Sunday, 3 January 2010

With reference to your chosen case study consider how important interactivity is to media institutions?

Case Study: Newspaper Industry (The Guardian)
Audience demand for interactivity could be considered as the main driving force behind the development of new media and if the audience demand it then the industries need to deliver. The newspaper industry is struggling because the circulation figures are falling and with that the revenue that comes from advertising. Newspapers could not be considered interactive in the printed form because consumption of the newspaper is passive. However, if the online version of the paper is visited the experience becomes ‘active’ because the visitor is now in control of her consumption and can choose what to look at/watch/listen to, can download files and podcasts, share articles with friends and contribute to a discussion using one of the numerous ‘talkboards’. Online newspaper ‘Users’ now have a wide range of choices available to them for where they get their news and it seems the only way to keep them coming back is to make them feel part of a community, a difficult task for a national paper. If a successful community is necessary to keep their ‘unique user’ count up then interactivity at a combination of levels is crucial to the success of the paper.

One of the key things to look at when studying the importance of interactivity to media institutions is to look at the audience of a text and determine the impact and uses that a new level of interactivity would have. The guardian newspaper claim that the majority of their audience is between the ages of 16-44, this indicates that the interests and beliefs of the overall audience and extremely varied and one slant or view on a news story may not suit each individual reader. This is important when considering the need for discussion interactivity and talkboards. These allow readers to share their views on the articles and ensure that even if a reader disagrees with an article or has a different viewpoint, they have the option to air their views in a way that would not be possible with a print newspaper, this gives a new dimension to the way news is consumed, people not only red articles, they now have a place to discuss their thoughts with a community of readers.

The idea of an online community has grown in recent years, internet users see online communities as part of their everyday internet experience and the newspaper industry has taken this community experience and used it in their product to make it more interactive. The community of the guardian is not just about adding comments to articles, users can have live web chat with guardian journalists or industry experts, the guardian has an entire page dedicated the community which indicates their community drive. On the other hand, although satisfying the needs of readers is important the concept of discussion of news has been around for hundreds of years, why is it so important to develop an online discussion tool for interactivity when the art of conversation in reality is there, for many the idea of commenting their views rather than talking about them with friends and colleagues is strange and the guardian need to ensure that they do not alienate those outside of the discussion community by focusing more on the interactivity than on the news content itself.

One of the biggest developments in the way we receive news through interactivity is the increase in user control. Readers can now decide how they want to receive their news, what they want to read and what they do with the articles. Online news now involves audio and video to enhance the user experience, rather than read an article users can now watch a news report or watch the footage that a certain article may be talking about. This interactivity development has revolutionized the way people take in news. At the touch of a button they can share content through social network sites and this all adds to the versatility of newspapers and opens up an new area for them. The guardian in particular has developed new ways of getting their news and brand to the public, they now have regular podcasts and have now developed an iphone app. These technological advancements take interactivity to a new level and allow news on the go. Looking into the iphone application it is interesting to see that the application does not allow for article comment, this indicates that the guardian have taken the community side of the online guardian and taken the newspaper back to it’s simple form, they have combined the classic newspaper with digital advancements in an attempt to find a new platform, it has the appeal of a hard copy paper, alongside the fast moving appeals of on demand online content.

One of the things that the guardian succeeds with in regard to their online presence is the variety of content available on demand for users. The internet site has archive articles as well as a much wider range of topics covered, the home page for example has categories such as travel, sport, arts, politics all in one place and all with hundreds of archive articles, newspapers have a limited number of articles without the archive capabilities. This means a greater range of audience segments can find a use for the guardian rather than being put off by the content of the guardian newspaper. Although the guardian have a fantastic home page they lack the advertising space, the site has the power to command a high advertising price and the interactivity of the site can involve advertising in a new medium. The one advert on the home page is for o2 in a video format, the power of interactivity not only helps the newspaper find a new market but also to attract new advertisers to the brand with higher prices.

The growth of interactivity in the newspaper industry has not just bought about a new market, it has also developed the potential for existing areas of the paper such as the job section. The guardian is famous for it’s extensive job vacancies listings and by opening up the use of the internet and interactivity in this area they are generating more interest. This shows that interactivity is important to develop existing products as well as creating new areas of business.

To conclude, I believe that interactivity has revolutionized the way we receive and process news and that it is very important for newspapers to invest time and money into boosting interactivity levels. There are so many ways of creating a more interactive user experience, sound, video and images can bring news to life while new community boards create a community for a newspaper. It is however important that newspapers do not take their attention away from the hard copy print versions, they may focus their energy too much on interactivity in the virtual market and loose a proportion in their newspaper market. To find a balance of interactivity and strong income papers need to ensure they deliver reader demands but find profitability in their developments or risk loosing financial stability.

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