On Change

Change back to personality

By Norbert Specker/February 2003 - "Personality is born out of pain. It is the fire shut up in the flint." J. B. Yeats

It is difficult to raise the head above the flow and stick out. Particularly in the news flow.The introduction of the 24h news cycle that entered mainstream when CNN stopped „reporting on a story“ and started to „bring you a developing story“ is a very disruptive one for the world of newspapers. We start to realize that news left the realm of the periodic pause, think, look and has become a continuum, a flow, an endless stream of information that – as Martin Niesenholtz, the CEO of NYT Digital recently proposed - is developing towards a constantly shifting and readjusting 3-D-news space. Our networks, our software, our taxonomies and meta languages are rapidly pushing away the blocking stones that hinder the flow, the aggregation, the clustering, repurposing, sorting, arranging of information (as in „any communication or representation of knowledge, such as facts, data, or opinions in any medium or form, including textual, numerical, graphic, cartographic, narrative, or audiovisual.“). In addition we see a further proliferation of channels. The anything, anytime, anywhere touted 10 years ago is now here.

The future has arrived and as brands we realize that in this market of limitless information it is extremely difficult to be noticed as an information offering. Particularly because we lost some of our interesting edges in the last years. In many markets like for example in Switzerland newspapers have become streamlined, often it does not matter, which one you read. Online or offline. A different head and underneath the same style, press agency texts, picture, structure, sources. Faceless.

In the information overflow the best information filter is the human being. Our capacity to judge, weigh, classify information and put it into the context of our lives is unmatched. As consumers we don’t have the time to do it, so who does it for us?

Newspapers face the information soup with the question: what of our content competencies can make us stick out? Beside the story telling talent it is the personaliy of the brand, the quality, the will to provide orientation through transparent judgement, weighing, selection, opinion. Charakter, personality is what sticks out. It provides a strong enough signal, to measure the endloss flow against. If impressions don’t deceive, in many places there is a need to rediscover that personality, to find the edges again, to be somebody particular.

The development of the 24h news cycle happened prallel to the other key change on the production side: the disentanglement of editing, production, distribution. André März of Ringier says „a newspaper today has to ask it self, what can we NOT source out?“. A strike of the print employees at one of the biggest newspapers goes almost unnoticed, as the paper gets printed at the competition. With current overcapacities who needs a printing plant? Competing newspapers get together to work on a common software and IT-platform because they realize it is not their business. With distributed computing who needs an IT department?

So what stays if you go ahead and source out at your newspaper everything you possibly can? Could it be that this is the same question as the question „what is your brand“? Like in: your brand is what you can not source out? When everything else is gone, what are you left with? Another term to describe a brand is personality.
(The free sheets like Metro or 20 Minutes of course represent the leanest, most „sourced-out“ form of daily newspapers. Everything that possible can be out sourced is out-sourced. They are a bit young to be able to come up with too much personality, but hey, they are just babies. Give them time.)

So while the 24h news cycle demands personality to stick out and be noticed in the haze, the many alternatives for producing and distributing news throws us back on ourselves and forces us to ask what our core is: as a newspaper, what is our personality?

Personality offers orientation and orientation offers success in the consumer market.

Index of change columns

Norbert Specker is the founder of Interactive Publishing GmbH, a service and intervention company dedicated to support the newspaper publishing industry.


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