Trump's latest attack on the media is unprecedented. It is turning heads and raising eyebrows in every corner of the world. While he claims to fight 'fake news', in his argument and general rhetoric, he does not distinguish between different publications, insinuating that all media outlets condone fake news - Buzzfeed is no different to CNN, nor is CNN different from the New York Times. What's alarming is that his attempt to delegitimise the media as an influential opponent to his presidency seems to be working.
This brings in question the efficacy and impact of the media's current approach.
The role of media generally - and news publications specifically - has traditionally been three-fold: informing people of everything new, providing an editorial and curatorial filter to news, and, on a broader scale, representing and amplifying the public's voice.
However, in our new reality, this is becoming less and less essential. Let's take a step back to understand the broader macro-trends causing this.
People become the media
Empowered with live broadcasting technology, individuals have become a medium themselves, enabling wide and niche audiences to access timely and fresh news around the clock. A smartphone is all you need - no permissions, knowledge or effort required. With the advent of live technology, people's ability to communicate beyond their inner circles has come full circle, affecting both written and televised forms of media. The technology and privilege of getting to news first no longer belongs to media brands, diminishing one of the oldest and simplest functions they served.
Social platforms help people make the news
In the past, media channels decided what is news and what is not, what makes it to the front pages and what gets hidden in small print. But today, with the help of social platforms, people decide what news is and what isn't. Twitter has recently repositioned itself as a source of live news, leveraging its crowd-fed platform to facilitate conversation around current events. Facebook uses a human-less algorithm to inform people of what's 'trending', promising a more objective way of curating news. An event becomes news based on how many people are talking about it - a filter that some deem non-academic or rigorous enough. While the editorial role of news publications is not completely obliterated, it is certainly weakened.
New celebrity challenge media authority
In the old days, people connected to the social and political elite through the media. But today, there is a community of new elites who have direct means of exchange with the mainstream. Communication is open and freedom of speech is more accessible than before. Going through the media to amplify one's voice is not necessary. The fiasco with Pewdiepie is telling of a power struggle between new influencers and established media. In his video response to WSJ, Pewdiepie criticises news publications, describing them as traditional and 'old school'. Milo Yiannopoulos is another controversial personality who has been heavily criticised by the media. These two examples indicate a changing value system amongst a rising community of online influencers. Media brands have found themselves incapable of representing these voices, advocating instead the moral system of a world gone by. Over time, media have lost the power to represent the many voices of the people, claiming a polarising position of opposition - opposition to the same people they were meant to represent.
What then becomes of the role of media?
It is without a doubt that media brands, whether online or offline, written or televised, are facing an existential problem. Their competitive set is widening. Survival is already difficult as it is, with big advertising money going to giant tech firms. The New York Times recently launched an advertising campaign, bringing attention to its role as protector of the 'truth'. It seemed a direct response to Trump's consistent attacks, but it also reflects the voice of a category that is fighting for relevance and credibility.
As any brand knows, sustaining relevance is an everyday challenge. Fighting change is never a winning battle. Media brands have to embrace the new reality, redefining their value and how they deliver it - but how?
Bridging the gap
Being a source of news is not enough anymore. The analytical and expert voice need not alienate or divide. Rather, it must strive to be always fresh and consistently inclusive, connecting and partnering where possible. Having a point of view is always applauded, but being polarising today is proving to be more costly than ever. Media brands must find and create common ground, uncovering new truths to help bridge the gap between the new and old, the left and right, the East and West.
That means facilitating and moderating conversation rather than being an active part of it. Technology is more accessible than ever and as such, one of the core assets of news publications is not the ability to broadcast, but their ability to influence through their platform and follower database. Opening up that platform to enable greater broadcasters to have greater influence adds dynamism and currency to their role. It takes them off the high moral ground and widens their remit to become champions of novelty and diversity in the community.
The imperatives then for media brands of the future are clear:
Mediate rather than criticise
Nurture rather than judge
Enrich rather than condemn
As Jon Stewart recently put it, "it is time for you to get your groove back, media," he said. It's time for media brands to redefine their role and create a model for the future - a new model that brings back criticality to who they are and what they do.Suggest a correction