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“Only two minutes into the revolution”: Conversations the news media industry needs to be having

If you are at all active on Twitter, you probably couldn’t escape the fact that the International Journalism Festivalwas held in Perugia this past week. Over five days, this free conference discussed all aspects of the journalism industry. Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian, set the tone for these discussions in an interview with Mathew Ingram:

“We’re only two minutes into the revolution, there are business models undreamt of.” – Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian

To best prepare for this revolution in our industry, we’ve identified three conversations news media needs to be having now.

Are we investing enough in our product experiences?

Ana Jakimovska, Director of Product Management at The Guardian; Lucy Kueng, Senior Research Fellow at RISJ; Nic Newman, Senior Research Fellow at RISJ; and Lippe Oosterhof, Head of Product Yahoo News gave an intro to product 101. For Lucy Kueng, she has seen that the most successful media companies are the ones that have a clear understanding of their product across the entire company. So what does this require? 

First of all, it requires strong product managers. Nic Newman explained that the product manager role is more than just a delivery role, it is a strategic shaping role. This is because it is simply not possible for an Editor in Chief to understand all the possible technology, so they need to be able to trust the product people to understand and give guidance. Lucy Kueng said that this can be a difficult role and asked if media companies can get the strong product managers that they need.

“You have to be incredibly resilient to be a product person in media, more so than even Theresa May.” – Nic Newman, senior research fellow RISJ

Secondly, investment in technical products is required to succeed. For journalists, the content is the product, but readers do not see it this way. Instead, the whole experience of consuming the content is the product. We heard this idea recently from Sophie Gourmelen, General Director of Le Parisien, as well, when she explained that good content is not enough to overcome poor UX. In another panel on business models, Frédéric Filloux, editor of the Monday Note, went further and explained that he believes most publishers today are vastly under-investing in their technology at every level.

Finally, publishers can learn by stepping outside the news media industry. Nic Newman explained that consumer expectations are based on the great products they use everyday, and many of them are not finding these same great experiences with their media products. Frédéric Filloux echoed this, stating that having a subscription model puts publishers in competition with other subscription services, such as Netflix.

Quality content alone will not save journalism

At Twipe we’ve joined the Solution Set Book Club and this month we’re reading “The Content Trap” by Bharat Anand. This book provided a good framework for understanding another important dialogue happening at the International Journalism Festival. Bharat Anand argues that success does not come from just producing the best content but in part from recognising “how content enables customers’ connectivity”.

This discussion came out in a panel on membership with Lea Korsgaard, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Zetland; Amanda Michel, Global Director Contributions at The Guardian; Maria Ramirez, Director of Strategy; and Eduardo Suarez, Co-Founder Politibot.

Members of Zetland cite the limited number of stories as one of the primary reasons they became a member, something Lea Korsgaard explains as:

“Finishability is an important aspect of news products, and this is something readers find worth paying for.” – Lea Korsgaard, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Zetland

So even if Zetland were to invest in producing more quality content, this wouldn’t be something members would want to pay more for. Instead, members are more interested in related experiences and products, such as live journalism shows or audio offering of the longform articles.

Amanda Michel advised publishers to take what they do best and use it to solve their funding crisis. Newsrooms tell stories, but they need to be telling their own story as well. That’s why The Guardian explains to readers that advertising revenues are declining so newspapers need reader support to continue.

A panel on sustaining journalism through relationships echoed these sentiments, with insights coming from Jennifer Brandel, Co-Founder and CEO Hearken; Andrew Haeg, Founder and CEO GroundSource; Mary Walter-Brown, Founder and CEO News Revenue Hub; and Ariel Zirulnick, Fund Director Membership Puzzle Project.

Jennifer Brandel explained that publishers need to start thinking about readers not as consumers, but as partners. Once you make this change, it becomes clear that successful partnerships require more than just quality content, they need a broader relationship than that. Ultimately, this shift is beneficial for publishers too, as building community is indeed still driven by a financial goal.

“We’re not going to be around to have these discussions on deeper engagement if we don’t get our readers to fund us.” – Mary Walter-Brown, Founder and CEO News Revenue Hub

How we think about audio needs to change

Brenda Salinas of Google set the stage for our industry’s conversation on audio when she explained that audio for news is at the same stage digital news itself was back in 1996. When you look at how The Wall Street Journal’s homepage looked then, you can see how early audio truly is.

An especially illuminating panel on audio was held with Mukul Devichand, Executive Editor Voice and AI at BBC; Renée Kaplan, Head of New Content Strategies for the Financial Times; Nic Newman, Senior Research Fellow at RISJ; and Olle Zachrison, Head of News & Current Affairs at Swedish Radio. While there have been plenty of discussions on audio lately, three points emerged as potential ways we need to change the conversation.

First, we need to remember that audio doesn’t simply mean podcasts and podcasts aren’t just radio on a different platform. That means that while often today publishers are focusing on podcasts, this is just a slice of a potential audio strategy. It also means that successful podcasts are not just radio shows, but have a changed aesthetic. Often listeners of radio do this apart from the radio, such as in a car or having the radio on across the room, but podcasts are inherently a much more intimate experience, often directly in the listener’s ear via headphones. That’s why Mukul Devichand believes there needs to be a different aesthetic with audio today, with a new level of informality. In radio you might have exactly four minutes and thirty seconds to tell a story but in podcasts you have as long or as short as you need. Even for legacy audio organisations, such as Swedish Radio, a switch to podcasts requires a cultural revolution. Olle Zachrison explained that so far radio people have been too stuck in the studio, whereas modern audio needs to be done on the field, talking to people. 

Second, publishers do need to be investing in audio now, even if it is just to ensure they are learning. Renée Kaplan asked the panel if they believe it is worth it today for newsrooms to be investing in audio content for smart speakers specifically. Nic Newman explained that only a small percentage of smart speaker usage is for news content currently, so smart speakers should be part of an audio strategy, but not the core. For Mukul Devichand however this does not mean smart speakers are insignificant, because the successful publishers of the future will be the ones who are experimenting and learning on these platforms toady. If publishers want to succeed with audio tomorrow, they need to invest in the learning experimentation offers today, something the Financial Times is doing as well, as it heavily invests in a re-launch of their audio strategy.

Third, we cannot forget the monetisation aspect of our audio discussions. We know that ads for audio are big in the United States, but they are not as big in Europe, and such ads cannot be used in the same way to monetise shorter audio clips. That’s why Nic Newman believes a subscription or membership model will come for audio, and it will be enabled by mainstream audio platforms. For Renée Kaplan, monetisation is more than just revenue, it is also the measurable impact on loyalty and engagement, something the Financial Times is betting audio will be uniquely good at engendering the kind of loyalty a paid content strategy needs.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

Republished with kind permission of Twipe Mobile