Journalism and the necessity for an all-in digital overhaul

June 26, 2023 | 13:50
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Going digital is a monumental task for the media, but it is one that must succeed. Nguyen Thanh Son, chairman of MVV Group, lays out the factors that the industry must address in order to keep up with ongoing and future trends.

The story of digital transformation in the journalism industry brings to mind a notable speech delivered by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Speaking before the American Press Association, he said, “The peculiar challenge is for us digital immigrants - many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated - to apply a digital mindset to a set of challenges that we unfortunately have limited to no first-hand experience dealing with.”

Journalism and the necessity for an all-in digital overhaul
Nguyen Thanh Son, chairman of MVV Group

In many respects, the situation in Vietnam’s journalism landscape bears striking similarities. While Vietnam boasts a rich and longstanding history of journalism, it has predominantly revolved around traditional print media. Internet accessibility in Vietnam has lagged behind the global average, resulting in a slower pace of digital transformation, even in industries at the forefront of the digital revolution, such as journalism and media.

Consequently, the journey towards embracing the digital space within Vietnam’s journalism industry has been somewhat tentative, akin to newcomers acquainting themselves with a foreign world. The fact that Murdoch’s speech took place as early as 2005, while Vietnam is still striving to achieve a 70 per cent digitalisation rate for its newspapers by 2025, underscores the significant gap in digital transformation between Vietnam and Western countries.

Nevertheless, Vietnam’s delayed entry into the digital landscape offers certain advantages. It allows us to gain valuable insights from observing the digital transformation processes that have unfolded in developed nations.

Having studied the evolution of digital transformation thus far, I can discern five primary development trends that shape the digital transformation landscape within Vietnam’s journalism industry: the rise of online journalism, emergence of new business models, rise of social media, emergence of multimedia content, and growth of mobile communication.

Currently, our technological infrastructure fully meets the usage needs of readers, and even our 3G and 4G networks are faster and cheaper than many countries in the region. The challenge in creating mobile platforms for the press primarily lies in changing mindsets, organisational models, and the media environment, which Vietnam is still in the early stages of and faces many obstacles due to traditional newspaper thinking.

Creating content

The first obstacle is native advertising, a unique form where advertising messages are seamlessly integrated into journalistic content without feeling commercial.

The special aspect of native advertising is that as direct advertising trends become redundant on mobile platforms, naturally embedding brand information becomes a fresh approach for users. Additionally, instead of solely presenting pure brand information, native advertising has the opportunity to provide meaningful content for users.

However, this also requires much more creativity to effectively target their specific customer base without appearing overly obvious. Utilising the inherent language of the newspaper industry, this becomes a suitable weapon for the press.

Secondly, some newspapers are currently collaborating with businesses by supporting content production or assisting in the development of specialised sections. This becomes extremely necessary in terms of education and customer orientation, especially for unfamiliar products in the market. A notable example is the specialised industrial section in the People’s Army newspaper, which introduces relatively new and modern defense technology products to readers, highlighting the strengths of defense technology development at Viettel.

Third is creating corporate content. It is true that in the present era, every business can become a media outlet, but the question of how to be creative and where to start still requires assistance from experts, namely editorial teams. This transforms newspapers into consultants, helping businesses produce higher-quality content or handling communication issues within and outside the business.

Fourthly, in the era of increasingly advanced AI even capable of producing average-quality content, the value of content creators and the press lies in delving deeper and specialising in information.

However, journalists cannot be a jack of all trades and focus on all professions and content areas. On the other hand, businesses have specialised knowledge they want to communicate externally but lack the ability and means to disseminate it.

Therefore, collaborating on content creation, especially in specific fields such as healthcare, industry, and tech, between the press and businesses is essential. This allows the press to explore more in-depth stories while providing businesses with the opportunity to promote their knowledge and brand.

Last is the coordination in events and communication campaigns. Another strength of the press is its extensive expertise coverage. They have access not only within their own industry but also across related industries, to celebrities, and government agencies. Businesses can collaborate with the media to create communication campaigns that enhance the visibility and reach of both parties.

For example, the recent digital transformation panel hosted by Vietnam Investment Review brought together experts from the government, academia, and businesses. This is not an easy task without the wide-ranging network that the press possesses.

Maintaining objectivity

To truly undergo digital transformation and keep up with these trends, we need to implement policy changes that make it easier for the press to adapt to the digital age.

Another important issue in digital transformation is the revenue source for the press. Previously, the main source of revenue for the media came from readers, such as newspaper sales or subscription fees. But finding new sources of revenue is a practical question being posed to the newspaper industry.

Among them, the trend of collaboration between the press and businesses is increasingly valued, especially in the digital environment. We can pay attention to the following development trends: native advertising, sponsorship and partnerships, creating corporate content, collaborative content development, and coordination of events and communication campaigns.

However, during the collaboration with businesses, the press also needs to maintain objectivity and honesty in their content to ensure accurate information reaches the readers. To attract reputable businesses to cooperate and grow, the press needs to be diligent in verifying information and practising responsible journalism.

In addition to objectivity and honesty, which are inherent principles of the profession, a relatively new and increasingly discussed challenge in recent years is the “intrusion” of AI technology in journalism practice. However, I do not believe that technology will be a barrier to human development, but rather a valuable tool. On one hand, it is true that some AI chatbots can generate mid-level news articles, but what these new technologies lack is creativity and in-depth analysis.

Based on these insights, I have three pieces of advice for both businesses and newspapers undergoing the digital transformation.

The first is to understand your target audience while maintaining a sense of purpose. The most important aspect of the digital transformation is not the technology itself, but always the people. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on your target audience to achieve the best results.

The crowd is not always right, so transparency and the ability to leverage information must be enhanced. It is important to understand why the press exists, why it holds power, the power of truth and transparency, rather than the power of the crowd.

The second is to maintain quality and foster creative content. Rupert Murdoch once said, “It’s no longer about the big fish eating the small fish, but the fast fish eating the slow fish.” The phrase ‘embrace digital or die’ is not just a slogan - it’s a reality. Therefore, the press must act swiftly, strongly, and decisively to avoid being left behind.

Thirdly, it is key to explore new business models and shape trends. The press has created significant values, and during the digital transformation era, it is important to delve deeper into what those values are. This includes exploring specialised content, entertainment sections, publishing data and audience-driven insights. The active participation of the press is necessary in all these aspects.

I believe that by understanding the target audience, maintaining quality and creativity, and exploring new business models, newspapers can navigate the digital landscape effectively and continue to deliver valuable content in the digital age.

Le Van Duong - Partner and head, Hanoi Office Indochine Counsel

Journalism and the necessity for an all-in digital overhaul

From a copyright perspective, the application of AI software has affected most industries, not only journalism. In order for journalistic works to have their own characteristics, journalists need to create better products, with their own personalities and especially creativity.

No matter how developed ChatGPT or any machine learning tool, they currently lack the nuance, critical-thinking skills, and ethical decision-making ability that are essential for successful journalism. Newsrooms and journalists need to invest time, effort, and resources in producing quality products, including its talent. Quality investigative, analytical, and commentary works are unlikely to be displaced by chatbot software.

In addition to ensuring compliance with the copyright of the products they produce, authors also need to ensure that they do not infringe copyright with any third parties. Moreover, chatbots cannot replicate human creativity or empathy, no matter how advanced the technology is.

In Vietnam, the story of digital transformation of newspapers is mostly just digitalisation from print to electronic. However, digital transformation of newspapers requires many techniques, the cloud, databases, infrastructure, and also information security.

Decree No.13/2023/ND-CP on the protection of personal data will take effect from July. It applies to both domestic and overseas entities directly involved in or related to the processing of personal data in Vietnam, including those processing personal data of local customers and those utilising infrastructure in the country to conduct such activities.

Therefore, the press is increasingly demanding the protection of personal information as well as transparency and copyright.

The impact of media on investment The impact of media on investment

Vietnam’s business press has been making contributions to the successful performance of enterprises and experts in the country. However, improvements are needed to meet the growing demands of readers.

By Thanh Son Nguyen

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