What challenges must the Albanian media face as technological changes shake five centuries of media tradition? The shift to new technology in the United States and Western Europe – though rapid in the larger context – was gradual enough to allow media outlets to adapt, whereas in Albania, the shift came suddenly and met the media unprepared. To make matters worse, the Albanian media is in the midst of a tough economic and financial crisis, grappling with dwindling audiences for traditional news as well as a decrease in interest from advertisers. Hence, the Albanian media must prepare to face down several new challenges.
The first challenge relates to changing the culture of professional journalism. Albanian journalists’ past experiences, education and traditions have not prepared them to take advantage of the latest information technology and to properly communicate with an increasingly interactive audience. Journalists in various media forums rarely maintain a dialogue with their audience. Also, the selection of outlets that offer value-added journalism – journalism which analyzes events and information – is still very slim. There is now an abundance of sources that provide information about current events without expecting much input from the journalist. That’s without even getting into the shift to a culture of online journalism, and how written Web content is increasingly accessed by a new generation technology and digital reading devices, such as the so-called “fourth screen” or the screen of the latest smartphones.
The second important challenge the Albanian media must face is in regard to their old-fashioned generalist profile. At a time when information is increasingly hyper-local, when audiences are looking for strong local context and information that is fresh, useful and provides added value, the Albanian media is still dominated by a generalist focus which undermines the country’s media landscape. Supporters of this generalist model claim the approach serves to capture a wider audience, but in reality, different audiences lose interest in media that expresses no clear social identity.The landscape of the Albanian media today lacks unique niche outlets, while local media outlets mostly serve to regurgitate information or forward television broadcasts from central media, serving no independent purpose for their communities. Today’s symbiotic relationship between media and politics in Albania does not allow for democratic regionalization of information, local news coverage or getting closer to the public. Albanian media today ignores the public not only as an audience, but also as a potential source of information or as content producers of citizen journalism. This can be seen in the current agenda of the Albanian media. Print is dominated by political and politicizing news which is littered all over op-eds and front pages. Prime time television is also dominated by the same political themes, which unfold in opinion and debate.
The third important challenge for the Albanian media is the need to reform its management culture, which encompasses issues from forms of ownership to newsroom administration. We mistakenly define “public media” as merely the public radio and television stations. Of course these should follow the public broadcaster model, and as such, they should serve the public – not the state or the government. But the concept of public media today is much broader. Public media includes the communications agencies of public institutions, such as the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Presidency, ministries, universities and others. Public media belonging to local communities are lacking and direly needed. Likewise, other outlets can operate with public funding or as non-profit institutions. It’s time to end the strong reluctance demonstrated by some media outlets to shift away from their conventional format, looking at websites simply as electronic versions of the physical newspaper or online broadcasting as television footage for the Web. This concept is harmful and wrong, and indicates a lack of understanding when it comes to online audiences and the need for new types of news writing, reporting and broadcasting. Online news has to be flexible, fast and quickly updatable. Thus, the idea of creating online-only newsrooms, which specialize in producing online information or the creation of newsrooms that focus on media convergence and the combining of different platforms is key and needs a specific strategic approach by media managers and scholars.
The fourth challenge relates to the economic model and management that the Albanian media must follow in the era of online news. Journalistic content can no longer hope to fit typical genres. Media today should be entertaining and educational, yet this alone is not enough. We’ve been taught that the media must also provide advertising space, yet currently advertisement options for the media are shrinking. Therefore, the media in general, and online media in particular, are required to perform other tasks and offer other services, which is why this combination is one of the most important trends in the media worldwide. In addition to information, today’s media outlets sell horseracing bets, airplane tickets, hotel room reservations, museum visits, etc. In each of these cases, we are seeing an integration of the information industry with that of services on a larger scale.
Article translated from the original Albanian “Sfida përpara mediave shqiptare” by Rrapo Zguri