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INMA News Media Outlook Report: Editorial and Audience Quality Keys to Success

February 4, 2015 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

The International News Media Association (INMA) recently released its 2015 News Media Outlook report, which explores the “digital transformation path for publishers.” The report is framed by INMA Executive Director and CEO Earl J. Wilkinson’s elegant metaphor of a rope with two ends burning toward each other:

 “On one end are legacy news publishers, and on the other end are the new digital news publishers. The contrasts between the two ends of the rope are stark: print vs. digital business models, access to capital, profitability, market capitalization, age of workforces, the positioning of classic journalism, serendipity vs. analytics, and more. Both ends of the rope aim to adopt the best qualities of each other.”

Key themes in “News Media Outlook 2015: Re-Imagining the Transformation” include:

  1. Legacy vs. new digital media companies
  2. Value pillars
  3. Excellence of execution
  4. Foundations for future growth
  5. Technology and mobility

Throughout the report, Wilkinson examines the range of strategies taken by INMA’s member organizations all over the world, while also focusing on the differences between digitally-native organizations and publishers with roots in offline media. As Wilkinson writes, “one thing is clear: legacy publishers are spending a lot of time creating synergies between print and digital, while digital publishers spend all of their finite time trying to grow digital audience and revenue.” Those latter two, digital audience and revenue, are inexorably intertwined, he finds.

Legacy publishers believe in classic journalism for classic audiences, according to the report whereas digital publishers are “less wedded to those rules” and focus on the reader relationship. Thus, the roadmap for transformation that legacy publishers are following includes the recognition that “they are audience solution providers that support great journalism across media platforms.”

To succeed today, organizations need to align with market needs, which Wilkinson says mandates a “root-and-branch shift in how business gets done to produce quality journalism and sell audience solutions.” Yet despite the pressure to move toward a digital culture, he finds that many legacy companies “continue to operate in a print culture cocoon.” Contrast this with digital publishers that “think digital-only all the time and have blinders on with regard to their mission of growing a digital audience at all costs.”

To illustrate the audience scale in play, the INMA report cites a December 2014 USA Today article Michael Wolff, which says the “minimum for a high-profile site” that attracts “big-budget advertising accounts” has grown from 10 million to at least 50 million monthly visitors. However Wilkinson wisely points to another audience factor that anyone doing business online should consider:

“There is another reality at play: the intensity of the audience’s relationship to the brand is directly proportional to success in charging consumers for digital access.”

So while the report is framed with the “burning rope” metaphor, there are similarities between the digital and legacy publishers at each end of the spectrum worth noting and emphasizing. “Both ends of the rope want quality editorial environments for quality audiences funded by quality advertisers.”

The 118-page report is free to INMA members and available for purchase by non-members.

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