Thursday, August 31, 2006

Brand over quality: Aussie journos speak

While Cameron Reilly was at the Pacific Area Newspaper Publisher’s Association earlier in the week, he recorded a short podcast with Mark Jones, IT editor of the Australian Financial Review and Hugh Martin, editor of Discussion centred around the future of print media, and how print-focused media giants transition to the Net era.

What struck me is that neither Mark nor Hugh mentioned what I think is the most important word: quality. The currency of the discussion, led by two journalists, is brand, brand, brand - Hugh mentions it ten times, while Mark says it twice. On his blog, Hugh linked some articles from MSM sources discussing what he called the "quality will win" view, so he's not unfamiliar with that side of the argument. However, the quote he uses from the Vanity Fair article also talks in terms of brand.

I am amazed at this. Are not Hugh and Mark trained journalists? Do they not represent all that is virtuous about quality investigative reporting? Why do they talk in terms of brand, when their hearts should be beating with outrage over the decimation of their ranks by accountants concerned more with short-term shareholder value than the fundamentals of journalistic institutions which have made their respective employers into the great bastions of mainstream media they are today?

Brand, in this case, is an agglomeration of goodwill garnered from past quality. But what of future quality? Does quality not matter any more? Is the only hope for Fairfax and News that they can con their audience into thinking they're paying for the same old quality they've come to know and trust, even though budgets for content have been slashed across the board at Fairfax, and News continues to pour good money after bad into businesses designed to cannibalise the media properties that made News Corp's brand in the first place? Brand is an ever-crumbling wall to hide behind, not an asset. You have to keep on building your brand by investing in quality stories that you will publish tomorrow, and the next day, and so on.

IMO, the discussion should be centred around how MSM giants keep their monopoly on quality, or at least their lead. Previously, they kept it by being the best vehicle for quality content creators - journalists, columnists, editors, etc. - to get paid the most and have the biggest audience. That is no longer the case. It is easier to get noticed by huge numbers of people AND get paid oodles of dollars by uploading one video on Revver, or start a podcast like Keith & The Girl did, or host a show like Rocketboom as Amanda Congdon did. People worry too much about "amateur" content as if it is low quality: the opposite is the case. Much of the content which succeeds at UGC sites is of the highest quality. The thing that should really scare MSM companies, and the editors whose livelihood is reliant on them, is that the UGC model enables an alternative way for the market to identify, promote and reward quality.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, I have to say that quality is a given here. Strong brands only remain strong if they provide compelling and unique value. That assumes quality in my book. We certainly strive to provide a top quality news site every day.

The point I was making in our discussion is simply that there is a real opportunity for new brands to compete directly with established ones in the digital space. In other words new players can create viable businesses taking audience share from old media brands.

But of course that relies on a quality product.


10:21 am, September 11, 2006  

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