Test of paper as new media [China Daily: Africa Weekly]
(China Daily: Africa Weekly Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The Paper offers high quality content but it remains to be seen whether it can be a model for traditional media's transformation
It's one small step for the Internet but a giant leap for the newspaper industry. On July 22, The Paper was officially launched by the Shanghai United Media Group. With several exclusive and in-depth reports on corruption, The Paper has already proven its strength in news reporting. Its reports on a few old court cases have also evoked good response from the courts, and the cases are now being re-investigated.
Not surprisingly, this new media product has grabbed people's attention and won a great deal of praise. There are three aspects to this innovative product, and all of them introduce Internet thinking. First, it provides a "news inquiry" platform where users can ask questions about the latest stories and get answers from other users.
Some other websites, too, have similar platforms. For instance, Baidu Knows is a Q&A forum on everyday issues, Guokr is for technological and science issues, and Stack Overflow for IT problems. They are all aimed at building an active online community by attracting high-quality users to create more content for more users. But The Paper's Q&A application is the first on a news website in China. The Paper hopes its users would produce more content through online discussions and interactions on particular news topics, which, in turn, could add value to its original reports.
Second, The Paper offers a new app, "news tracking", which allows readers to follow a particular news topic for a given period of time, so that they can receive updates as soon as possible and get the full picture of that news.
And third, the new media product has achieved a breakthrough in its content framework, too. Newspapers divide their content according to pages, while Web portals arrange them in channels. The Paper doesn't follow either rule. Instead, it uses columns as the basic unit for its content. The advantage of such an arrangement is flexibility; every column is relatively independent, and even if two or more columns deal with similar topics, users can choose what they want to read. Some of its columns have already established a wide readership.
Although some analysts claim such innovative methods have already been used by other news websites in China, The Paper's is quite different. Other websites don't have a criterion for choosing reports; they just collect the latest news from other sites. But every piece of news that The Paper features reflects the website's own news value.
In fact, it is more like The Huffington Post and The Daily. It has the same genes as The Huffington Post, because it has attracted more readers to be writers by creating an open platform for users. It has also inherited the genes of The Daily, launched by News Corp as a trial online news website. Although The Daily didn't survive as a pioneer of traditional media's transformation into new media, it provided many elements that others have emulated.
Like The Daily, The Paper was created by team from a traditional newspaper and changed from a paper-and-ink product to a digital platform, and it pays great attention to original content. Also, both papers chose to operate independently as new brands without relying on their traditional resources and parent companies. But, of course, learning from The Daily's "mistakes", The Paper has made a wiser choice by providing an open platform rather than running a closed system.
As a new media product, The Paper has learned from network media worldwide, and achieved a breakthrough for the news industry in China. But it is still a small fish in the big online pond because it does not offer any innovative news production mode or technology. Whether such high quality news content can be offered sustainably to form the level of readership needed to run the website remains to be seen. It is also not certain whether it can create a successful profit model.
The need now is to observe how its innovations and limitations play out. After all, the window of transformation of traditional media has not closed yet; there is still time for more pioneers to make a successful transformation to new media.
The author is a researcher with the Journalism Institute of Xinhua News Agency.
(China Daily 08/09/2014 page5)
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