Control. Perhaps the word most synonymous with modern news media. The leaders of tomorrow crave the control of their news; how they access it, who gives it to them, when they can start reading, finish reading, click on something new and ultimately, be informed. Perhaps as an ironic ode against the Murdoch monopoly, it all begins with control.
Reflected in the prevalence of social media as a primary avenue for accessing news, this desire for control is forcing reporters to consider new and interactive ways in which social developments and campaigns can be presented to capture the ever-decreasing attention of millennials. ‘USA Today’ have attempted to do so with their interesting and innovative project ‘#intheirwords’ which encapsulates the modern voices of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
As recognised by founders of the ‘#intheirwords’ project, ‘sometimes the best way for journalists to tell a story is to get out of the way’. Removing the overbearing and often heavily subjective voice of conservative journalists who inject racial conflicts with rhetoric rather than reality, this project places the power of storytelling in the hands of the consumer. The complete and utter control given to audiences over what they watch and how they interact enables them to feel more empowered, engaged and ultimately informed by the news they are consuming.
This reflects changes in the traditional perception of audiences, with a shift from passive consumption to active participation. The project recognises that for millennials to be informed they must be engaged, and combats this by giving them the opportunity to be part of the story itself. From addressing the audience by first name to personalising the presentation based on categories, USA Today create an inclusiveness and involvement with a story beyond what traditional media can and has provided. The content of the site itself further strengthens this connection as the viewer is compelled into somewhat of a conversation with no tools or tricks to allude them to anything else but the personal evaluation of experience.
Furthermore, the unprecedented technological elements contribute to the ability for journalism to fulfil its role in the current social climate. Creating an interactive environment through coding and video, this site allows for audiences to frame the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in a different way to traditional media methods. Removing the third person perspective and instead placing the story in the hands of the consumers encourages the audience to become engaged and informed in the issues despite their race, religion, gender, age or political affiliation. Recognising the diversity of audiences, the innovation lies in the choices provided to the consumers thus giving them the power to be directly involved with the process without expectations or assumptions.
However, while such innovation can force audiences to view conflicts in different ways, the question of whether it is practical in educating audiences beyond the context of the piece begins to arise. The ‘#intheirwords’ project is no doubt innovative in its style and form, but it falls short in the ability to inform audiences who, as millennials do, want short, sharp bursts of information. A small focus group was formed to compare the ‘#intheirwords’ page with a similar article outlining racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement. After discussion, participants made statements like “I feel like the other article was just easier…might be because I’m lazy and just want the information in front of me” and “the other article is better, easier to read- no annoying pop-ups or videos playing in the background.” This reflects that while the style of the site is exciting and innovative, the audience do not have the desire or time to effectively engage with its content. So while innovation can assist in creating a site that reinvigorates journalism’s role in addressing social challenges, it falls short in one of it’s key roles: informing and maintaining attention.
And so continues the double-edged sword of innovation. While we want change, we don’t want too much change and while we crave control, too much control can lead to information overload. Although projects such as ‘#intheirwords’ present new and exciting journalistic techniques, it may be a while before we are ready to surrender our Facebook feeds to different ways of viewing stories. Perhaps as long as we took the surrender our newspapers…
An interesting insight into the development of ideas and the process of innovation