Does Being Online Make Media Digital?

Let us consider a newspaper.

Publishing a newspaper has certain constraints like the following;

  1. Size: Most newspapers are A4. This places some limits on content.

  2. Pages: Newspapers have a finite number of pages per issue, usually constrained by costs of production. This places another limit on content.

  3. Frequency: Newspapers are committed to a timetable, usually once a day.

  4. Static: Once it is printed, you can't do anything until the following day.

To adapt to the above constraints, there needs to be prioritization when it comes to content.

Typically advertisers, hot news and content conformant to the editorial policy (official and unofficial) wins.

Enter the advent of technology and the internet.

One would think that in the current digital times, newspapers would have evolved to fully capitalize on changes on technology.

But no. Inexplicably, they somehow manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • Online versions of newspapers have page numbers. Why? This is for no benefit to readers. It is to artificially skew page hits.

  • Online versions of newspapers have the exact same content as the print version. Right down to the typos and grammar errors.

  • Online versions of newspapers as well seem to have a daily cycle.

All this despite the fact that there are no constraints of size and space on the web.

To me, this is a HUGE missed opportunity.

Most media houses understand digital by having the newspaper online and slapping on blogs and YouTube.

Is it an Online Newspaper?

Perhaps the issue is fundamental.

Should it at all, in fact, be thought of as an online newspaper?

The world has evolved. The media and publishing industry has evolved. Consumers have also evolved.

The distinction between online and print is largely becoming an arbitrary one.

Perhaps the answer is media houses should think of themselves as content generation and delivery engines. How it consumed (print, web, audio, video, images) is a decision best left to the consumer.

Take for example a hypothetical case of East African Breweries Limited (EABL) launching a new Whisky, Green Label.

In 2000, a media house would

  • Send a reporter and a cameraman to the launch.

  • The reporter will listen to the speech from the MD. There would be the obligatory photo of the MD holding the new bottle.

  • The reporter will ask a few follow up questions and do some research.

  • The reporter and cameraman will then return to the newsroom. Reporter will write a 2,500 piece on the launch and file his story.

  • The following day a 1,000 word piece would appear, after editing, in the business pages.

In 2013 what should happen is that

  • The journalist should have a decent camera and a voice recorder.

  • He should start by touring the plant and interviewing employees. Some on video. Some by audio. He should take photos. He should record the speeches. He should interview as many people as he can find, no matter how remote their connection to the launch.

  • He should obtain an org-chart electronically. He should dig deeper. Why Green Label? What other names had they shortlisted? Who was involved in the product? Are there any more planned?

  • When he returns to the newsroom, he should have video, audio, photos and text. He will still then proceed to write his 2,500 world story.

However, the print paper still only has space for a 1,000 word piece. So it is edited. Which is fine. But what should happen is that in the online portal, the 2,500 piece should be filed. Together with selected photos and video.

If the media house has a TV arm, they will have video and audio and photos to borrow from to run the story during news. If the media house has a radio arm, they will have audio to borrow from to run the story.

The final benefit is that the media house has a fantastic resource repository about EABL from this one story that will continue to be used for the immediate future.

If anyone is doing a story on EABL they are spoilt for choice when it comes to content. That is what should happen. What happens now I bet is exactly what happens in 2000. Notice that there is no distinction between digital and analog journalist. There is just a journalist. The content is just repurposed for delivery mechanism.

A media house that has digital and print divisions is likely on the wrong path. There shouldn't be such a distinction, if the media house is to remain relevant.


The other issue to perhaps consider is revenue.

I personally used to buy the Daily Nation and the Standard daily in Kenya. Until one day I realized that I was spending Ksh 100/- daily on newspapers. Auditing what I was paying for left me in no doubt I was not wisely using my money.

The newspaper essentially contains what happened. Seldom does the newspaper cover why it happened, or what it means going forward. This may or may not be due to the constraints I have talked of above. It could also be due to the quality of journalists. Or the interests of advertisers. Or quality of editors. Or any combination thereof. Point is, I decided Ksh 100/- a day on 40 odd pages, largely full of ads and short blurbs of news made no sense.

Especially given that the content was freely available online.

The Nation I remember tried to charge, paywall, for online access to the newspapers and readership dropped like a stone.

What is a Paywall? A Word Definition From the Webopedia Computer Dictionary

This should have communicated that the problem is not the medium. It is the content.

With an online medium available, media houses should work hard on adding value to content, and not more content. I mean Analysis. Video. Audio. Maps. Electronic documents.

Media houses should realize that they are no longer the first port of call when things happen. People discover things faster on twitter and Facebook and all these social networks. Those not on social networks find out from WhatsApp and text.

Media cannot fight this. Therefore it should leverage it.

You may find out about events on Twitter, but if you want to know why it happened and what it means, come to us.

Take something like Konza as an example. It is amazing that no media house has built a complete repository on this. Where is Konza? Here is a map. How will it look like? Here is a 3D model. Who started it? Here are their profiles and photos. What have people said about it? Here are some blogs. Which firms are working on it? Here are their company profiles and key staff.

Imagine all this in a single location. Text, video, audio, maps, blogs, documents. Together. Immersive.

I refuse to pay Ksh 50/- for political headlines, Pulse (no offence), ads and 500 word blurbs.

But for curated, immersive, complementary content? You bet your ass I'll pay, and happily.

A smart media house should figure out there are people like me who have zero interest in socialites, scandals and shenanigans like pulse and prefer business and analyses.

Correspondingly there are those who have zero interest in business and analysis and want nothing more than scandals and socialite intrigues.

Content Channels

Why not have a concept of content channels?

  • News
  • Politics
  • Business
  • Entertainment
  • Sports

The problem today is that I am forced to pay for all 5 and only read one, and even that one I find wanting. So I stop buying the paper.

Suppose you were charged Ksh 10/- per channel? Now we're talking. You only consume what you want. Everyone is happy. In fact, why should they all be Ksh 10/-?

Charge entertainment Ksh 5/- and get volumes.


The problems media faces today boil down to three:

  1. How do we effectively collect content (not necessarily ourselves)

2.How to we add value to it?

  1. How do we retrain and repurpose our personnel to do 1 and 2?

I have much expectations of the new Nation website.

Have they learnt anything or is the old emperor in the new skin?

It is too early to tell. I guess we'll see.

Cover Image Credit: Isabelle Prondzynski

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