This story was first posted on Medium.
Content is no longer king. In fact, content never was king. News was king.
(This MarketWatch story from 2007 provides an excellent explanation of why “content is king” is a misleading phrase and “content” is a disrespectful term for journalists or anyone who creates media. Yes, the post is from 2007. And yes, the post is still relevant today. Might explain why journalism is struggling. But that’s a story for another day.)
Now there is a new king. Context.
Context is what comes before and after an event or fact. It is the background and follow-up, the relevant circumstances and conditions, depth, meaning. If news is the who, what, where, and when, context is the why and how.
Digging deeper, context is derived from the Latin word contextus, meaning “a joining together.” The word originated as past participle of contexere, “to weave together,” which comes from com– “together” plus texere “to weave.”
Before mobile and smartphones, professional journalists made the news. They wove together news to provide context. Newsrooms got scoops. Reporters gathered information in the field. After reporting, they assembled the story. After storytelling, they sent the story and media assets to editors, who packaged and published for print, TV and the Internet. The news process could take a couple of hours, days, weeks or months.
Times have changed.
Now, anyone with a smartphone can create and share news in seconds. That’s 2 billion news producers today. They produce five billion pieces of news daily. News can be a tweet, Instagram photo, snap, Vine, Facebook video, email, text, even a notification, and more. News can have an audience of one mobile user or five teenage friends, 10,000 community members or 2 billion global soccer fans.
But how many of those 5 billion pieces of news have context? Not many. This conclusion is based on unscientific evidence, based on years of mobile study, the eye test and gut instinct.*
We don’t blame mobile news producers for the lack of context with mobile media. The current most popular mobile social technology platforms are not built to provide context. They are single purpose, built to provide a part of news, a piece of a story. To get the whole story on mobile — the context — mobile users need to use more than one tool.
Take the story of DJ Khaled getting lost at sea on his Jet ski and documenting the experience on Snapchat. His fans on Snapchat got to see the story. People following along on Twitter got some of the story. For those not on Snapchat, the snaps had to be edited together into a YouTube video afterward. For those not on Twitter, tweets had to be embedded into news stories, or people had to wade through a maze of Twitter jigsaw puzzles. We ended up with context, but the process took a long time.
And that is the problem: Getting context on mobile is hard and slow to do. Most people don’t have the time or desire to do it.
But context is essential. Without it, we have no perspective. The news becomes a single-hyped story with a single narrative that gets repeated over and over again. The single story is dangerous (novelist Chimamanda Adichie gives a powerful Ted talk on the subject) because it can lead to misunderstanding.
We have more news and less context now than ever before. Supply is low, demand is high. That is why context is king in the mobile age.
Context presents a great opportunity for mobile news producers. By 2020, there will be 6.1 smartphone users, according to 2015 Ericsson Mobility Report. All smartphone users can have a media company in their hands with an app. Those who can provide context with news will be providing a useful service. Useful services make money.
Long live the king.
* If any data scientists want to measure how many of 5 billion pieces of daily mobile media have context, we have a scientific project for you. Hit us: firstname.lastname@example.org.