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Traditional media companies should act as society builders

14 October 2014 · By Anette Novak

In recent years, there has not been a clear picture of a society built upon success. However, media organisations are powerful change agents able to take a leadership role and help create stronger communities

You all vow to build stronger ties with your audience. Well, creating relationships is not a bad strategy. Agreed.

But to create true, lasting bonds you need to cure yourself from the BuzzFeed fix – doping traffic and believing this will capture dollars.

Instead you need to start the long-term wholesome cure of grabbing hearts.

Instead of traffic all-time-high records, you need to slowly assemble your most valuable asset: your social capital.

At this time of history, the world is in dire need of a vision of what a successful future society looks like.

As of last week, we have a new government elect in Sweden.

It is a minority coalition government of social democrats and environmentalists. One of the novelties is that our culture minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, is no longer responsible for “culture and sports” (like her predecessor) – but “culture and democracy.”

The subtle shift marks the intimate relationship between media, freedom of expression, and the development of a sustainable society, where every citizen has opportunities to participate.

The fact that no single party could win the majority in Sweden is just one indicator of a sliding movement we see in many parts of the world right now. A fragmentisation, the beginning of the end of the dominant, opposing parties. A movement toward more extreme expressions and opinions.

In country after country, parties with xenophobia in their hearts, but rhetoric covering it as “immigration criticism,” gain ground. In Europe, we idly sit by while young Muslims are lured by the recruiting chants of terror organisations.

Why are these two movements related?

The common denominator is that they are the only ones, in today’s society, that have been able to paint a picture of societal success. Of an attractive future. A future that we will build together.

Several decades into the digital revolution, people are getting tired of the very things that originally attracted us: the speed, the instant access, the surface.

We don’t like ourselves when we can’t find time to reflect profoundly. We get frustrated when we lose concentration as our minds constantly wander, our fingers touching the mobile phone for the 130th time during the day.

A young man in my extended family recently with his wife planned for an evening with the children. They decided to watch a movie together, but after awhile their eyes met over the sofa: They were both ignoring the child, missing out on the children’s reaction to the movie, both lost in their respective mobile worlds.

They made a firm decision to stop.

With reference to the political macro-movements mentioned earlier, I see two groups appear:

    1. I am frightened by all these new phenomena. I fear strange faces in my village, weird languages in my neighbourhood – and I find a society with only people who look and sound like me extremely attractive.

      Just like in the good old days. When tradition was important. Quality and long-term relationships mattered.

      For this group, the xenophobic utopia seems a great place to live.

    2. I am a young Muslim in a country that refuses to give me chances, lodges me in an unaesthetic suburbia, and locks me out of the employment market by means of discrimination and one of the master suppression techniques: Making me invisible.

      I don’t see my values expressed in this society. I want this to change.

      For this group, the fact that someone says “you are needed” is enough. Since the overiding message concerns building a new world where important, eternal values will be spread to everyone, it becomes extremely attractive.

      Adding a promised struggle just makes the whole idea even more exciting.

We can all express shock at this movement. We can point fingers toward those who recruit and those who follow. We can react to these easy explanations, the black-and-white representation of the world.

But the truth is that it is not the extreme movements that have won. It is all the moderates of the world who have lost. We who believe in grey scales, in dialogue, and in the fact that there is a piece of good and bad in everyone.

It is we who have been unable to paint the picture of our dream society. We have failed at inspiring people to follow us – and the reason this never happened is that we never pointed out a direction.

Now, here is your chance, leaders within legacy media, to carve out a new “raison d’ être” for a business in search of a new identity. Your audience’s idea of a vision is no longer a revamped kitchen. They want to take universal responsibility. And you can gather their forces around your brand.

Joseph Pulitzer is one of the United States most celebrated media profiles. His name is tightly associated with quality content. But his legacy must not be limited to great writings. He was a society builder and the newspaper, only a tool.

Traditional media companies are not – nor have ever been – merely information brokers. We are the cleaning agents in a world dirtied by corruption and short-term profit hunting.

We are the mirror that shows you what our lives look like from a certain distance. We are the amazing meeting place, the square where you are confronted with opinions you didn’t know you wanted but still needed to hear.

We are society builders.

Point out the direction for your community – invite them to co-design the steps on this path together with you – and you will be greatly rewarded.

I am convinced of this: Look after your community, and your community will look after you.

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About this blog

I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.


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