Last month, I was disappointed to see Guardian Cities close down. The platform was a hive of ideas and debate about how we shape the future of the largest of our urban environments – a topic encompassing climate change, mental health and overpopulation among countless other vital issues. The high-profile cuts to the BBC’s political programming that followed soon after, as the organisation “faces up to the changing way that audiences are using us” left me increasingly concerned.
We know that one vision of the future lies in short, digital and social media friendly content and that news outlets must adapt to this or risk becoming obsolete. For me though, while I would argue that there is still plenty of scope for ‘long reads’ what’s important isn’t the format of coverage, but the subjects.
For the mass circulation media, human interest stories determine an outlet’s success today as assuredly as they did during the tabloid circulation battles which dominated the 20th century, but there was a place for hard news alongside the salacious stuff. Today, with more people getting their content from social media, the focus is less on filling a paper or an hour-long programme and more on driving traffic to a website. Consumers aren’t flicking through news sections or watching bulletins, they are clicking links to a single story of their choice. Naturally then, they are less likely to be exposed to the stories they perhaps ought to hear about and more to the stories they want to read.
The most important function of the press has always been to drive debate and report on the biggest issues we face. It’s not just a job – it’s a vital societal function. As cuts are made and focuses changed, we can’t afford to lose sight of that. Social media guarantees quick and easy access to the stories people are exposed to within their own bubble. What it doesn’t guarantee is sight of the stories they are perhaps less interested in but should be aware of.
While social media’s influence will continue to dominate news cycles, it’s up to major media outlets to ensure everyone stays exposed to hard news. We need investigation, scrutiny and debate around the most important issues facing our world, and an explanation of why we need to keep talking about them. We also need to hold the powerful to account and expose hypocrisy and wrongdoing – something our free press has led the world in. As many other sources of ‘grown up’ debate retreat behind paywalls, organisations like The Guardian and the BBC still provide this scrutiny and analysis to all, and we need them to keep doing so. Condensing news to 280 characters simply won’t cut it.
Chris Tutton is an account manager at Camargue