What does the future of journalism look like? And will anyone make money from it? [REUTERS PANEL DISCUSSION]

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[I attended the above discussion hosted at Reuters about audience engagement, behaviour and monetisation]

Is it really all about mobile? Which platforms and formats will dominate? What will the news look and sound like, and will anybody be making any money?

These were some of the questions that the panel discussed at tonight’s Reuters event. I was particularly interested in attending, since I have had to evolve from a fashion journalism student, to a working print journalist and fashion stylist, through to a mixed media and now fully digital journalist. A role I currently hold, as well as being a ‘content editor’, social media and awards manager, events and marketing exec, and everything else we ‘journalists’ now have to be skilled at. The role I was trained to do – investigate, seek out a story, research and write – simply no longer exists in it’s pure form.

We all know that there is a world of multitasking that goes on when you hold a staff job at a publication, digital, print or a mix. The problem is that, even for those journalists who have trained themselves in digital media, the big bosses still don’t seem to have figured out how to make money from this ‘new world’. In a world filled with successful bloggers and money-making, brand-repping Instagrammers and where anyone can be a publisher, it was interesting to hear these experts and industry leaders discuss how we can all embrace and benefit from the ever-changing landscape.

In true digital forward style, the discussion was broadcast on Facebook Live and Periscope. I haven’t used Periscope yet, (and I’m bamboozled by Snapchat, by the way), but hey ho. Best foot forward, as they say. Here is what the experts had to say about all these issues, and the changing face of ‘tomorrow’s news’…

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The panel, above, with the exception of Madhav actually being Eero Korhonen – Head of Strategic Relationships, News & Publishers, EMEA and Google

In my experience, people are often resistant to change. Especially since change isn’t either always seemingly fully understood, or fully explained, by the people in charge. This can lead to staff not feeling supported, or listened to – hence familiar feelings of instability and uncertainty setting in. The digital world is still a new territory for all of us. Ignoring the inevitability of change, however, doesn’t do anyone any good in the long run.

The talk got off to a great start, with Aron from the Guardian discussing what I had been thinking for a while… [NB. Some quotes are paraphrased, due to my note taking]

Aron from The Guardian: “There’s a big difference between the world we wish existed, and the world that exists. We can ignore mobile technology, or engage with it, and figure out how to utilise the opportunity to drive our businesses. Of course, new media is a threat, but no bigger I don’t feel, than TV was to print media in the sixties.”

Mark from The International News Media Association: “There are still more than seven million people buying newspapers in the UK daily. So, there is still a market for print publications, they are just changing to become multi-brand platforms.


But how to make your brand stand out, especially on social media, in a sea of media outlets – print and digital?

Nathalie from the BBC: “To make your brand stand out, you need to find your voice. There’s so many videos on social – and lots are taken from the same agency, so it becomes repeated content and readers can end up not knowing which original media brand they are seeing it from.  What differentiates the media brands, is it’s personality, impartiality and trust.

Athan, from Now This: How to distinguish yourself? You need to upload content with speed, with relevancy and context. And take a new angle, tailor it to your audience.


But how can we solve the problem of paying for news? It’s an issue up for debate…

Aaron – “Yes, print is in constant decline, and that isn’t going to change. But additionally, digital display advertising has recently cratered. That was unexpected. We are concentrating on increasing memberships – which is different to introducing a ‘paywall’, and we are not contemplating that at the moment. Membership is not an easy route, but I think a paywall can plateau and lull you into a false sense of security – like what happened at The Times.”

“We have to reorganise a company (The Guardian), which has been built around one thing for hundreds of years to now be driven by multiple things. That’s our challenge. I’m not anti-print, nor is our strategy, but we are managing it for decline because that’s what is responsible. Print is now our bridge to our future. I think the New York Times is thinking the same way. Driving growth where growth is.”

Mark: “It’s an equation: Creativity, with bespoke advertising solutions + data, reader info captured + technology and various platforms = a better customer experience. I think that’s the key to monetisation. For example, Domino’s Pizza tracker app – this gives a 25 min customer experience with the brand, rather than a two minute call.


This is an interesting point – brand awareness and a strong brand experience. Building integrity into a brand to increase customer return – worth spending time curating.

Mark: “I believe that using data of gathered audiences could offset the decline of print.”


So, how about social media platforms. And how can we make best use of the vast amount of them out there? How do publishers choose where to put content?

 

Athan: “Brands and their employees need to be just as data insight driven as they are content driven. This differs for various platforms, though. The same content doesn’t perform the same on different platforms. The aim is to bring stories to an audience. You can’t put everything everywhere – it’s basic economics, it’s unsustainable.”

Nathalie: “Mobile wins. News can be reported by the public via social media, and read instantly because people always have their phone with them. Social media is a great place for brands to try new things. Building an app is expensive to build and maintain.


What should we be focusing on trialling, and how does the future look in terms of teams?

Athan: “Virtual reality, for sure. Like with everything, we ‘lean in’. We’re testing.”

Aron: “The Quartz news app. It’s the first true news innovation I’ve seen in a long time, that doesn’t look like a tabloid or the like. It’s truly unique, and it’s either a love or hate thing.”

Nathalie: “In future newsrooms, I can see there being smaller teams, still, but with a return to specialism and specialist. Everyone has had to become good at everything, but I think we’ll see people being platform experts in the newsroom. Like a person who is an expert at Snapchat, and someone who is a specialist in Facebook.”

Athan: “We have teams specifically on platforms already, and if there’s smoke, we pour gasoline on it.”

Nathalie: “Trust and voice is what sets media brands apart from people who self-publish. Readers will explore content online, but go back to the brands they trust for confirmation. People can consume more than ever – and they do consume, all day, every day.”


How can media brands compete and keep up in a flooded marketplace?

Aron: “I think the focus has gone from being concerned with large user numbers to how strong the engagement and loyalty of readers is. The Guardian sees Facebook and Google as two of our main competitors – and we are a blip compared to their size of audiences. We aren’t small, but we aren’t big. We are in the middle, which is not good. I look at how the Financial Times does it – making sure the people who might have the most affinity and resonance with your journalism reaches them. Don’t wait around until they come to you.”

Athan: “Don’t look at Facebook as competition; they are the vehicle, what you are actually competing with them for, is people’s time.”

Aron: “I was actually thinking in terms of advertising competition. Thinking that more page views is ‘winning at the Internet‘, is a disaster.”


What do you think about the idea that anyone, (bloggers and anyone using social media), can be a publisher?

Mark: “That points to the fact that we publishers need to embrace mobile – because that’s where engagement lies. The trouble is, monetising it – an editorial page isn’t simply an add on. It needs to be recognised for the value it is.


Finishing thoughts… I felt especially inspired by these remarks, below, and came straight home to sort out my own Twitter page and ponder the thinking that ‘quality over quantity’ (what I have been chewing over for years), could still be the way forward – thank God. I just need to create a decent distribution schedule…

Athan: “I like to remember the phrase: ‘Content is King, but distribution is Queen’.”

i.e. Write good stuff, then make sure people read it, I guess!

Mark: “There are more texts sent than there are people in the world. Old technologies still have power.”


So, is it really all about mobile? Which platforms and formats will dominate? What will the news look and sound like, and will anybody be making any money?

In summary, I’m not sure that anyone has any of this totally figured out yet. I guess the growth, and speed of growth, of the Internet has been so rapid, and the changing ways of reporting news so varied and often confused, that we are all still finding our way. It was comforting to see that big organisations, such as The Guardian and BBC are facing similar issues in terms of platforms and how to make money, as the rest of us. One thing is for sure, that the teams are becoming more specialised in terms of working areas, which I think can be a good thing in terms of making the most of people’s skill sets.

Also, the panel did address the loss of top skilled journalists, with Mark agreeing that hastily cutting experienced news specialists could have been an error, and that although it was too late to ‘bring some people back into the fold’, he hoped that organisations would return to valuing knowledge, and using it to advantage – even in this new, fast-paced digital world. A return to integrity, and quality over quantity? I hope so.

Another clear conclusion – mobile wins. So, mobile optimisation has to be key. Also, find out which social media platforms work for you, and go to town on the ones that do.

What are your summations? Let me know, by commenting below.

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