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Lessons from Week #3 of the FIPP World Media Congress

Diversity, gender equality, the changing face of politics, doubling down on revenue diversification and the best way to use TikTok were all part of a wide range of topics discussed at FIPP’s World Media Congress 2020 as the event entered its third week.

Here are the key lessons from Week Three.

1. The time is ripe to move the dial on gender equality in newsrooms

A lively discussion about gender equality in newsrooms was moderated this week by Angela Henshall, the BBC 50:50 Equality Project’s External Partners Manager. The 50:50 Equality Project has been widely praised for promoting journalism that fairly represents gender and diversity. Panel member Meera Selva, Director of the Journalist Fellowship Programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, said this programme inspired them to raise the bar and also investigate the role of women in leadership positions in newsrooms. “Ultimately gender representation and diversity is about power. It’s about seeding power at the top and it’s also crucially about making sure that the people at the top, those making decisions, come from the most diverse range of society,” she said. 

Sadly the statistics they found in their research does not make for inspiring reading. It found that only 23 per cent of editors in 10 countries were women, despite the fact that 40 per cent of journalists were female. Her report includes some other interesting statistics, such as the finding that of the 20 brands approached in Japan, they found not a single female editor. 

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-First, a consultancy that supports companies to adapt to global trends in gender, nationality, and generational issues, had more positive thoughts. She said there is already a “seismic shift” happening across the globe with regards to gender equality but warned that real results will not be found without systematic changes in the culture, leadership and systems within the publishing industry.

In a separate session Ringier CEO Marc Walder explained how his company’s vision for equality extended into its work practices, with the company going out of it’s way to promote diversity through a system called Equal Voice. “We have artificial intelligence in place that calculates in all the stories how many men are being displayed on our platforms and how many women… The ratio is incredible – in general 77 per cent are men. In sports it’s 95 per cent men. So we decided to increase the female ratio, bit by bit, getting in more female lawyers, doctors or politicians when we need to use experts.”

You might have a manager who, when there’s a position open, says, ‘my college roommate’s son would be perfect for that role’. I’m not saying that person wouldn’t be great, but let’s look at some other people.

Shona Pinnock, Meredith Corporation

2. Education is key in the battle for diversity and inclusion

As the Diversity and Inclusion Director at Meredith Corporation, Shona Pinnock is doing a very important job during extraordinary times. In a discussion that took delegates behind the scenes of how the US company is pursuing equality with renewed vigour, Pinnock stressed the importance of people educating themselves about the history of racism in the country.

“There has to be education of the impact of racism that exists in almost every realm of life,” she said. “I think (people) educating themselves on how this came to be – all of the little pieces that built over hundreds of years to get us to where we are – is important.”

“I think the work we all have to do – and I include people of colour in this – is provide a little space and grace for people to begin that process of educating themselves and then figuring out how we need to do the work to make change, and what the responsibilities are for everyone in that.”

According to Pinnock, media companies also need to make changes to the way they recruit and retain staff.

“You might have a manager who, when there’s a position open, says, ‘my college roommate’s son would be perfect for that role’,” she explained. “I’m not saying that person wouldn’t be great, but let’s look at some other people. It’s about asking people to slow down and widen their net of the talent they are funneling in. Let’s focus on the competencies for the role, not my comfort with the person.”

TikTok has increased the trust between The Washington Post and our followers. I would get comments early on from people who would say – ‘I don’t like The Washington Post but I like your TikTok account’.

Dave Jorgenson, The Washington Post

3. You’re never too old for TikTok

The Washington Post might be 143 years old but it knows how to get down with the kids. Under the guidance of Dave Jorgenson, Producer and Writer, Creative Video at the Post, the iconic newspaper has become a huge TikTok hit, raking in almost 700,000 followers. But it’s not just about 15-second dance videos and haiku challenges, as Jorgenson explained.

“TikTok has increased the trust between The Washington Post and our followers,” he said. “I would get comments early on from people who would say – ‘I don’t like The Washington Post but I like your TikTok account’. It’s great that we’ve made inroads with users who now view us in a different light.

“The other great thing about being on TikTok is that when people have no idea who the Washington Post is, you can set them straight. Some people think we are in Washington State and that’s great, because then I can correct them and tell them we are a 143-year-old newspaper. It’s a fun and humbling way to realise our existence among Gen Z.”

The importance of video was further underlined by Euna Lee, Executive Producer for Voice of America’s Korean Service, who shared the lessons she learnt after being detained in North Korea while filming a documentary.

“The content in documentaries can change your attitude, opinion and inspire us,” she said. “It connects viewers globally and helps them understand different perspectives. It’s a powerful tool and an effective way to share important information. You can go where qualitative analysis can’t go – out heart. It can inspire people to make a change.”

4. Media companies should be more like a six-year-old

Having spearheaded an astonishing digital revolution at the Swiss media group Ringier, CEO Marc Walder had a clear message for media companies striving for success in the 21st century – ask more questions.

“The learning curve is something I tried to bring into the company as an everyday task – you have to learn every day within our industry,” Walder said, talking delegates through his company’s move into marketplaces, ecommerce, ticketing and classifieds. “A six-year-old child asks 45 questions a day, while a 50 year old only asks six questions a day. We should all go back to asking 50 questions a day to step into that steep learning curve that we are in.”

Addressing the Covid pandemic, Walder said the outbreak shows how important quality independent journalism still is.

“Covid has taught us that the hunger and need around reliable relevant information has never been bigger,” he pointed out. “If the internet is a very loud place with a lot of content for people to consume – like rain pouring down on you – those media brands who clarify, explain, who are relevant and credible, they will win the race in the end. It’s about helping people find their way in a life that’s become complicated.”

There are big contextual trends that are shifting the way media and politics are going to coexist – from digital transformation to shifts in how democracy is being conceived.

Rolando Zubirán, MIT Sloan Management Review

5. Getting your facts right still matters

The Nation has remained the leading source of progressive politics and culture in America for 155 years by sticking to a simple formula. “We get the facts right and we don’t sensationalise,” said its President, Erin O’Mara. “I believe there is value in media that has been trusted over time and in the times that we are in, that is even more valuable. What we’re doing is covering the policies and decisions and the things that are happening behind all the chaos that really impact people’s lives.”

While The Nation’s refusal to take the (click) bait might seem old-fashioned, they are not being left behind when it comes to innovation – branching out into successful Zoom events in a post-Covid world.

“While we have stayed true to our founding, mission and community, we are always looking forward and always thinking about how the world is changing and how we need to change with it,” said O’Mara.

The Nation will be reporting on a political landscape that’s changed radically as digital democracy enables governments to engage with the electorate like never before and allow people to have their say – for better or for worse.

“There are big contextual trends that are shifting the way media and politics are going to coexist – from digital transformation to shifts in how democracy is being conceived,” explained economic development policy specialist Rolando Zubirán, CEO and Curator, MIT Sloan Management Review. “These trends are going to have a direct impact on how we mobilise the vote, fundraise and frame our messages.”

The change in the way politics is being conducted is having a big impact on the way Donald Trump and Joe Biden are fighting the upcoming US presidential election.

“Both sides of the aisles are using a lot of technology and are rapidly adapting in the way they are delivering and tailoring their messages to the public,” said Zubirán. “In scenarios of uncertainty and change people tend to rush to their bases so I foresee a very close, but very fragmented election.”

6. Publishers should take a ‘quant approach’ to diversify revenue stacks

One session this week introduced a new and surprising approach to the ongoing congress theme of publishers’ need to diversify revenue streams. Lee Fentress, Vice President: Business Development at the LA Times, introduced the notion that a publisher’s journey to diversifying revenue streams should start with leveraging financial planning and analyses. 

He said smart publishers should start to think more seriously about unit economics. They should know exactly what a piece of content costs and what its potential is to generate revenue. To do this, he postured, publishers should explore a “quant approach”, meaning they need to “get numbers down” to understand how and where every single pocket of content can create revenue.

Fentress introduced many examples of how the LA Times is starting to create alternative revenue, such as affiliate links within reviews to make purchases, The LA Times store and even a wine club. More examples came from Markus Grindel, Managing Director, Global Licensing at Condé Nast UK, who explained how merchandising continues to grow as part of Condé Nast’s strategy to increase consumer revenue. In fact, he explained, commerce has become so important that the company is now taking a new approach to it. 

“We are not licensing this kind of business any more. Rather than taking 10 cents on the dollar, we decided to take a certain amount of ownership. This changed our position on the value chain.”

7. Good storytelling remains just that, no matter the platform

No matter the platform, the need to tell stories in the best possible way remains paramount, explained Susan Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief at National Geographic and Editorial Director of National Geographic Partners this week. She told Congress that curating vital content in interesting, compelling ways is the engine around which the wheels of the media turn – and getting it right across multiple platforms is now a challenge that even the most established brands have to deal with.

She said unlike some media organisations who seem intent on shifting the same content to separate platforms, National Geographic has changed the way content is delivered by using the different qualities of different media to ensure storytelling is fresh and exciting for each platform. 

She referenced the July cover of the magazine – one given over to the story of Mount Everest. National editors chose their own images of the mountain but on their mobile platforms they created an augmented reality story that allowed readers to put themselves at the top of Mount Everest.

Piet van Niekerk

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