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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How CUNY’s Anita Zielina cultivates change leaders in the media business

June 17, 2020 | By Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst—Mobile Groove @peggyanne

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the growing realization that systemic racism is a “pandemic within a pandemic” highlight the critical need for trustworthy news and information. Yet it comes at a time when the media business is fighting a major battle of its own. Disrupted by the deterioration of revenue streams and business models, and devastated by what Reuters Institute estimates could be a $20 billion drop in income available to media worldwide, news media businesses face what has been described as an “extinction event.”

At this transformative moment for news media, executives must cultivate the skills to take charge of change. Otherwise they risk being crushed by it. Planning and priorities must focus on the approaches that make journalism viable and sustainable. Which raises the question: What are the new paths to excellence and profitability? The answers revolve around retooling teams to drive culture change and manage transformation in their news organizations.

Continuing our series of DCN video interviews, I talk to Anita Zielina, Director of Innovation and Leadership at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Zielina, who shapes CUNY’s executive education and leadership initiatives, draws from her own change-making career in several media organizations. Her experience includes stints at Switzerland’s NZZ Media group, Germany’s Stern and Austria’s Der Standard, to provide insights on what’s needed to run an innovative, customer-centric, and sustainable news media business.

Here are three key takeaways from our talk: 

Open career paths for digital natives

News media organizations have to improve ongoing training and overcome their own digital divides. “We are running into a terrible talent crisis in journalism,” Zielina says. Many young people entering the profession are not getting what they want most. They want the freedom to reimagine news and explore the digital storytelling technologies and models that can make it possible – and even profitable.

Be representative of the audiences you serve

Local newsrooms, which provide community coverage at a time when audiences are eager to know what is going on in their city or district, are well-positioned to come out of the pandemic strong, Zielina says. But the sustainable edge comes when news organizations listen to underrepresented communities and make a greater effort to include them as part of their newsrooms.

Revenue models are ready for a rethink

Media organizations get high marks for efforts to grasp analytics. The next step is to combine data points to arrive at a more holistic view of the consumer and what they are willing to pay for. This will require media leaders to open the aperture of how they view audiences and the value they can offer. Events, membership, exclusive content, and subscriptions can all be part of the mix. But no matter the revenue model, the requirement for a deeper understanding of “what people expect from you and why they are passionate about you” is a universal constant, Anita says.

Zielina also offers insights around the future prospects for news media and the key skills and capabilities needed to weather the post-pandemic storm.

Watch the full interview:

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