Media enhancement fit for a digital future

March 16, 2021 | 11:36
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Along with the ongoing discussion about the role and responsibilities of social media and local news outlets that also entail debates about intellectual ownership of news snippets and headlines, the need for general reforms of local newspapers has emerged.
1535 p13 media enhancement fit for a digital future
The way people consume the media has drastically changed. Photo: Le Toan

A VIR source revealed that the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) is requiring press agencies to calculate the alleged damage caused by social media as an impetus for new regulations.

The inquiry is part of what could be a butterfly effect that stemmed from the fierce copyright and sharing discussions between Facebook, Google, and the Australian administration a few weeks ago, which has been moving Vietnamese lawmakers to consider the issue as well, as reported by VIR last week.

Truong Tri Vinh, former CEO of the Manager Magazine assessed the move is the ministry’s big step in proactively protecting the rights and benefits of Vietnamese journalism.

“Relevant parties should contribute opinions to the progress and carry out essential legal movements to assure their interests,” Vinh told VIR.

However, the interests between Facebook, Google, and other social media on one side, and local traditional media on the other, are deemed not as important as improving the quality of local newspapers in general, according to Hoang Vinh Bao, Deputy Minister of Information and Communications.

Speaking at the workshop about the media’s digital transformation and new economic models for newspapers last July, Bao said that local press agencies have been submerged in diverse adversities such as shrinking revenues from advertisement, distribution, and the state budget.

Additionally, people’s reading behaviours have changed significantly, as reflected by their preference for social networking sites that have threatened traditional newspapers by excellently spilling over contents and luring in huge advertising sales – a development that caused the heated discussion about who profits from whom when it comes to shared news articles on social media.

In 2020, many press agencies revealed that their earnings dropped heavily by 70 per cent on-year as a consequence of COVID-19 and the alleged domination of cross-border social media platforms.

“Thus, renovating the press in Vietnam is now more critical than ever,” Bao emphasised.

Assessing the current state of the local press, Vinh said that most online newspapers have been focusing on luring in traffic instead of improving the quality of their content. “They have been constantly publishing a large number of articles, sometimes even up to 200 news pieces per day, exceeding the readers’ demand,” Vinh explained.

Furthermore, most of the content is similar, as a consequence of publishing tremendous numbers of news articles during a single day.

There are different opinions about what good journalism is, both quantitative and qualitative, but Vinh believed that Facebook and Google’s recent reactions are fundamental to move local news agencies to refocus on core values and create quality content instead of merely chasing traffic.

“Large global newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg stand their ground in the sector because of their quality content and because they know how to handle the social media giants,” said Vinh. “Thus, developing the right content and focusing on unique selling points are the most important mission of any press agency.”

As reading habits have changed significantly over the last few years, news agencies may need to follow these trends. Instead of written articles, many people also consume more journalism products in other forms, such as podcasts, videos, and condensed clips on social media, among others. However, these forms often require larger investments in terms of time and money to materialise.

Baekdal Plus, a newswire specialised in future trends, business strategies, and monetisation models, revealed that the annual operation costs for its website fluctuates at around $40,000 – an enormous sum that not many news agencies will be willing to pay.

To date, Vietnam is home to a batch of online newspapers that primarily publish written news articles. Thus, it seems understandable many locals have a growing interest in consuming information and news in faster and more convenient ways, such as on social networking sites.

According to Le Quoc Minh, deputy general director of Vietnam News Agency, the first thing to do is “to steadily eliminate the habit of free-of-charge reading.” Readers in Vietnam have gotten used to reading news for free for a long time, which could be another reason for their strong consumption of news on social networks.

However, whether readers would pay for news articles could depend on the perceived quality. In the meantime, social media like Facebook with its diverse forms of displaying information have an easy game in attracting readers without any fees.

By Van Anh

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