Sunday, May 27, 2018

Publishers pivot toward users and credibility, away from digital advertising

For those who could not attend the annual convention of the Spanish Journalism Society (SEP, Sociedad Española de Periodística, in Malaga, Spain, May 24-25, below is a summary of my keynote address, and here is a link to my slides (in Spanish).

The talk focused on two major trends in digital journalism that are taking place in many places around the world. The slides highlight examples of media from France, Holland, Mexico, the U.S., Germany, Peru, England, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, among others.

Photo by José María Legorburu

1. Publishers are pivoting toward users and away from advertisers and investors as their main source of financial support. The business model that depended on advertising to support journalism is moribund and nearly dead. The automated buying and selling of advertising is controlled by the duopoly of Google and Facebook, which have more and better data about news publishers' users than the publishers' themselves. Publishers have no way to compete with that dominance of programming and targeting of ads. It's time to burn the ships and not look back. 

2. Amid the flood of junk, misinformation, clickbait, and false information, the added value of a news organization will spring from its credibility. News media need to build credibility and trust by interacting more directly with their audiences, listening to their audiences, adopting transparency about their owners and investors, detailing their funding sources and spending practices, and, above all, doing investigative journalism that holds political and business leaders accountable for their actions. 


Because of these two trends, there are 10 new paradigms for digital journalism:

  1. Community rather than audience--News organizations should seek first to build a community around high-quality content that touches the needs and concerns of their public on social, intellectual, and emotional levels.
  2. Users rather than advertisers and investors. The content and sponsorship messages align with the ethical and social values of the users, not the profit goals of advertisers and investors. Talking Points Memo offers a good example. 
  3. Relations rather than scale. The important metric is not the number of eyeballs in the audience but how the journalists interact with and respond to the needs of their community.
  4. Quality rather than quantity. Instead of saturating the audience with the latest news on topics that everyone else is covering, they produce "slow news" that offers explanation, context, and analysis. De Correspondent of Holland has opted for the slow-news model.  
  5. Public service rather than for-profit businesses. Digital news outlets will produce investigative reports that challenge the narratives put out by powerful business and political interests. MediaPart of France and eldiario.es of Spain have adopted this model.  
  6. Social capital rather than financial capital. These digital media often lack financial capital, so they need to find ways to monetize their social capital to gain contributions and investment  based on the credibility of their content, the reputation of their journalists, and their links to other media and community organizations.
  7. Members rather than subscribers. Those who contribute money to a publication are not buying information in a purely economic transaction; they are supporting the mission of the publication, which is usually service to a specific community. Whether they are called partners, members, friends, supporters, sponsors, or what have you, they are providing the backbone for dozens of service-oriented media. The Membership Puzzle Project has identified more than 100 examples. 
  8. Niche media rather than mass media. The media that are prospering are those that exploit topics and audiences bypassed by traditional media because they aren't lucrative enough. Among neglected topics or communities--human rights, public education, quality of public services, health, environment, gender, small business, innovation, and science. Perspective Daily of Germany has 13,000 paid subscribers to its articles on science aimed at a general audience.
  9. The rebirth of personal media such as email and blogs. The advantage of these personalized media is that they can be walled off from Google and Facebook. TheSkimm and Business of Fashion are two examples of media that have accomplished this. 
  10. New narrative formats driven by new technologies. Many of these formats are driven by free or inexpensive technologies that permit the organization and mining of huge databases. Linguoo of Argentina started as a news-reading service for the blind that has expanded into other services. 
  11. And a bonus paradigm for those who have read this far. Collaboration rather than competition. A wonderful example is the work of Ojo Publico of Peru, which engaged four other publications in its investigation of the theft of thousand of objects of art and culture from Latin America. 

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