There was I sitting in the office chatting to a couple of the younger developers in our ‘digital’ (what does that mean exactly?) agency about the dire, inhumane situation in Iraq and Syria — to be honest we could pick a number of dire and inhumane situations in the world — but we had settled on this geographical and heart breaking location.
Some context — I am 40 years old, a digital consultant for a great agency on the south coast of the England working with clients to deliver solutions (online and offline) that will help improve their business, their corporate responsibilities — a whole ream of things. I've worked in tons of different industries but for the last 10–12 have been focused in the web space.
Sam and George — the two young developers — are in their early 20's, very bright, intelligent and engaging people. They are both currently at university and soon to complete their last year — they have been a great addition to the company and to be honest give me great hope and encouragement for much wider societal challenges that we are all sure to face in the future. They are good guys.
Back to our chat — we were talking specifically about some of the stories coming out of Syria re. the involvement of foreign states (including the UK) in the day to day battles, bombardment and struggles against the various ‘organisations’ and groups — including ISIS — and how this was being reported. This was about the time that the US had created the ‘coalition’ against these groups.
The particular focus of the chat was around the town of Kobane — on the Syrian/Turkish border that was (at the time) surrounded on three sides by ISIS — the US had just started their bombing offensive against ISIS with the Kurds also beginning to pour into the area to try and release the town and its citizens from the ‘siege’.
I had gained much of my information from my regular sources of news — the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph (I try and see all sides of the political debate) and was of the opinion (influenced by the sources of information) that the bombs ‘raining’ down from the sky were (if not random in their ‘delivery’) planned for some time in specific areas of the town and surrounding countryside.
I trusted these sources of news, they have editorial standards and (despite what the Daily Mail may try and have people believe) the BBC has no political agenda to follow- if anything in my opinion — it is the one honest source of information we in the UK (and wider) can rely on — I passionately believe that.
Sam and George were not so convinced about my ‘version’ of the news.
Sam had formed his opinion of the situation via a series of blogs from those involved in the conflict (directly or indirectly), from soldiers (serving and not serving), locals, those who had escaped the situation. One source in particular was from an ex-serviceman — in touch with ex-colleagues — who ‘reported’ of a large number of coalition forces in Syria already fighting against ISIS and guiding in the devastating weaponry.
Now, obviously I was not surprised about the sources of Sam’s information, nor the forming of his opinion. What did completely surprise me was that neither Sam or George even considered using my regular and trusted sources of news for even a cursory piece of information. What surprised them was that I would not go to their sources of information — ‘Why would I go to the BBC to find anything out?’
I wasn't sure about the accuracy and validity of their information sources — they hadn't been through any editorial checking nor due process and were in effect the opinions of individuals. They weren't sure about the validity of my information sources because they had been through ‘ the historical editorial checks’ — and were in effect the opinion of organisations.
We came to a conclusion that different ages as well as demographics access their content in different ways and from different sources. Nothing new here. I read digital blogs, Sam and George may read others — we form different professional opinions depending on our interests.
What I think surprised us all (especially me) was that — taking this to a more detailed level — we access our news with the same mindset. I (at the moment) see news as very specific form of content. It has (depending on the situation) a more immediate emotional impact on individuals, which tends to stay with them longer — influencing longer term opinions and beliefs — think of UKIP in the UK — they are currently benefiting hugely from peoples emotional connection to news.
What stood out for me was our disregard of each others sources of news, I hadn't thought of searching for blogs on the conflict — Sam and George hadn't considered looking on the BBC website — which definitely means that hadn't considered watching the TV for their news (TV vs Internet is another area of debate!)
But this approach to accessing news (not just content) and creating opinion based on the source — presents huge challenges for historical news organisations (and governments) — clearly they know this already — the cost pressures created by the wider sources of web content and news are taking hold across the board.
Their immediate response has been to use Social Media to attempt to engage this wider and younger demographic — I don’t think this makes any difference at all. The demographic they are looking to engage have long gone and don’t trust them.
What’s the answer?
Maybe they need to look toward different reporting methods — maybe loosen the editorial ties on their journalists — the Guardian are beginning to do this already — look at the Snowden files.
But maybe they need to give up all together on trying to attract a new demographic. Maybe make their content — specifically online — chargeable (The Times have already done this — and posted profits for the first time in years). This would lead to the creation of a ‘two tier’ news structure on the web —one free and one chargeable — but people of my age and situation would pay for this access and those that wouldn't (Sam and George)— have long gone anyway..
This could have fundamental implications in the UK for the BBC and its licence fee — that really is another debate for those much more intelligent than I.
So they need focus on their audience and their specific audience only (that’s what blogs do right?) — guess what - in my opinion you cease to become balanced and look at the wider social picture and influences. In Sam and George’s opinion you could be seen as a more respected source of information because you are not influenced so much by wider outside influences…..
What is my conclusion? I’m not really sure!
The web is this open source of knowledge, information and opinion — but we all individually gravitate to our trusted news sources (be that historical or not).
We do this despite having the opportunity to look at other sources . We have always done this. We always will. We form our opinion by those we trust — be that bloggers or news organisations — it does not matter what the platform is. News organisations need to recognise this — focus on your key audience and stop trying to be everything to everyone and charge your specific audience for this? Well maybe its time they all did.