the beauty of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is that they’ve become the new frontier of the art of copy-paste. Let’s not even talk about snapchat – who wants to know that you’ve just finished your third coffee of the morning? In fact the standards as so pathetic that even the humble hashtag is not spared – one example I have is of someone wanting to #LighteningUp when they meant #LightingUp. I’ve been on the grumpier, fuddy-duddy side of an argument with a twenty-something who swears by snapchat and is a blogger who sees print media as having passed its sell by date. The divide isn’t purely on age – it’s also history and yes, to a certain level that of familiarity.
But no amount of arguing will make me feel any sense of equity, when you know that you are on a media event where some invitees – the bloggers and influencers – are being paid to attend while you have to make do with your ethics and an inflated sense of the sanctity of the divide between editorial and revenue. It almost makes you want to throw in your journalistic hat and join the brigade of content generators who don’t bother acquiring any in-depth knowledge about anything – because their audience doesn’t need it. And somehow that is more apt and value for money than actually trying to support and develop mainstream media.
But then, should one fight it at all? Instead let’s just Insta, Tweet or Facebook post with some choice set of hashtags – #doweneedtochange #iamaninfluencer #eveolvingmedia and I’m sure you can think of a few more.