New Zealand’s media landscape – it’s changing fast

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Cat Mules

Enlighten Designs is co-founder of Microsoft’s Data Journalism programme. They’re also one of the key collaborators on Umbrellar Connect on its mission drive to showcase and provide tangible value for New Zealand and global innovators. We asked company lead Damon Kelly what’s he’s noticing about today’s journalism, whether the risks outweigh the opportunities, and what a best practice framework might look like.

Damon Kelly, CEO & Founder, Enlighten Designs.

Thanks for joining me Damon. First off, asking on behalf of the Umbrellar Connect network, I’m so keen to hear your take on the current state of media and reporting. Has the nature of news and journalistic content changed? How?

The need for quality, credible journalism – journalistic content that helps people live happier, healthier, more informed lives – is greater today than it has ever been in human history. Circumstances that impact our heath, happiness, wealth and resources are changing faster, and more drastically, than ever before.

With such dramatic changes in the media industry, businesses can become patrons for reputable journalism content. Umbrellar Connect is a great example of a business’s commitment to quality journalism and supporting it in a way that also helps their goals. Businesses can become reliable distributors of the latest news and innovations in their field. Microsoft has also been instrumental as a patron for supporting journalism with today announcing they’ve earned $1B in sustainable revenue for their publisher partners.

We now have more data at our collective fingertips than ever in the past, but raw data is not information. For people to make intelligent decisions quickly in our ever-changing world, the mountains of data we accumulate need to be converted into information – information that people can understand at a glance, then use to make informed decisions.

Through our work with Microsoft on their global data journalism program we have been lucky enough to witness the power of using tools like Power BI in data journalism. The same skills can be applied to businesses to use data storytelling to communicate. We produced a webinar with Microsoft on the Future of Storytelling which shows how businesses can leverage data storytelling.

Digital platforms are great at quickly delivering content, regardless of whether that content is raw data, informed perspectives, or playful TikTok videos. One of the greatest opportunities for business – and humanity – in today’s digital platform-dominated landscape lies in converting the data that science, sensors, mobile devices and cloud computing offer us into understandable information, facts, insights, and perspectives that help us make better decisions. Better decisions, informed by quality data, lead to better outcomes for us individually and collectively.

The 24/7 news cycle, potential for abuse of power  – there’s been a lot of doubt cast over the role of journalism in today’s world. Why is current media such a contested landscape? Does it still hold value?

Media being a ‘contested landscape’ – available to anyone – is fundamental to democracy and older than Gutenberg’s press. This is the essence of its magic – varying voices having outlets for their messages. What’s new is that digital platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Instagram and the rest, mean that just about anyone with a digital device and an Internet connection has the tools available to deliver content, including “news”, to audiences with a seemingly-infinite appetite.

This offers, for businesses and individuals, a new ease of becoming an influencer, streamer, pundit, “expert” or “citizen journalist” and is both the blessing and the curse of media today. Freedom of media and the press gives us all access to new ideas, and an opportunity to share our own ideas, but without ethical guidelines and agreed-upon standards of what constitutes truth, media can become a confusing morass of facts, half-truths, speculation and deception.

Journalism is the art of converting quality data and credibly sourced facts into personally impactful stories, articles and news programs. When I look at today’s media, what gives me hope is the tools that separate fact from fiction and extract relevant information from the unfiltered downpour of raw data, are keeping pace with, if not outpacing, the tools of confusion, misinformation and deception.

One of the areas we help with this is through Insights and Discovery Accelerator, a product we’ve been developing with Microsoft. The Insights and Discovery Accelerator uses Microsoft AI to speed and scale investigations and research by helping journalists find critical content in a sea of data.

The Insights and Discovery Accelerator used for helped established global media firm, The Atlantic, to search through, format and digitise news content. Credit: Microsoft.

What of the risks of technology programming such as how to use algorithms and data, the possible simplification or devaluation of journalism?

There are those who track trends in media expressing concern that technology tools, such as data algorithms, analytics, and AI-generated summaries of the news, threaten to replace quality journalism. While I recognise that, as with many technologies in the past, today’s new tools are changing the journalistic landscape – in some cases drastically – I don’t share this fatalistic view. Rather, I believe increasingly powerful data analytics and news summarisation tools, merely accelerate the rate in which we move toward our destination or goal. It’s predominantly human nature to seek truth. And, in some cases, it’s also human nature to deceive. Today’s near-infinite computing power is available for both sides, and each will win victories using these technologies, but ultimately the two will more or less balance one another out.

What does effective digital journalism look like?

Creation of credible digital content is a very new craft for humans that’s equal parts business savvy, data and technological expertise, social science, and fine art. The digital content winners of today are teams comprised of master practitioners from seemingly disparate practices who team up to create something remarkable.

Consider an exquisite restaurant as a good analogy for what it takes to create world-changing digital media. First, the fundamentals: your infrastructure must be flawless – the building is stable, the power never goes out, the water always flows, the stove is at the ready. Next, the environment warmly and knowingly welcomes the guest, anticipating what you might want, taking some input and offering some delightful suggestions beyond what you may have chosen for yourself. Then, while the meal is being expertly prepared by artists in the kitchen, the front-of-house professionals keep you informed of its progress. The meal is as much a work of art as it is practical sustenance. As you near the end of your meal, conversation turns to whether you enjoyed it, what was outstanding and where improvements could be made, then ultimately to what you will try at your next visit.

Transparency and clarity are values that underpin Enlighten Design’s journalistic method. Credit: Enlighten Designs.

We build a lot of these digital content platforms for our clients and for a stable infrastructure, we host them in Microsoft Azure. To ensure the platform knows the reader, we use content management systems that can personalise, such as Sitecore. We then integrate these content platforms with various social media platforms to create the environment for conversation and the feedback loop. It’s the digital version of fine dining.

It’s also worth pointing out that today’s digital media is not all that different from traditional – it just requires a slightly different skillset be mastered – but still relies on the fundamentals of understanding an audience, having a vision and a passion for delivering quality content.

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

Enlighten Designs

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Enlighten Designs creates beautiful, user-friendly digital solutions. As an award-winning creative technical agency, our mission is to deliver digitally transformative experiences for customers ranging from small businesses to enterprise clients. Founded in 1998, Enlighten Designs is based on our passion to bring exceptionally designed, innovative and custom technology solutions from the shores of New Zealand to the world.

Data, AI, BI & ML

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