Competence Creates Redundance

Last week, a new quiz show debuted on German TV, and something remarkable happened: The candidates were asked what service a certain phone number belonged to (it was the coastguard). Next day the coastguard posted a (outraged) press release that their phone lines had been down until early morning because people called them as they were still seeking proof that TV had not given them incorrect information.

Now someone might think that this is a one-in-a-million event, but I don’t think so. It’s just the tip of an iceberg that the old media doesn’t (want to) see. I bet if you go through all online search queries from that night, you’ll find a similar result.

This happens all the time, and it’s increasing each day. People are getting more competent on how to find information they’re looking for, it’s a slow but steady adoption process. They realize that everyone has instant access to information, unlike a few years ago, when in order to spread a bit of information a journalist would have to search an archive, going through microfilms and almanacs for hours. That’s when information was scarce, because it was isolated.

Today almost everything is connected, creating an abundance of information. So the journalists’ job has shifted from retrieving to collating information. What’s unchanged is the verification part, but exactly this is the critical point. As people become more sceptical of what they’re presented, your verification only matters so far as they’re going to trust you. (Note: This only seems to apply to news, when it comes to entertainment people still shut their brains down.)

The notion that not all content (i.e. news) is created equal only holds true with regard to trust and relevance. If you remove these two, everything is just noise. That’s what the web is. And we have learned to search and pick our sources according to our personal preferences. We’re collating our information ourselves, the vast majority of which is free. This is what bothers people like Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner because it renders their business model redundant. So he’s not getting tired of fighting for paid content for the online and app versions of his print products. Politicians have joined this quest too, mostly because they are afraid of a future where people cannot be influenced through an established and limited number of channels they more or less control. They want to make the internet a reflection of the “real world”.

But this is not going to happen. People have become their own journalists because the entire chain is availbale for them. From research to printing press, they have everything at hand, plus a worldwide audience. If they care about some topic so much they eventually become the best in their field, and also are writing for a loyal audience, then maybe they can monetize their passion this way, be it by ads or a premium subscription model or something we haven’t thought of up to now. The Springer approach, trying to trick people into believing that their content is better just because it must be paid for doesn’t work out. The value is elsewhere, and sometimes, it’s moving quickly.

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