Letter from New York: words of encouragement for those working in the world's most disrupted industry - media
If you are in media and feeling light-headed, take a deep breath - you have been working in the most disrupted of industries. You deserve a beer or something harder.
Now sit down. Because I have encouraging news for you - as well as same trends to consider from my recent sabbatical in New York.
What you do not want to hear is that the pace of change will continue as it has been. It won’t. It will multiply - that’s according to everyone at the forefront of change.
The good news for media is that clear paths have emerged.
The fog of uncertainty has lifted around paywalls, on how best to fund journalism and on where Facebook and Google fit into the media equation - well, sort of.
Media folk also have a lot to thank Donald J Trump for - because he has re-stoked the fires of quality journalism.
In short, for the first time in years, the media has reason to feel optimistic.
I spent two weeks in New York visiting established and new media players, as well as attending the International News Media Association (INMA) world congress. During an INMA-run study tour I visited iconic media, including The New York Times (NYT), Dow Jones, Bloomberg and Google. I visited start-ups Playbuzz and established digital companies such as Chartbeat and Nativo.
Some of the deepest insights came from talking with media executives. I spent time with delegates from the US, Germany, China, India, Latin America, South Africa, Finland, Norway, Sweden. Gee, even Australians and Kiwis.
What were the themes? I shared a bunch in a blog aimed at communications teams and those wanting to craft their own DIY Newsroom™.
Here I zone on what is of relevance to the news industry and those keen for solutions.
So let’s roll.
The stodgy stuff of reinventing business models and how best to use data is consuming the world’s top media executives in 2017.
The new shiny toys of immersive reality and 360-video are receiving plenty of attention and funding, but for the most part big media is focused on getting its house in order.
That is about returning to purpose and applying a traditional sales funnel approach to convert window shoppers into fully-fledged subscribers and then maximising revenue per user. Joining the dots between data and customer conversion is critical.
Funnels? Data? Boring, huh? But for media today these are the smarts, along with amazing tech, helping companies emerge from a fog of uncertainty.
I got up close and personal with the latest global thinking by spending two weeks in New York, the self-appointed epicentre of media today.
I took a study tour of iconic media organisations, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Google, along with lesser-known but impactful start-ups PlayBuzz, Navito and Lotame.
The tour was a prelude to the International News Media Association world congress held at the New York Times Centre, attended by media executives from 40 countries, and book-ended by a workshop that built a playbook for print.
The message from New York: start spreading the news, media is fighting back. And I will address that in more detail in another blog.
For those of us in the business of communications, I identified nine themes to absorb and which will help you better understand the landscape as is stands.
Traditional media keeps getting a pounding - and entering the fray at a sensitive time in New Zealand is the Flat Earth Society disguised as the country’s regulator, the Commerce Commission.
ComCom has rejected the proposed merger of Fairfax New Zealand and NZME, citing the likelihood of greatly reduced competition in the market. The argument: less outlets, less views, poorer society.
It beggars belief, of course.
Almost all new digital revenue goes to Facebook and Google - ComCom among the advertisers with the former.
Under a merger, the businesses would have been rationalised. Old jobs would have been axed but new jobs would have been created in what represented a chance for big but struggling media there to respawn.
With another round of editorial job losses imminent at Fairfax Media in Australia, the continuing contraction in the industry supports the argument that if you want to get your message out you might need to go DIY.
An increasing number of corporate and community organisations are setting up newsrooms to fill the void left by retreating traditional media - or to compete with what is left.
Fairfax has announced $30 million in cost cutting for FY18. Most of that is likely to come from axing staff in the newsrooms of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. This is my journo maths, but at the upper limit that represents about 200 staff, although expect it to be between 100 and 150 after some argy-bargy.
Some media competitors report this almost gleefully. However, staff across News Corporation in Australia can expect to see new rounds of redundancies too, according to my mail.
Meantime, given the fragmentation of the media and audiences, companies are investing large chunks of their marketing and communications budgets to better leverage digital and social media channels.
One of the reasons newsrooms are such a great model for maximising communications performance is that they are the perfect example of what I call the Goldilocks principle – not too much process, not too little, just the right amount.
I have seen project management offices and consultants foist all manner of systems, processes and checks onto newsroom operations. And to be candid, I have probably been guilty of that too.
Such things are an anathema to editors and journalists who have a finely tuned “B.S” radar and want to get on with their busy jobs, not be weighed down by spreadsheets, meetings and ticketing systems.
I have an amazing doctor. He is terrific at his job, knows my history, communicates simply and, to top it off, is a good bloke.
Most important is I have confidence in the way he practises medicine. Which is kind of what you want when it comes to your health. Everything else runs second.
Similarly, when feeling the pulse of your business you want a no-nonsense, fact-based method that gives you an honest appraisal. Nothing beats a clinical, intricate look-see.
After decades of overseeing newsrooms and seeking to optimise their performance, I have found there are about 20 essential aspects for any health check of your communications to prove meaningful.
The object is to forensically understand your current state, from which you can then review and step-out a you-beaut communications/content strategy.
Stuart Howie is a communications consultant and strategist. He runs Flame Tree Media, which specialises in setting up newsrooms for organisations wanting a better return on communications. Stuart has worked in media and publishing for more than 30 years as an editorial executive, editor, and journalist.