My media habits: Becca Ratcliffe of Jack Morton – ‘We just have a lot more crap to sift through’

In an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, Jack Morton Hong Kong vice-president and client services director Becca Ratcliffe makes a case for the human touch and real-world editors being relevant even in a digital world

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times give me a good handle on what’s happening in the UK and around the world. Coconuts is great for a Hong Kong and Asia hit.” 

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“Nothing beats reading the Sunday papers over brunch with family or friends. It’s such a nice low key thing to do, passing round the different sections.

“But life is busy, so in reality, I consume my news on the go and am embarrassed to say social networks often spit out articles that seem to hook me in.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“Short form for short attention span and short on time.”

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

“Jon Stewart. I guess he is not technically a ‘journalist’ per se, but his Daily Show on Comedy Central was groundbreaking.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“Serious investigative journalism can still have an impact, with a lot of western news organisations doing great work exposing various scandals and cover-ups around the world.

“But what I think has really changed in just a few years is the collapse of trust in much of the so-called mainstream media, fuelled by people who claim the news is fake whenever they see anything they disagree with. 

“This has contributed to the sharp decline in the power of the press across much of the world.” 

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“I’m reluctant to pay for news, because I believe in a democratic online space where everyone has access to quality journalism to understand what is going on in the world, regardless of how much you earn.

“It’s a very tricky issue because the social media model has made it much more difficult for news organisations to make money, but I guess, on a personal level, I barely have time to scratch the surface of all the free content, let alone take out subscriptions.” 

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix? 

“I think the model of the BBC is amazing: A simple license fee for all those channels that cater to all audiences, although the iPlayer isn’t available in Asia. In Hong Kong, I am a Netflix addict.”

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences? 

“I love the daily Spotify recommendations. It is the main way I discover new music these days. I also love just picking up a magazine and flicking through and stumbling across an article. Having a good balance of both works for me.”

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

“I would have to say ‘Roma’. I watched it not knowing what it was about at all, Netflix just kept recommending I watch it, and so I did.

“It’s a story that takes a while to unravel but gets under your skin and you really feel for the main character.

“I found it very moving how the two leading women, who come from very different backgrounds, support each other when they are betrayed by their partners.”

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing? 

“Episodes that are released once a week such as ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. If you didn’t watch them on the day of release, you avoid all news, social media and people until you do. ”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“A combination of all of them depending on how tired my eyes are and where I am.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“I am in two minds here. The ethical part of me sees it as damaging and that music and film are pieces of art and should be listened to and watched as intended.

“But in reality, the world has changed and content is becoming more available and free and now just expected.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?

“’A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara is the best book I have ever read, although it is not for the faint-hearted.

“It is 814 pages of utter heartache and completely consumes you and takes over your life. It is beautifully written with such a sad harrowing tale. It is the only book that ever left me in tears.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Hard copy, I don’t own a kindle and never will. I love seeing books on my bookcase gathering dust and taking over my apartment. Also, I do most of my reading on holiday and as a dedicated beach bum, kindles are just no good when it comes to sand and sun.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

“It was a sad day when I threw away all my CD’s, mini discs and mix tapes to go 100% digital. I am now Spotify all the way.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

The Prodigy

“I have an eclectic taste, so I am currently listening to Caribou, Cigarettes after Sex, Fleetwood Mac and George Ezra. And recently a lot of Prodigy after the sad death of Keith Flint.”

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“A double-edged sword. Super convenient and easy to click on links from friends, brands, businesses but also it means you are getting quite a one-sided view of the world.”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation? 

“Yes and no. The digital landscape has changed drastically, and so is the way we take in news and content. What started off as social networks has evolved into a key source of info for the public and with these boundaries expectations are inevitably challenged.” 

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“There is nothing quite like the human touch and I think this is still important. Regardless, people will continue to follow quality journalism. But now, we just have a lot more crap to sift through.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“No, AI and virtual personal assistants will not take over, as we still value and need opinions and analytics. 

“I think the relationship between AI/computers and humans will complement each other. AI can find relevant news but you still need someone to craft it and that can’t be done by computers.

“Algorithms and data can really help curate what we consume, but sometimes you can’t beat an actual human editor to flag up stuff you never even knew you were interested in. It’s a bit like dating – sometimes you need a bit of random in your life.”


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