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.
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.
Flame Tree Media is more than an interested party in what goes down in the New Zealand media market. One of our key clients is Fairfax NZ and we have also consulted for independent publishers there.
We believe the proposed merger between Fairfax NZ and NZME would be a good thing for New Zealand, those businesses, journalism and, most importantly, for Kiwis.
We produced this submission for the NZ Commerce Commission, which is considering whether to clear the merger. It is expected to make its final decision by March 15, 2017. Coincidentally the Ides of March.
I’m still shaking my head.
Yes, that Donald Trump was elected President. But also at the staggering and anachronistic decision by New Zealand’s competition watchdog to reject the proposed NZME and Fairfax NZ merger.
In a 195-page draft determination, the Commerce Commission found the merger would substantially lessen competition in the market.
The commission stated NZ would only be behind China for concentration of newspaper ownership. A merged company would account for 90 per cent of daily newspaper sales in the country - a far more dominant position than Rupert Murdoch has across Australian media.
On every front, from a reduction in competition in discrete local markets through to the impact on ad buyers, the report paints a grim picture post-merger. It is particularly damning of how the merger would materially diminish the plurality of views across NZ.
Keeping up with the information revolution is an exhausting exercise - but taking advantage of five forces will put smart operators at the head of the communications pack.
Never before have there been so many ways to communicate and never has it been so complex - lots of social media platforms, tools, apps and methods to send you bonkers.
Whether you're a business or a personal brand, cutting through the claptrap requires a simple, strategic and sustainable approach. Couple that with the right intel about the communications battlefront, and you're on your way.
Be it with our work with big media undergoing transformation or with small companies seeking to establish a DIY newsroom approach, some common themes are apparent.
Here's five of them - forces we believe will drive content success into 2017:
Muhammad Ali's passing should remind us that not only did he redefine boxing, but he was the consummate innovator - a man who provides lessons to anyone who wants to survive and thrive in a dog-eat-dog world.
Ali teaches us that innovation is not about iteration - it's about blazing trails.
"I don't have to be what you want me to be, " Ali told reporters after the bout against Sonny Liston in 1964 that launched his career. "I'm free to be what I want."
Publishers, who have suffered an unprecedented pummelling in recent years, could do with some of that self-belief.
One media organisation that is displaying its own brand of magic is Fairfax Media New Zealand. Like a young Cassius Clay, the Fairfax team is willing to do things its own way.
For the past 18 months, Flame Tree Media has helped design and implement the company's signature editorial transformation program News Rewired.
In May, Fairfax NZ won the award for corporate innovation at the International News Media Association (INMA) awards in London - along with best in show for Asia/Pacific. In all, Fairfax NZ won four first places - more than any media brand. In the world.
So, what are the Kiwis doing that others aren't?
Five traits are common to those who become world beaters.
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.