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SXSW Day 1: New media challenges in a world (still) dominated by traditional media

This week Snapchat’s value jumped to US$15-billion after Alibaba invested some US$200-million in the mobile messaging company. It’s something that on day one of SXSW came up in talks across the city because Snapchat is the latest and greatest disrupter.

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You might not even think about it when using Snapchat, but as media companies are fighting to gain more real estate on the platform, they are simultaneously having to consider how their standards should adapt to the unknown corners of Snapchat. That is for example one of the things that got Fusion thinking when it joined Snapchat and its editor Jane Spencer addressed these challenges in new media ethics during a SXSW Interactive panel discussion together with the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Justin Ellis.

New Media Ethics: Journalism in the Age of GIFs

“Whether we’re online, on TV or on Snapchat, these all have different standards,” Spencer says as she explains why its necessary for anybody producing journalism to consider how different platforms challenge the same message. “Our digital video content could be edgier than what we put out on TV.”
Recently a Buzzfeed plagiarism scandal got many wondering whether new media companies subscribe to a different set of ethics than those of their traditional media partners. There’s been so much disruption in this space, Spencer says, and one result of that is news organisations run by young people who don’t have the institutional knowledge passed down in the way you’d find at The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. “I think it’s mostly a fabulous thing that we have all this creativity. And many organisations figure this out live. Buzzfeed has some rigorous standards [that are] similar to traditional news organisations.”

Read more: Snapchat woos marketers with latest attack on Facebook

Part of the reason why we are increasingly noticing that these “young” news organisations are caught up in ethics and standards discussions is because, says Ellis, these organisations “want people to catch them when they fall since we can now connect with so many readers in so many ways. But it’s like your friend saying you’re not guilty if you don’t get caught”. The best advice he’d give media startups is to simply acknowledge a screw up and fix it as soon as possible.

And While We Are Asking, is Media Dead Too?

As Snapchat is offering advertising opportunities to the value of US$100 000 a day, publishers debated during another panel discussion held on the other side of Austin on whether traditional media brands are dead in this new digital age.

“I think we say often inside the building,” The New York Times’s Meredith Koit Levien says referring to their giant Renzo Piano building in midtown New York, “that tech has changed everything, but it hasn’t changed society’s basic need for truth and a trusted voice. The world needs quality primary source journalism. I don’t think that need is diminishing.”

Together with the CEO for The Guardian US Eamonn Store a debate ensued about how Snapchat among other platforms is influencing the downward trend of CPMs because of the ever-increasing reservoir provided for advertisers. At both The Guardian and The New York Times dropping ad rates is not an option going forward.

Read more: What The Guardian’s next editor might think about technology, and what that would mean for journalism

“There hasn’t been a more exciting time to do what we do in journalism,” says Store. “Yes, everything is in flux but the future ahead of us — what Vice is doing or Quartz for example — you have to look [at it] with optimism.”

Store says The Guardian is a pure play model specifically in the US where it has no print edition. And the only thing he has to do in his job is ensure that journalists at The Guardian can do what it wants to do and support it in that. “My job is purely to ensure that we allow our journalists to do that in perpetuity.”

The discussion eventually led to the so-called high quality inventory that so many advertisers believe are everywhere. “When we actually stop using metrics we will get back to a place where quality content isn’t infinite.” For Levien reader attention measured by the time spent on a website is a much better way to approach the search for quality, an idea Store says could even be developed into a metric he recently learned about called time-saved.

Think about it. We spent many decades perfecting the art of TV spending. There are morning, midday, day of week and prime-time hours during which minutes are sold to advertisers. “And we sort of went to digital and threw that out of the window. If your user can come to you at 8 am in the morning and they just want fast news quick, isn’t that more valuable than them having to drift through ads?”

The next best thing?

As for what the next best thing will be at the conference regarded as the springboard for Foursquare and Twitter, after day one it seemed that everybody was talking about Meerkat. The iOS app allows live streaming and the ability to include your friends in a stream of whatever you’re doing. The team behind the app arrived in Austin wearing yellow meerkat t-shirts that were being followed by Meerkat users. If the hype around the app can be sustained throughout the week this might just be this year’s breakout app during SXSW.

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