Back to Reality: The link between the news service and the consumer’s everyday life

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22.11.2016 – By Jacob Mickelsson

5-second-summary-blog3.pngHow do news link to the things that actually happen around us in our everyday lives? Sometimes we think about news as interpreting the world around us, but keeping the events at arms distance. What does this mean? For example, a news story about the block where you live is directly related to your life, but the events in the story have been interpreted and generalized by a reporter to suit a broad audience, and so the story does not feel like it has to do with you personally. Moreover, most news stories aren’t about your neighborhood. Digital services, however, have the potential of tying news directly to your own life: Your interests, your immediate surroundings, and your interaction with the world around you. However, to understand this phenomenon requires a little background on how digital services have developed.

The first major result of digitalization seemed to be that services became separated from our physical surroundings. You did not need to go to the bank to manage your accounts anymore, and you did not need to go to a store to buy electronics or clothes – you could just order them through a device in your home. But currently, we are experiencing a new and still ongoing step of development: After the initial shift to a non-physical and locationless digital services, we are now paradoxically being reconnected to our immediate physical surroundings. What does this mean?

Figure 1 shows this development in three stages. The initial situation during stage 1 was that businesses’ offerings were available at certain locations or in the form of physical objects. In the case of news, we initially consumed news in the form of physical newspapers, or by watching news through your TV-screen at specific, given times. The second stage of development meant a move to digital services, which could be used any time, any place. Thus, you could read the digital edition of your local newspaper at the occasion of your choice, and using the device of your choice. This can be seen as a “dematerialization” of the news service, where the aspects of time and place became irrelevant. However, what we currently can see happening – paradoxically enough – is a “rematerialization” of services. In the third stage of the figure, services are reconnected to the “real world”, i.e. to what the consumer is experiencing here and now. What does this mean?

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Figure 1: News and the consumer’s everyday life

The reconnection of services to actual places and events in the customer’s life is happening in many different ways. It is brought on by the introduction of at least three new technologies, and one related but unforeseen consequence of digitalization:

1. GPS – where are you right now?

The fact that more or less everyone is carrying around a GPS in their phone has made location-connected services viable. Pokemon Go can be seen as a popular symptom of this development – the game connects to the location where the person is currently is – for news services this could mean microlocality. For example, the service could tell you what is happening (or has happened) in the location where you are right now. Just point your phone at a building and choose what you want to read about it.

2. Recording devices and digital communication – what are you seeing right now?

Some have bemoaned the arrival of citizen journalism, where – slightly satirized – people are more likely to film an accident than actually go and help. However, many news services are actively asking their readers to send in material if there is something noteworthy going on. Also, in chaotic situations news reporters cannot possibly get an overview of the development of events. Social media, however, has proved a powerful tool for providing direct insight into events as they are unfolding in terms of tweets, pictures and video clips. Thus, the possibility to document what you are experiencing connects the news service back to the consumer’s immediate surroundings.

3. Internet of things – What are you doing at different locations?

The internet of things is an emergent theme that is often touted as the next big thing. It is more or less about how your digital presence communicates with your physical one. Everyday objects around you will be able to contain technology that automatically communicates with your devices. This way you can get insight into how your life – and how the things you do – relate to the physical world around you. You could also manage your belongings in new ways. For news services this might mean, for example, that the service relates the events that transpire in your everyday life to news items – for example, how does your own current energy consumption (as measured by devices in your home) relate to wider energy developments in the world?

4. The value of the real – events and experiences

Paradoxically, with the easy access of digital material, “real” experiences are becoming more valuable for the consumer. For example, in the music industry, musicians are often more likely to make money from live gigs than from music sales.  It is probably no coincidence that concert ticket prices keep rising. This can be seen as reflecting a development where digital content is expected to be cheap, even free. Actual real-world events, however, are getting more valuable. For news, this might present itself as opportunities of “eventification”. If news content is hard to monetize and use to build customer loyalty, real-world news-related events might provide opportunities for loyalty building and revenue.

Thus, news are likely to become more personally relevant for people, in the sense that they directly connect to everyday events around you. This is of course both an opportunity and a challenge. Will it serve to help us understand how our personal activities relate to what happens on a larger scale around us, making us feel a part of larger events? Or will it serve to enclose us even further in a filter bubble, emphasizing only our own personal, private worlds?