News need not be negative and unpleasantly shocking all the time for it to be consumed and shared.
“Positive news, chhodo yaar…”
This is a common refrain among battle-hardened journalists, weary with real politik and consumed by the story of the day. Which often makes it difficult for them to step back and look at the missing pieces in the story jigsaw.
Between 2002 and 2010, I worked at NDTV as a bilingual Special Correspondent. The organisation had something called the “And Finally” story. This was meant to be the mithai after the power news of the bulletin. At the end of the meal, a sweet touch. The redeeming cherry on the hard news of the day. Be that as it may, it was also often a feature that bore witness to shifts in the publics, to landmark work done and a recording of movement towards change. Presented blandly, without complexity, it came across often as slightly short, hopeful and sweet. Becoming a recording of the rare, at its best.
Now evidently, India Today too has a Good News segment, as do some regional channels.
A shift is happening with digital natives
While negative-shocker news wins hands down in clicks and picks, the story of positive news too is seeing a shift. This topping is now part of a business plan in the post-social media world. Digital natives, who took to the Internet like a fish to water are proving to be different from digital migrants, they of the old world.
Let me illustrate with two examples.
A positive story I’d done for a relatively small Indian website focussed on positive news, got 38,000-plus likes and innumerable shares, becoming the site’s blockbuster story for 2014. Not what you’d expect from a small story in one corner of Bangalore, right? But this is the amplifying effect of sharing on multiple social media. You focus and get viewers interested and your small core audience shares away.
Cut to December 2015, look at Upworthy’s international push for original video stories of “uplifting narratives”. From clickbait headlines to “what co-founder Eli Pariser calls ‘positive, purposeful, human-interest’ productions designed to elicit shares from millennials. Since the beginning of the year, Upworthy has gone from producing or curating one video per month to maintaining a feed of about 25 videos, some of which are originals…Staffers have adopted the mantra ‘create once, publish everywhere,’ which requires that they produce multiple versions of the same video for various platforms like Vine, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.”
It is also doing this iteratively — testing a small segment of the video with its core market to tweak length or provide add-ons. It has in effect, become a conversation. But traditional media still functions with reporters/anchors using social media to announce their stories, rather than build conversations. At least their social media teams should wake up to new possibilities. Can a positive bent of mind be invoked in tracking change, for hard numbers?
From the same piece by Poynter on Upworthy – “Has it worked? According to Upworthy, the site amassed more than 125 million video views in November, up from less than 5 million in January. Video views are up by 25 percent month over month for the last six months, and Upworthy says its original videos have proven three times more sharable than its curated offerings. So far, the team has produced 40 original videos that have each garnered about 3.44 million views on average, according to Upworthy.”
The Better India site is tailoring its content for corporate newsletters, emails in your inbox to suit good themes you prefer, and opening up the conversation by crowd sourcing stories as well. People are checking their smartphones immediately on waking up and at traffic lights –- there are as yet spaces to penetrate in a dynamic mobile content market, are there not?
Look again, at the world we are living in
You have a young generation in India which is busy, confused, curious, aspirational, wants to be hopeful but made cynical by national habit, increasingly having to draw on newer communities in dealing with, say, the varying stages of urban loneliness. So their clicks are often going to the rebellious, the self-help, the funnies, the time-pass and the nationalistic.
The traditional media diet meanwhile has changed largely to what I call OPINION-itis, commentary without much reportage. Else, online-click-bait. Which simply doesn’t speak to a young person, quite in the same way. Traditional media was trained to and at its best used its resources to ask the power of the day questions in a way which makes the powerful answerable. While it needs to continue doing so, it has simply not been called to bear witness, in terms of how ordinary people think or are changing. This is where their digital offerings find a space. They already have some distribution advantages of their own and through tie-ups.
People are changing not just to become consumers of endless gossip and porn, but to share what makes them look and feel better, on social media.
And finally, we do live in the time of over-sharing. Become an echo or a voice – either way, just one point. The amplifier is working.