Social media did not kill print media (at least not yet..)
Print journalism refused to acknowledge a threat from social media in last week’s gripping Big Debate; ‘Print media is dead – long live social media’. Instead Neil Isaacson, successfully arguing against the motion, pointed out the unique user experiences of each medium and how embracing social media’s potential was integral for the continuing success of print media in the digital age.
Drawing on his experience as the Managing Director of SAB Media, the exclusive licensee of The Times and The Sunday Times (Middle East & Asia Editions) in the region, Neil crossed swords with Alan Devereux, Communications Officer for the British Business Group Dubai & Northern Emirates. The evening was moderated by Dawn Metcalfe, the Managing Director of Performance Development Services.
Despite Alan’s thought-provoking statistics on an undeniable growth in social media engagement, it was Neil’s defense of print media that ultimately won the majority vote from the enthusiastic audience in the Capital Club Dubai, the region’s premier private business club and a member of the ENSHAA group of companies. For the first time, the debate was also streamed live online at The Times ME website, complete with a concurrent Twitter commentary that allowed viewers to participate by having their questions posed to the debaters.
Neil began by questioning the validity of the motion, maintaining that the opposing definitions and provisions of print and social media prevents their growth or decline being linked to each other. In any case, he claimed, the notion of print media’s death is far from true as, “during the 12 year life of Google, magazine readership actually increased by 11 percent.”
He added: “Print media remains an affordable and tangible resource of news, commentary and debate. A third of the world’s population reads a newspaper every day, which is 41 percent more than those who access the World Wide Web.”
The crux of Mr Isaacson’s speech focused on credibility: “Print media is a trusted source of information. There are accountability obligations on journalists and publications to ensure factually correct reporting. On social media, created as a socializing tool, there are no safeguards; it is the online version of Chinese whispers where rumours, harmless or damaging, can so quickly be spread as fact.”
However, he was happy to acknowledge the need for an evolution of the traditional print media business model, saying that “it is naïve of any business to expect success without the flexibility to adapt to cultural and society changes in consumer demands and habits.” As a tool to get information and communicate with customers social media would be an inevitable part of this, and “print media using social media should be a key element of any publications’ business strategy”, he added.
Supporting the motion, Alan Devereux pointed out that social media offers “instant information delivered live for free, as opposed to yesterday’s news delivered to my doormat for a fee.
He highlighted the role of social media in enhancing the customer experience, with the most forward thinking companies using social media to “interact within seconds to their customers’ queries or complaints”. Whether it’s a journalist getting feedback on a story, or an airline efficiently updating passengers, social media allows them to do it in real time to large groups of people.
There were some small areas of consensus between the two; the pair did agree that advancements in technology meant the environmental concern of printing a newspaper does not outweigh the similar concern of producing computers.
Alan continued by stating: “Journalism as an industry will continue for many years to come, but not the print media. Online versions of newspapers offer an article that can be shared with the click of a button to millions of people, I can interact with people on the other side of the world, I can garner opinion and add my own.” Concluding his point he added: “On the contrary, if I read something in a magazine, I can make a decision and tell a friend. Nothing more than that.”
At the start of the debate our online viewer poll showed a 50/50 split over the motion, at the conclusion of the evening the poll had shifted to 70% against the motion. With a similar consensus reflected amongst the audience in the Signature Room of the Capital Club, the victory, on this occasion, was awarded to Mr. Isaacson who argued against the motion.