Commentary: The Changing Face of Indonesian Media

The rise of the smartphone is allowing users to bypass the more expensive wired computer connections that, in years past, were the only Internet gateway. (AFP Photo/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

By : Edward Parker | on 9:14 PM November 18, 2015
Category : Opinion, Commentary

It has become almost a cliché in recent years to lament the decline of journalism. The shuttering of many printed titles, especially in the West, is portrayed as having ominous implications. The usual refrain is that this heralds the beginning of the end of hard news, in-depth articles, investigations and quality reporting -- ushering in a new era of the “Buzzfeedization” of news and “dumbed down” content. In reality, what we are experiencing the exact opposite -- especially in Indonesia.

An evolution is underway. Journalism is not dying, it is being reborn on different platforms and mediums -- in a new digital, social and interactive online media world. What we are experiencing is the democratization of the media. The end of an era where power and influence was exercised by a select few publications, journalists and commentators -- who held a monopoly on “the news” and its interpretation. The end of a world of limited voices, few countervailing views and a limited space in which to turn for a different perspective.

This was true everywhere, but to an even greater degree in Indonesia. Under the New Order regime -- the few titles that did exist were tightly controlled, the press was shackled and the state held a monopoly on news, facts and interpretation. Today, Indonesia has a noisy free press with hundreds of different media outlets at both local and national levels, with online media growing fast.

The Internet -- and with it the rise of digital content -- has opened up Indonesia and the world to a million voices. This digital world has democratized the media landscape further and lessened the influence of the formerly all-powerful media proprietors and their editors -- who decided not only what you would read but what you would be led to think through their interpretation and analysis of events, and what they perceived as the key stories and issues of the day.

The world’s new digital media landscape has created an environment where voices and topics of all types can be found. For good or bad -- they are now accessible to all easily and instantly, irrespective of background or geography. Internet penetration is growing rapidly in Indonesia and the rise of the smartphone is allowing users to bypass the more expensive wired computer connections that, in years past, were the only Internet gateway. From rural villages to city centers, access to information is being democratized.

Another misnomer is that people are no longer prepared to pay for news. The rise of the Internet certainly means people are no longer prepared to pay for news containing exactly the same story to be found freely on hundreds of other media platforms. Lazy journalism certainly does not have a future, but new original stories, new thinking, new vantage points and new ways of communicating this information are all very much in demand -- and growing.

Indeed, in-depth stories and analysis are much in demand, but the mediums and ways in which these stories are being told are changing. Traditional classified advertising is dying -- resulting in the consequent demise of many printed titles, but this advertising revenue has not disappeared: it has shifted to new mediums and the digital and social media realm.

If what you write and produce provides value -- in whatever form -- people will be prepared to engage with it: clicking on that link, exploring that web page and spending a great deal of time and potentially money doing so. Furthermore, when many people visit, read and view that content it can be monetized -- just as it was in the golden age of the printed press -- through in-page, but now much more targeted and personal digital advertising.

One media trend that is coming alongside this change is that successful media titles are focusing and specializing more. In previous eras, many large media titles tried to appeal to all audiences and cover all topics to attract as many customers as possible. This is changing. Trying to be all things to all people is hard at the best of times; doing all of these things well and better than anyone else is much harder. The rise of digital media and an increasingly crowded marketplace means that media consumers have more choice. They are more likely to be savvy consumers -- who visit multiple media sites and consume lots of different content from lots of different platforms.

Media titles that continue to thrive in this digital world -- and indeed the media titles that have grown up in it -- concentrate their resources as well as their focus. They work hard to understand their audience and their demographic. In many ways, media publications are now being forced to behave, strategize and act much more like commercial, consumer-focused businesses.

This means deciding what to focus on and then doing it really well. It means marketing and packaging that product appropriately. It means delivering impactful news, articles and analysis with the digital viewer in mind. It means creating better user experiences through appealing formats and putting more resources behind video, visuals and infographics. This means that media titles are now being forced to think more imaginatively about how to convey complex information, stories and data in compelling ways -- taking digital seriously by focusing on how users interact and engage in the first place. Learning search engine optimization techniques and developing smartphone optimized social media friendly formats. This means that articles are more easily ‘shareable’ and therefore allow readers to share with their social networks and friends -- thus engaging new audiences.

Despite all this change, one constant remains. Good story-telling will never go out of fashion. It is for this reason that far from the decline of journalism and a "dumbed down" media environment, today’s world provides more opportunities than ever for professional journalists, story tellers and individuals to think differently and try something new. Telling stories that others are not and thinking in more creative ways about how to tell that story.

Media consumers demand more than stale analysis conveyed in dull and dry ways. They are looking to be informed and entertained through stories and content that captures the imagination and adds value. This is why we should not lament the end of traditional journalism, but embrace this bold new world and all the opportunities it presents.

Edward Parker is a communications consultant, living and working in Jakarta.   

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