Pushing “big media” in Sri Lanka?

Though I missed it, Nalaka Gunawardene’s presentation at the Sri Lanka launch of Asia Media Report 2009 has found it’s way to his blog. Nalaka’s is Sri Lanka’s most insightful writers on the media. His presentation at this event squares with my own keynote presentation delivered at the Sri Lankan chapter of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) Annual General Meeting held in November 2008 on the future of the media industry in Sri Lanka.

In an email exchange, a colleague present at this meeting told me that “pushing ‘big media’ to take online media seriously is important for their survival”. I agreed with the sentiment but noted that,

I don’t think you can push big media in Sri Lanka to adopt new media. Look at the Daily Mirror. From proprietary backend to WordPress and now back to a combination of two proprietary backends, utterly unsustainable, content blackholes with RSS and commenting thrown in – which is the paper’s understanding of new media adoption and adaptation.

Or take a look at their video site – zero integration with YouTube, nothing very social about it. You may have already read my post about the Twitter fiasco with the Sunday Times, and of course their shenanigans with Wikipedia and plagiarism off Flickr from before. The ST Twitter account is now, get this, is a private account.

ST Twitter

Even Young Asia Television, one of Sri Lanka’s most engaging and progressive content producers, does not understand new media – most of their YouTube videos are low quality, their YouTube channel is not frequently updated and at last count they have about 3 wholly different platforms for their A/V content, spread across as many sites.

From YATV to the Sunday Times, no one asks for help with new media development because they think they have it figured out. Even for example when I gave the Sunday Leader a detailed brief, pro bono, of a complete web strategy for their paper post-Lasantha, nothing has changed. Ironically, many of these ideas found their way into a new website in Lasantha’s name, but this is very peripheral to the Leader’s core business, which is suffering on account of poor ad revenue and sales. Sadly too, even Unbowed and Unafraid is now offline.

The fear of “big media” towards new media? Multifaceted.

They fear that the investment in rapidly evolving technologies will be never ending. They fear the corruption of brand identity. They fear CJ’s taking over their jobs. They do not have the money to invest. They do not see a sufficient return of investment. They do not have human resources and younger people more web savvy are often bad journalists. Their IT Dept’s are outdated, but hugely obdurate. Editors don’t know tech and worse, are given bad or just wrong advice. When things go bad, they then blame the tech, and are resistant to more investment. Some still see subscription models as viable online.

These are a range of problems that call for engagement, but with champions from within “big media” circles. How to address these challenges will be fundamental to post-war Sri Lanka’s media development.

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