It’s been another breakneck year for the media industry. Every year at Media Voices we round up the biggest moments from the past 12 months, and explore how they impact publishers. This year was certainly not short of industry-defining events, and Media Moments 2022 summarizes these across 10 chapters, from advertising and subscriptions to newsletters and emerging technology.
Stepping back from the big moments of cookie delays, Twitter takeovers, and bumpy ad markets, there have been a number of developments this year which have the potential to shape publishing strategies in 2023 and beyond. Here are seven key themes from the report that will inform your approach moving forward:
1. Adblocking has returned to an all–time high
The days of adblocking causing sleepless nights for publishers seemed to be long–gone. Between the demise of third–party cookies and vigorous blocklists costing huge amounts of revenue, executives in the ad department have had plenty of other things to worry about.
Unfortunately, adblocking needs to move back up on the agenda. It has returned to levels last seen at the peak of the phenomenon in 2018, with 290 million web users actively blocking ads worldwide, according to the 2022 PageFair Adblock Report. This is an average of 21% across all geos and verticals. Solutions to tackle the problem are in short supply, and are likely to remain so unless it is prioritized again.
2. Streaming accounts for the majority time spent with TV
In August, streaming officially topped cable as the most popular method by which people in the U.S. consume television content. According to Nielsen, which runs a monthly Gauge study of TV consumption, streaming now makes up more than one–third (34.8%) of all television consumption, overtaking cable (34.4%), and far ahead of broadcast (21.6%).
Unsurprisingly, streaming powerhouses like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are leading the charge. However, this is a notable milestone for streamers across the board. It marks a major shift in how audiences – especially younger people – engage with what we’ve traditionally thought of as television content. This opens more opportunities for publishers in the video space to get well–told stories in front of audiences. But it also means that the video landscape is more fractured than ever.
3. Local news can be profitable on just reader revenue
The past five or so years has seen local news start–ups grow all over the world as access to publishing and revenue tools has opened up. Some have shown real promise this year, offering tantalizing glimpses of a sustainable future for local publishers.
In the U.K., The Manchester Mill, a Substack–based local news publisher, reached profitability last month with just 1,600 paying subscribers. The two–year–old brand says they are profitable off annualized subscription revenue of around $164,000. Founder Joshi Herrmann has launched two sister titles off the back of its success: the Liverpool Post and Sheffield Tribune, which are at 650 and 900 paying subscribers respectively.
For local news to truly thrive, we will need to move beyond models of just one or two reporters per city. But the early green shoots of success are encouraging.
4. There’s no sign of subscriptions decline…yet
Following Netflix’s Q2 subscriber tumble, many analysts have forecast a downturn in subscriptions. As economic pressures begin to bite, almost 30% of consumers polled by Toolkits and the National Research Group said that they planned to reduce the number of online subscriptions they hold.
But the second half of 2022 has shown that the subscriptions market is resilient. Netflix saw a spectacular bounceback in Q3, adding 2.41 million new subscribers and beating its own and analyst expectations. Publishers are seeing continued growth too: AOP members reported digital subscriptions growth at almost 15% over the last 12 months. Some have reported record performances, from the New York Times’ 9 million subscriber milestone to The Economist posting its most profitable year since 2016 on the back of 1.2 million subscribers, and total subscription revenues accounting for more than 60% of its revenues.
We may yet see a downturn depending on how pressures on consumers play out over winter. But for now, people are happy to pay for content they find valuable.
5. Email newsletters are an unexploited revenue opportunity
Email may be one of the oldest forms of digital communication, but as a revenue driver it is still very under–used by mainstream publishers. Despite the wave of Substack–led paid newsletter creators over the past few years, few publishers have attempted anything similar themselves.
A recent report from WAN–IFRA highlighted the opportunity gap around email newsletters. 48% of publishers they surveyed did not monetize their newsletters. Of those that did, advertising and exclusive sponsorships were used by 32% and 16% respectively. Significantly, newsletters were used as part of a subscription bundle rather than standalone offering were used by 30% of publishers.
Quartz is one publisher who dropped its paywall entirely this year. Interestingly, they still kept the membership scheme, and instead have a suite of premium emails they send to members. “We found that 75% of Quartz members read us primarily through email, so we’ve been putting more of our best stuff directly in their inboxes,” said CEO Zach Seward.
When it comes to advertising, I wouldn’t wish the ad tech that plagues the rest of the internet on our email inboxes. But the tech to improve the advertising experience in email via personalisation and segmentation is getting there. Now, we just have to behave responsibly with it. Newsletters have a reputation as a premium engagement method for a good reason.
6. News headlines are in a negative spiral
Following the headline findings from the Reuters Digital News Report about the growing issue of news avoidance, there has been much discussion this year on how to rebuild trust with audiences. As publishers compete for attention online, they have found ways of standing out and getting readers to click and share content. But this isn’t necessarily positive.
One study in particular from PLoS ONE showed just the extent to which media headlines have become increasingly negative over the past two decades. The research showed headlines expressing anger were up 104% since the year 2000, fear, 150%, and sadness 54%. This isn’t because the world has got worse, even if “permacrisis” is the word of the year for 2022. Rather, negative and emotionally–arousing headlines are more likely to attract clicks and attention, which in turn means more revenue for publishers.
It’s a difficult cycle to break. The sheer amount of competition for attention means that it’s understandable publishers have to find ways of breaking through the noise. But the long–term effects of stoking outrage and despair on a near–constant basis are just beginning to be recognized.
7. Some emerging tech is good to jump on early. Others, not so much!
Publishers who tried early experiments in NFTs have been richly rewarded. From digital covers to archive images, NFT projects have generated millions for brands like TIME, The Economist, Forbes, and Playboy over the past few years.
However, the bottom has since fallen out of the NFT market, driven by the tough year cryptocurrency has had. NFT trading volumes collapsed 97% between January and September this year. So it’s not surprising to see publishers like CNN wrapping up their NFT marketplaces and projects.
Caution in other areas, however, is wise. Apart from a couple of publishers like Vogue testing metaverse experiences, it has been mainly consumer brands rushing to the space.
Audiences so far have not followed. Meta had aimed to have 500,000 monthly active users for its flagship platform Horizon Worlds by the end of 2022. By October, they had revised that figure down to 280,000, although the current tally is allegedly less than 200k. Other metaverse platforms are also struggling; audits on Sandbox and Decentraland have shown that user numbers are small. Platforms seeing success like Roblox are primarily built for gaming. As yet, there is little justification for publishers to lever themselves into the metaverse at great expense.
Trends and strategy
What is more evident when compared with previous years is how quickly things can crash. We suspected when authoring last year’s edition that, for example, that the NFT bubble would burst. We couldn’t have foreseen that would happen just months later.
Instead, innovation – whether that be audience-building, revenue generation or product – is to be found in formats that have been around for decades. Podcasts, newsletters and apps have been used by publishers of all shapes and sizes this year to deepen relationships and reduce churn. The key is to be where your audience is with a product that they need. And so far, you won’t find them in the metaverse.
The Gallup/Knight Foundation report shows that approximately 76% of U.S. consumers strongly or somewhat agree that most news organizations are “first and foremost businesses, motivated by financial interests.” Only 12% of consumers strongly or somewhat agree that most news organizations are “first and foremost civic institutions, motivated by the public interest.”
This report is Part 1 of a two-part study, American Views 2022. The first part focuses on consumer attitudes and behaviors, and the second will delve into what drives Americans’ trust in news. The analysis includes survey results from over 5,500 U.S adults aged 18 and older.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of U.S. adults report that news companies lean more toward staying in business than serving consumers. Younger Americans, 67% of Gen Z and 70% of Millennials, are most likely to believe news organizations prioritize their business needs. Only a small percentage (6%) of consumers think news organizations lean toward providing a public service. Importantly, 30% of those surveyed think news organizations balance business needs and public service well.
Further, more republicans (81%) and Independents (82%) than Democrats (69%) strongly or somewhat agree that news organizations are motivated by financial interests than serving the public interest.
The Gallup/Knight analysis shows that the 29% of consumers “very favorable” toward the news media also say news organizations are first and foremost civic institutions. More than double the amount compared to the total consumers at 12%.
According to the Gallop/Knight analysis, almost three-quarters (72%) of Americans report never paying a news organization directly for their content. Among the 26% paying for news content, the majority did so via subscriptions (86%), donations (39%), membership (36%), micropayment (10%), and day pass (5%).
Those more likely to pay for news include:
Younger Americans (Gen Z and Gen X)
Democrats are more likely than republicans and independents
College educated (four years)
High income, more than $150,000
Predictably, those with more favorable attitudes toward news media are willing to pay to access news in the future. One-third of consumers (33%) with favorable attitudes about the news media report having paid for news in some form. Further, 25% of consumers with favorable attitudes about the news media would pay to access news in the future.
Seventy-six percent report their decisions to pay for news depend on the content, and 62% say that the deciding factor is the cost. Gen Z and Millennials are considerably more likely to report that content is an essential decision factor, 82% each.
As new organizations look at new revenue streams, they should carefully target Gen Z and Millennials. We know Gen Z and Millennials index higher on willingness to pay for content. However, they also show a stronger inclination towards paying for events and exclusive content.
Striking a balance between servicing the public and managing a news organization’s financial interests is tied to consumers’ willingness to pay for news content. Ensuring this balance can help drive consumer favorability and grow their willingness to pay for content. Further, younger adults appear more open to diversified revenue streams, such as news organizations charging for events, newsletters, and exclusive content. As younger generations continue to gain buying power, these attitudes could translate into real financial growth opportunities for news outlets.
As the Chinese social giant recently boasted over a billion active monthly users worldwide, even the White House is turning to TikTok influencers to deliver news to young audiences. And, given TikTok’s popularity, older social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are making big changes to their algorithms and content to compete. Because more people of all ages are getting news through social media, these shifts could have significant impact on delivery of news and information. However, there are steps media organizations can take to address this impact.
Focus on quick video clips: In 2020, Facebook added “Reels” to user feeds. Reels are 60 second video clips – the same length as the current TikTok limit on video length.
Less social, more media: Social media platforms are tweaking their algorithms to de-emphasize social connections, as TikTok has proven the “friends” angle isn’t necessary to engage users. Instagram recently rolled out changes giving less priority to content by users’ friends and family in favor of automatically “recommended” short video reels like those of TikTok.
Focus on fun: As TikTok’s stated mission is to “inspire creativity and bring joy,” other platforms are shifting to emphasize lighter content.
De-prioritizing news: News article links constitute only about 4% of what users now see in their Facebook feeds, a spokesperson from Meta told Today, adding: “We have learned from the data that news and links to news content are not the reason the vast majority of people come to Facebook, and as a business we can’t over-invest in areas that don’t align most with user preferences.” Facebook changed the term “News Feed” to “Feed” in February.
Misinformation concerns grow
A related concern is the number of Gen Z adults using TikTok as a search engine. A recent study by Newsguard analyzed 540 TikTok search results on prominent news topics – including school shootings, elections, and vaccines – and found that 19.4% turned up misinformation. The study also found TikTok results to be more polarizing than similar searches on Google. (However, TikTok did detect and remove several false or misleading videos planted by Newsguard as part of the study.) TikTok’s website states its content is vetted by technology, with a “safety team” to evaluate some flagged content.
Social media features problematic for news providers
As entertaining content captures more engagement from users, platforms are incentivized to deprioritize serious news, wrote Navene Elangovan for Today. Her interviews with experts in academia and journalism highlighted social media issues problematic for news providers: emphasis on engagement over content, emotion as a driver of engagement, and the opacity of social media algorithms.
Social media platforms are geared to maximize engagement by having as many users as possible. The goal is to have users spend as much time on the platform as possible, engaging in as many ways as possible. Because strong emotions trigger engagement, social media algorithms reward upsetting content- the opposite of the objectivity valued in traditional news journalism. “Outrage fatigue” can then lead to news avoidance.
Another problem is the opacity of social media algorithms. Changes made to reduce emphasis on quality news should be communicated to audiences. If users are aware of social media platforms downplaying news, they may be more likely to seek reputable news sources elsewhere.
Tips for news providers
Experts interviewed by Elangovan suggested steps newsrooms might take in response to social media TikTokification:
Separate marketing from journalism so that journalists can focus on content, not views.
Create incentives for viewers to return daily to news sites to build a habit.
Diversify channels of news distribution.
Find ways to draw viewers from “lighter” platforms to more serious content, accepting social media sites as conduits rather than main sources of delivering news.
Newsrooms may consider setting up their own social media platforms as a means of diversifying how content is communicated.
Will outrage fatigue turn to fluff fatigue?
When Instagram changed its algorithm and content to align more with that of TikTok, a flood of user complaints forced Instagram head Adam Mosseri to defend the decisions at length on Twitter. In the wake of this pushback, Instagram rolled back some of the changes.
When it comes to news content on social media, some experts surmise that outrage fatigue may give way to fluff fatigue. As users are increasingly bombarded with frivolity in their social media feeds, they may turn to more traditional news outlets for deeper and more reliable coverage of major events.
Since 2004 almost 1,800 local newspapers have closed their doors in the U.S. alone. Oddly, though — and despite an economic downturn — it appears that a slew of new local news outlets have emerged online. Unfortunately, one needs to take a good look under the hood before celebrating this trend.
In October 2019, the Lansing State Journal uncovered dozens of websites branded as local news outlets throughout Michigan that posed as local news but instead were outlets for political messaging. Again in 2020, The New York Times reported that the local site, Maine Business Daily, is part of a network of 1,300 questionable websites. They look like local-news outlets, but the stories are directed by political and corporate public relations firms. Algorithms create much of the content on these sites.
While investigative reporting uncovered these sites, little is known about their impact on readers. The Tow Center’s new report, Reader perspectives on local partisan news sites, examines how local news audiences assess and interpret these so-called news sites. In particular, the research explores whether news consumers infer any bias in the reporting of these sites, how they navigate and respond to these pseudo-local news websites, and how this affects consumer trust in news.
The Tow Center recruited 90 participants to assess these local news sites.
Participants completed an initial survey about their local news consumption habits and needs and assessed their assigned local website.
They completed a daily diary exercise to detail their experience of using their assigned website and other local news outlets over five consecutive days.
Participants offered a final reflection about their assigned website, addressing issues such as how, if at all, it improved their understanding of local issues and assessed trustworthiness.
Local site general assessment
Two-thirds of participants recorded an initial negative impression of their assigned website. Reasons for a negative response included the lack of updates and relevant content. The remaining third reported a positive impression, they noted a favorable impression of the sites’ layout and design, lack of paywalls, and mobile responsiveness. Interestingly, only one-third of participants claimed there was conservative bias in their assigned outlet’s editorial coverage.
The most common response from participants throughout the five-day diary exercise was frustration at the lack of new content and the prominence of outdated content on the homepage. Upon repeated visits, they found the content mostly irrelevant to their daily lives and communities and noted it as “odd,” “weird,” and “bizarre.”
Supplied with automated, data-filled stories, these local sites offered few articles with reporter bylines. Most participants found the automated stories to be disconnected from their communities. In addition, respondents reported that the sites were all about politics and little of anything else.
Perceptions of trustworthiness and bias
While most final impressions were negative, the question of these sites’ trustworthiness and potential bias was somewhat mixed. Many participants excused the sites for their low-cost, algorithmically generated output. While most participants rated the outlets as untrustworthy, there was a narrow majority rating the coverage as fair and balanced.
A strong majority did not look for information about site ownership until prompted and said it did not cross their minds to investigate even with an unfamiliar news source. Only a minority of participants investigated the ownership of their assigned site and describing the lack of transparency as “shocking,” “unsettling,” “odd,” and “worrying.”
Despite the industry’s emphasis on fake news and misinformation, some participants accepted these sites at face value, despite the site’s clear lack of objectivity and partisan status. Consumers do not seem to focus on identifying who owns and operates a news source. Unfortunately, their opinions of this sort of site will affect the broader industry as they fail to distinguish between these partisan sites and legitimate news sources. With the 2024 elections approaching, the news media must address consumers about the importance of considering the source of their information and reinforcing the value of trusted, reputable local news brands.
The publishing industry has undergone a serious transformation in the past five years. It’s moving away from an all-out push for scale and toward earnest efforts to create meaningful relationships built on trust with online readers. It’s not just about eyes on the page. It’s about loyalty.
A loyal audience is more likely to subscribe, attend events, and engage with relevant ads — ultimately increasing revenue. To succeed, newsrooms will, of course, need to rely on the editorial and ethical foundations that have made journalism a pillar of society. But to truly compete with global powerhouses like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Netflix, news organizations need access to data on the same scale that those tech companies have.
To increase loyalty, journalists and editors need to be armed with data and AI-based tools that guarantee a great experience for each visitor every time. These tools tell publishers what topics their readers are interested in and help writers create engaging headlines. These tools also surface the right content to the right person at the right time, whether it’s editorial, sponsored content, or an ad. It’s a tall order. But this marriage of old and new worlds will undeniably fuel the most powerful newsrooms of the future.
Keeping up without compromising
The algorithms that power the world’s most popular social channels master the art of personalization. They give users a never-ending flow of content and ads they find interesting, relevant, and downright addictive. And, perhaps most importantly, they help social media platforms rake in revenue.
According toresearch from Gallup, 45% of respondents said they use social media as their primary way to stay informed on current events, while only 14% said they turn to online news websites. But despite turning to social media the most, respondents also expressed distrust for it. They reported that they’re twice as likely to trust the authenticity and validity of news sites over social media.
This presents the news industry with a monumental task. Publishers need to build sustainable systems that allow them to keep up with the new wave of user experiences ushered in by social media. Thanks to these social platforms, today’s consumers expect personalization from both their editorial and sponsored content. And publishers have to deliver those customized experiences if they want to attract and retain new audiences. But at the same time, they need to maintain the integrity and values that make journalism so important.
The solution to this challenge is strategically designed and applied AI. Publishers can harness the power of massive databases and sophisticated predictive algorithms while maintaining editorial controls.
AI’s role in digital news
Research from Reuters shows that AI’s various use cases are already widely embraced by news industry leaders. A whopping 85% of respondents said AI will play an important role in automated content recommendations and personalization for users, including sponsored content like native advertising. However, it’s not all about content delivery or personalization; 70% think AI plays a significant role in investigating or finding stories through patterns in data. And 81% believe AI can help speed up and automate workflows, like content tagging, interview transcription, and assisted subbing. Meanwhile, 69% believe AI will help with commercial strategies and revenue growth, like identifying “high-propensity” readers or future customers who are more likely to purchase a subscription.
5 tips for building the ideal AI-powered newsroom
To meet today’s challenges, publishers need a 360-degree approach. In addition to involving engineering and data science teams, it’s critical to involve editors and journalists every step of the way. Ad ops teams will also play a vital role in the AI-powered newsroom since they have the tools to optimize ad campaigns for increased revenue. This comprehensive approach ensures that every player’s needs and perspectives are suited while designing UX and algorithms.
Plus, the insights and best practices offered by editors and journalists are the secret sauce to ensuring that these tools meet ethical standards. Here are a few guardrails and features that can help build ideal AI tools and workflows for the newsroom:
The ability for editors to influence how algorithms make decisions. This involves reviewing and moderating the logic that “teaches” algorithms how to make automated editorial decisions.
The ability for editors to craft “definitions” that dictate the content mix. This way, personalization isn’t able to hide or remove any content areas, regardless of the user’s interest in them.
Allowing AI to power your website ads. Use AI-powered automation to programmatically deliver targeted, personalized ads in the most relevant placements for your audience.
An interface that allows flexible personalization on certain parts of a website, for example, the homepage. Users can see dynamic and personalized content based on their interests and preferences while still allowing curated content based on the news cycle and current events on a local, regional, and global level.
A focus on original content as opposed to syndicated and aggregated content. This helps to reduce information bubbles while staying in line with consumers’ tendency to trust news over social media and other forms of aggregated content.
Better user experience, better business outcomes
In the face of cold and calculated social media algorithms, many of today’s news sites are struggling to keep user attention, drive engagement, and build loyalty. It may be a hard road ahead, but it’s possible to stay in the game while maintaining your journalistic integrity and building scalable, sustainable models.
The newsroom of the future is powered by strategic teams and comprehensive databases that feed highly-specialized algorithms. The result: personalized experiences that rival those of social media and the business metrics to prove it.
About the author
Tim Ruder is the Principal of Audience Development at Taboola. Tim works with editorial teams at premium news publishers, helping them incorporate data and AI-based engagement and personalization solutions into news operations and workflows. His experience in personalization and audience engagement includes working with publishers like the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Hearst Newspapers and many others.
The terms “echo chamber” and “filter bubble” are often used to describe social media’s selective exposure of news content to audiences. Industry research has found that platforms using algorithmic rankings and recommendations produce less diverse and more segregated audience opinions. However, television news is generally excluded from these analyses. New research, Quantifying partisan news diets in Web and TV audiences, seeks to illuminate the impact of television news as a driver of partisan ideology.
Authors, Daniel Muise, Homa Hosseinmardi, Baird Howland, Maarkus Mobius, David Rothschild, and Duncan Watts used nationally representative panel data between 2016 and 2019 to analyze minute-level usage from national TV tracking and second-level laptop/desktop browser tracking. They conclude that partisan audience segregation affects between three and four times more Americans via TV news than online news.
On average, the report says that 17% of Americans are partisan segregated through television news. However, they find that only 4% of Americans’ partisan-bias is a result of online news. This contrasts starkly with the belief that the digital ecosystem has amplified echo-chambers.
TV news’ partisan audience
The research also finds that television news consumers are likelier to maintain their partisan news consumption for a longer time than online audiences. While right-segregated online news consumers are somewhat more likely to remain segregated after 1 month (29.1%), and more than three times as likely to remain after 6 months (6.3%), online partisan segregation—when it arises—is generally fleeting at the monthly level.
News source exclusivity
One significant factor is the number of sources for news available in each medium. While the online news environment offers numerous choices, TV news viewers still only have a handful of sources. And, once they’ve chosen, it becomes the default choice. The research finds that TV audiences do not stray from their most preferred sources compared to online audiences. Among partisan TV news viewers, those who consume mostly MSNBC rarely consume news from any other source besides CNN. Further, audiences that consume mostly Fox News do not go elsewhere for TV news content.
Online audiences, however, tend to be more inclusive in preferences for their news content and include some mainstream and moderate sources.
The authors also analyze TV and online news consumption by age, race, and educational level. Not surprisingly, partisan segregation is much more apparent among older adults in the TV audience. Interestingly, adults 55 years old and older viewers lean toward right-leaning biased segregation. In contrast, older adults are more likely than younger adults to be partisan segregated to the left via online news.
White Americans are far more likely to be partisan segregated to the right on either platform than Americans who do not identify as white. The most partisan-segregated news consumers are postgraduate degree holders on the left. Seventeen percent of highly educated Americans are TV news consumers whose news diet is mainly left-leaning.
This research finds that segregation is more prevalent, concentrated, and persistent on TV than online. While the overall TV news audience is shrinking, the partisan TV news audience is growing in absolute terms. TV news audiences are undergoing a cleansing process of alternative viewpoints, and there are consequences for our democracy. Significantly, this research establishes a clear need to consider television when examining the existence and impact of filter bubbles.
Getting attention and creating awareness is vital to influencers and journalists since both compete in the same attention economy. As part of her Polis Newsroom Fellowship at the London School of Economics, Salla-Rosa Leinonen explores the idea of adopting an influencer style of journalism to bring the audience closer to the newsroom. In her new report Can Journalists be Influencers? she makes the case for newsrooms to support staff who want to experiment with a journo-influencer role to help build credibility among a younger target audience.
A vehicle to reach a younger audience
Influencers create original content with a distinct and authentic voice. Building creditability among a younger audience is an effective tool for marketing, branded content, and endorsements. Effective influencers attract a lot of attention on social channels like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. Leinonen suggests that journalists who want to reach a younger audience implement influencer practices on social media.
Notably, a new study from UK communications regulator Ofcam shows that for the first time, Instagram is the most popular news source among younger people (22%) of teens, with TikTok and YouTube close behind. Further, TikTok users participating in the study said they get more of their news from “other people they follow” (47%) than from news organizations’ accounts (24%). Another study, Reuters Digital News Report, also shows that 40% of young adults, 18- 24, report using social media as their main news source. Therefore, social media provides a critical point of connection for younger news consumers.
As part of her research, Leinonen interviewed Olivia Le Poidevin, a BBC reporter, to discuss the similarities between the journalists and influences. Poidevin noted that journalists use the news as a vehicle to connect to the audience, while influencers use their content. However, Poidevin concludes that there is a convergence between news and content. She states, “Up to now; there has been a clear division between ‘content’ and ‘news,’ in many media organizations as if they were two separate worlds. From the audience’s point of view, they are not separate; they are the same.”
Benefits of being an influential journalist
The report defines the role of an “influential journalist” as someone who gains awareness or fame through more traditional modes of journalism but also uses social media to build their following. Only pieces of their content like article excerpts, snippets, and clips are usually available on social media. They use social media to market, share, and showcase their work with new audiences who are not spending their time on traditional media platforms.
Leinonen cites Sandra Banjac and Folker Hanusch’s research on audiences’ expectations of content creators on Instagram, YouTube, and blogs, compared to journalists. The research finds that both content creators and journalists share many of the same values. These include likeability, the feeling of being directly spoken to, sharing valuable information, and expertise, which all drive followers to seek more information.
Importantly, “journo-influencers” can learn to leverage new storytelling formats without sacrificing the skills and integrity of journalism. They can also connect their journalistic style to their personality to build trust with their followers. This report suggests that journalists rethink their news reporting process as content creation to generate an authentic voice to connect to younger audiences.
Social audio creates opportunities to grow and engage with audiences. It also provides an ideal medium for tackling big issues. However, The Texas Tribune’s social audio experience reminds us about the importance of concentrating on key issues that affect the everyday lives of audiences.
Austin-based Texas Tribune keeps a tight focus on specific issues, events, and questions when using social audio. “Our approach to live social audio is to ensure that we’re talking about a topic or a storyline,” rather than a project or its journalistic process according to Bobby Blanchard, Director of Audience, who oversees Texas Tribune’s social channels.
The Tribune has found that there are topics that resonate with their audiences and keep them more engaged over others, Blanchard says. “We generally lean towards service work — how to vote, to understand and follow elections, how to prepare for possible power grid problems. These conversations attract a wide variety of readers because they’re all impacted by what’s discussed,” he says.
For example, The Tribune held a Twitter Space on preparing for the winter in December 2021, which discussed how and why Texans should prepare for the winter ahead. The conversation centered around the power grid and safety, and it featured the president of the Austin EMS Association.
The following month, The Tribune held a Twitter Space on redistricting and voting coverage. The discussion focused on what citizens should know about voting in Texas in 2022, what redistricting is and how it affects the election, and what would be on the ballot. The event featured former Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsay and Alexa Ura, demographics and voting rights reporter of The Texas Tribune.
“The Texas Tribune helps its readers navigate and understand how Texas policy and politics impacts their day-to-day lives,” says Blanchard. “Answering reader questions and engaging with our audience is a key part of our service journalism work.”
In addition to providing critical information, social audio does help The Tribune build community by giving the audience the chance to engage directly with the reporters behind the news they read. However, their emphasis remains on using the new platform to provide readers with what they expect from the brand.
As Blanchard points out, people consume information in all kinds of ways — some via text, some via visual and some via audio. “I think giving our readers multiple ways to consume the news helps us serve all types of readers. I also think it strengthens our relationship with them. It helps our readers understand that, like them, we’re humans doing this work.”
Preparing to go live
While Twitter Spaces and other social audio platforms gives anyone the option to go live, it’s not something The Texas Tribune does on impulse. A lot of planning and logistics goes into preparing for an event and they leverage lessons they’ve learned over time.
The Tribune has a thorough process to be prepared before going live on social audio. Blanchard says that, prior to going live, they give everyone a chance to test their tech and make sure they’re in a space with a good connection and have the equipment they need to record good audio. Blanchard and his team prefer wired headphones to wireless headphones, for example.
“We always have a preference for actual microphones or wired headphones to Bluetooth or built-in laptop microphones. It ensures a higher level of audio, in our experience,” Blanchard says. “We’ve just found the audio quality is better and there is a lower chance of technical problems with the audio when you use wired headphones as opposed to wireless. Best to remove as many chances for things to go wrong as possible.”
It is critical to ensure that the moderator is prepared and set up with everything they will need. “We write an introductory script for the moderator and prep questions ahead of time, just in case we get very few audience questions,” Blanchard says. “We pepper in a lot of reminders for the moderator to do a fresh table setting of what the conversation is about midway through, so folks who join late can easily catch up. We try to limit these conversations to 15-30 minutes.”
Blanchard noted they don’t open the mic to everyone. If listeners want to ask questions, they have to tweet at or direct message The Tribune. From a moderation standpoint, Blanchard says letting just anyone speak can become a minefield. If anyone can join the conversation, it opens up the possibility to trolls or bad faith actors trying to attack journalists or guests. “We don’t want that to happen — it spoils the conversation. There’s also enough of that online as it is. There’s no need to make space for anymore of it.”
As for timing their social audio events, the Tribune tries to schedule them when people are most likely to tune in, which is typically lunch time, according to Blanchard. Time of day affects how engaging a conversation is and how many people tune in. “If you do a live audio conversation at 4:45 PM, when everyone is driving home, you’re not likely to get a ton of listeners.”
“It’s my working theory that people enjoy listening during lunch,” he says. “I’ve also seen newsrooms have success with this in the early morning or late evening. I consider 1-5 PM a bit of a dead zone, and typically avoid programming live conversations then.”
Monetize like a sponsored event
Beyond audience engagement and a new storytelling platform, media organizations can look to social audio as a potential new revenue source. The Tribune does not generally have sponsors for its social audio events. However, in some cases they’ve used social audio for what would have traditionally been a live event. As such, they secured a sponsor as they would for those events otherwise.
“Our conversation about our primary preview coverage on March 1, 2022 — for example — was sponsored by The Marchant Good Government Fund and Raise Your Hand Texas,” Blanchard says. However, he notes that “financial support plays no role in picking topics or guests for these conversations — or any of our journalism.” And, because The Texas Tribune is a not-for-profit organization, sponsorship is not a significant driver behind its social strategy. However, other organizations seeking to build a revenue stream on social audio might emulate the live-event model as one approach.
Certainly, monetization opportunities seem promising. However, social audio falls into a class of its own. It isn’t as neat and tidy as podcasts. Its immediacy and intimacy is one major differentiating factor, and it still seems to be space in which content companies are experimenting.
While Millennials might be digital natives, Gen Z are social natives, having grown up watching video and listening to audio instead of visiting traditional news sites, according to the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2022.
Thus, it seems likely that social audio will play an increasing role in their consumption habits, given Gen Z’s heavy reliance on social platforms. Digital content companies need to keep an eye on the changing needs and wants of this next generation, as they exhibit different behaviors than those who came before.
However, when conceiving a social audio strategy, it’s critical to think about what audiences need, and expect, from your brand. Priority number one is to figure out how social audio uniquely serves an audience and what you’re trying to accomplish. For this brand, having a narrow focus on service-based journalism works best.
At The Texas Tribune, social audio offers immediate engagement with audiences and the opportunity to provide useful, practice advice and trusted guidance, and address its readers’ needs in a moment. Their experience demonstrates how social audio can be used to help audiences make decisions, on what to buy, how to do something, answer specific questions, and solve their problems.
Publishers should target the medium, not the platform to capture the next generation of news consumers.
The 2022 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford paints a grim picture. More people are avoiding the news than ever before, especially younger generations. But these social and digital natives are not necessarily next up in the queue of eventual news consumers nor are they a target audience, yet. This article aims to highlight who publishers should target and how.
Targeting too young, too soon.
It’s easy to read the aforementioned report and feel exasperated. Thirty eight percent of people surveyed around the world are selectively avoiding the news, up from 29% in 2017. In the U.S., it’s 42%, up from 38% in 2017.
The percentage of avoiders grows the younger the dataset gets with 20-somethings actively avoiding certain genres of news as a form of self-care.
“I actively avoid things that trigger my anxiety and things that can have a negative impact on my day. I will try to avoid reading news about things like deaths and disasters.”
—Male, 27, UK
This is distressing for any journalist to read. However, there’s an interesting yet subtle distinction in how younger consumers are classifying news which helps explain it.
“…younger audiences often distinguish between ‘the news’ as the narrow, traditional agenda of politics and current affairs and ‘news’ as a much wider umbrella encompassing topics like sports, entertainment, celebrity gossip, culture, and science.”
This means that younger generations are lumping proper journalism in with their entire digital diet. This makes sense based on how different types of information bleed together on social feeds. A video from the New York Times on the war in Ukraine might be sandwiched between a video from an influencer doing the latest viral dance trend and a video showing how to make burrata caprese. If you’re on your phone for another dopamine hit, “the news” isn’t going to satiate.
So called “older generations” (35 is the cutoff in the report) are much more interested in “the news” as opposed to “news”. They seek out the news because they feel it’s important, useful and a good way to learn new things as opposed to younger generations looking for entertainment or something to discuss with friends.
This sense of duty to be informed is the perfect audience subset for publishers and that passionate niche only grows larger with age. Some publishers are setting the bar even higher than 35. The Washington Post’s Phoebe Connelly, director of Next Generation Audiences told Poynter’s Senior Media Writer Tom Jones that younger audiences are anyone under 45. That’s just ten years younger than the average news consumer.
The Reuters report shows that younger audiences are less engaged and are even having a difficult time understanding the news. I should be clear that these audiences shouldn’t be ignored. It’s worth exploring how to increase media literacy and develop a sense of duty to be well informed. But newsrooms need to be strategic with their limited audience targeting resources, so whether it’s due to self-care or just wanting to be entertained, publishers should mostly put the millennial and Gen-Z generations on the shelf while they mature into vintage news consumers and focus on the tier below their current audience.
45 is the new 55
Most consumers are getting their news from social media on mobile devices, even this older demographic. But there are key opportunities in this subset for publishers compared to the younger audiences.
They are about 13% of the U.S. population (37 million and the third largest set)
They are twice as likely to have a digital subscription to news than 35-45 year olds. (8% or 3 million)
About 25% either mostly watch or have a balance of watching and reading the news. (9.2 million)
This last bullet point is key because it highlights a consumption trend that can result in huge engagement and revenue growth for publishers.
While only about 25% of older consumers mostly watch or consume the same amount of content via video or text, the younger generations are consuming nearly 35% via video. Our research at Oovvuu finds this to be true across its publishing partners as well. A global average of 34% of news consumers prefer video while on a publisher’s website, not just social media.
This trend isn’t going to change. TikTok is a video-only platform and it’s the most popular social media platform in the world with the youngest users. TikTok will come and go, but those users have been conditioned to consume video from the days of Facebook and Twitter to Instagram, YouTube and now TikTok. When they grow up and fit nicely into the 45 to 55 news-hungry demographic, odds are they’ll still want video.
Engagement and revenue opportunities
Already, 41% of consumers who prefer video say it is more engaging than text. When publishers embed contextually relevant video on a news story the time spent on that page doubles. It also increases the likelihood of that viewer returning to the site.
This strategy isn’t new. It’s usually mentioned every few years when a publisher “pivots to video” for the umpteenth time. The problem lies in the execution of that strategy. The road to proper video implementation is riddled with landmines: auto-play, long non-skippable pre rolls, too many ads, loading too many videos and weighing down the page, and a lack of contextual relevance are all recipes for disaster with news video consumption. One landmine can turn off a consumer or an advertiser. They’ll still want or pay for video, it just won’t happen on your site.
The winning formula is the right video, at the right time, in the right place.
This formula works because video is 34 times more profitable than display advertising when implemented correctly. At Oovvuu, we’ve found that publishers who are willing to follow the formula are rewarded with media agency partners who are willing to pay premium CPMs for those videos and consumers who actually engage with the content. Here’s the formula again with more detail.
The reality is that journalists still need to do the work, and publishers can empower them with this strategy because it translates across all levels of the organization. Contextually relevant video journalism making more money for the publisher means newsrooms could do something they haven’t done in a long time…grow.
Contextual relevance applies to video, but also the consumer
There is one more potential pitfall to this strategy worth mentioning. A digital publisher or broadcaster can have a 1:1 perfect match between an in-house video and an article, but over time the publisher will still see a lack of loyalty from its consumers. But why if the video and article are in perfect harmony?
Social and digital native audiences are more casual, less loyal, less trusting and more skeptical in their news consumption. Loyalty and trust are built through representation and diversity. A publisher who relies on one brand or one internal group of talent – no matter how good – is likely turning off younger consumers.
Publishers can’t hire every demographic. They also can’t source every video. This means that publishers and video providers need to work together to have the best audience representation possible. Publishers who have video from hundreds of providers around the world are able to publish a larger variety of reporting perspectives and viewpoints with more races, accents and dialects offered from news presenters.
Contextual relevance through diverse video sources will leave audiences feeling represented, empowered, and part of the news. Couple that with a proper video strategy and consumers will be more likely to engage with “the news” and less likely to disassociate with it.
DCN’s editorial director Michelle Manafy interviews Nicole Carroll, the Editor-in-chief of USA Today and Aja Whitaker-Moore the Executive Editor of Axioson Newsroom innovation: What’s the future of storytelling at the Collision conference, which was held in Toronto, Canada June 22-24, 2022.
[Full transcript below.]
WATCH/LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW
I’m back! But I’m in good company. I’ve got some terrific speakers here joining me to talk about newsroom innovation. If we could, I feel like the topic is just huge. If maybe you’d like to kick us off with what the heck does it even mean?
You know, I think innovation now, in the olden days, it was always tech and what’s the next product? And what’s the next thing? And I think now honestly, it’s about engagement is like how do we truly authentically engage with our audiences. And that could be tech that could be in person storytelling, that could be, you know, lots of different ways. I also think innovation always is just about to keep moving forward, you know, every generation of journalists is going to do it a little bit differently. And I think we’ve got to find our way. So, I think about innovation, not just in a technology sense, but literally everything we do in hiring, and how do we fund our journalism? How do we connect with our audiences? We’ve got to keep moving forward.
Aja, anything you want to add to that?
No, I mean, I think you’ve covered a lot of it. And from the actors perspective, you know, we’re a startup. And so everything that we do is kind of innovative, in our opinion. And we were born of, you know, we thought a problem, which was, there’s too much information, and people don’t know how to keep up with it, they don’t know how to access it. And, you know, we think that our promise is innovative in the sense that we came up with a new format, came up with a new delivery mechanism, and are coming up with new ways to reach an audience on an everyday basis. So that’s our version of innovative, I think.
So let’s go back to Axios then for a second. How do product and editorial work together in your organization, and how do you drive innovation in that relationship?
Yeah, I mean, pretty closely, because, you know, like I said, you know, we are focused on smart brevity and packaging things in a way that people want to digest them. And that means that we’re mobile first. And that means that everything we do has to be looked at from a product perspective, how are we delivering lists in a mobile friendly format? How is our app working? How are we delivering products to people, you know, in the way that they want them. So we work really closely together with a product team that I think understands journalism and understands news in a way that is really important.
I mean: easy for you to say, “built from the ground up.” But let’s talk about USA Today. Like, is there a tight integration of product and editorial, editorial, huge,
we’re, you know, we’re one of the OG startups, but we were actually smart, brevity 40 years ago, and we’re pretty, you know, made fun of because of that. So I’m you know, I’m glad to see the world has, you know, come around to that you can get good information in smaller amounts of words or video. So I, I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. But yes, we are really tight with our product teams, the fact that we just want to call with them this morning. You know, we’re constantly looking at not here’s what we should do. But what is the outcome you’re looking for? And then working together? How do we get to that outcome? We try not to go into it with the solution you go into it with what’s the outcome you’re looking for, and what do we need to bring to that equation?
So one of the things you touched on in like your “what is innovation” was: staffing, diversity, leadership, those those issues… Can you tell me a little bit — let’s start with USA Today — about how you’re approaching leadership and recruiting with an eye to fostering innovation to fueling it.
It’s never been more important to recruiting and what we’re doing right now. And I don’t know if how many of you are in the industry. But there’s the great journalism shuffle going on right now. I mean, everybody is moving somewhere else. Right now, there’s a real fight for talent and leadership. And I think people want to be part of authentic companies, who are really trying to again, I always say our job is to spread truth, you know, to engage with our audiences. And so showing a path having mentorship programs showing an opportunity for leadership, showing industry leadership is really important to creating the culture that will keep people in our organization. We’ve made the pledge at Guenette, that we want our newsrooms to reflect our communities by 2025. And we measure ourselves every year against that benchmark around racial diversity. I measure it every quarter at USA Today and report that to the staff. I think it’s really important we hold a mirror up to ourselves and be really honest about how we’re doing.
How about Axios? What what what is the approach? How are you thinking about like, what is this newsroom? What is the staffing what does the leadership mean, to our ability to be innovative?
Yeah, I mean, I think we we agree at that at the start the diversity of our newsroom should reflect the diversity of our audience. And that will then you know, result in diversity of coverage and that’s really what we’re striving towards. You know, our founders are committed to that goal as well. You know, in the fall, we’re releasing a smart brevity book. And they dedicated the proceeds the advance from that book to fund a fellowship program that we’re really proud of where we’re focusing on hiring from diverse communities in underrepresented backgrounds, to mentor them into Axios. And focusing on developing a beat developing the next generation of leaders that we think is, you know, missing from journalism right now. And it’s something that is a part of, you know, our newsroom recruiting our newsroom leadership. Axios is led by two women of color. And myself, and our editor in chief, Sara Gu. And it’s something that we you know, walk, talk, live, breathe and think, is the future of innovation at our company and everywhere, so we’re really focused on it.
Alright, so let’s shift gears a little bit. We there’s been a kerfluffle, of late around the social presence of journalists online, rather spectacular, blow up, in fact, quite visibly on social media. For for Axios, let’s start there. How are you balancing the desire for reporters to have a social presence to leverage that social presence? With your standards?
Yeah, and when I think we’re, we’re not like, any, you know, we’re similar to every other media organization out there, that’s figuring out, you know, how to balance that, but we’ve been really proud of our track record so far, you know, in the past five years, you know, we we’ve really just said to our staff, we trust you. You arer adults. Represent yourselves represent Axios the way that you, you know, would expect to in public. And that’s actually what’s happened. So I think we are, you know, proud of how we’ve done it so far. And we’ll continue to act accordingly on social platforms, and still be able to share our journalism with the world engage with people in a responsible way. And I think we’re all doing that.
I know that at USA Today, the social presence is a big part of the work. So how are you setting your standards and communicating to your staff that this is important? But you still have to represent our brand.
Right? I mean, we know that, you know, our integrity and our fairness. And all of that is just the bedrock of what we are. And so we want to make sure that we represent our way ourselves that way. On social, we tell people, we want you to bring your authentic selves, we want you to bring your lived experiences. But obviously, we can’t slip into advocacy. And I say this all the time: The power you have as journalists, to choose stories to tell stories to spread stories, is so much more power than you’re going to have in that tweet. And so you know, again: Bring your true selves, bring your authentic selves, but but let’s not tip into advocacy that could harm the integrity of our brand.
So I think another issue digitally in particular is the 24 hour news cycle, right? We’re all facing this kind of pressure to constantly be online, constantly be informing our our consumers. But how are you balancing the 24 hour news cycle with your again, with your standards and your goal to provide actual, trustworthy news?
Well, we’re really lucky and that we’re spread across the country from, you know, Washington all the way to LA. And then we also have a London bureau. So, we really are on 24/7, which, which makes things a little bit easier. But you know, I tell people 100 times out of 100, I’d rather be second than wrong. 100 times out of 100. So if you’re ever in doubt, don’t do it. Double check it triple check it, I’m going to be fine. If we’re last as long as we’re right.
I see a lot of scoops and exclusives at Axios. So how about you? Is there a difference there? Is there pressure?
Yeah, Imean, I think that our philosophy is a little bit different. We’re not there to deliver you every piece of news. We’re there to deliver you what you need to know, and the things that are important. And so I think that our model is a little bit different in that we package our version of the 24 news cycle into a newsletter suite. So if you’re getting Mike Allen’s AM, and PM and Finish Line newsletters, that’s what we call our daily essentials. And he’s set a really diverse kind of breakfast table for you in the morning. Happy Hour, four in the evening. And he’s telling you the stories that you need to know and so we’re curating that and packaging that I think in a different way than you know, a news wire or or a news organization that’s giving you breaking news 24/7.
It’s interesting. We used to call those “newspapers” where we curated what you need to know i the course of a day. I do think it’s interesting. The last panel was very much touching on this deluge; this fire hose, and how we can discern. And of course you know, I advocate for trustworthy sources like y’all.
All right. So, innovation in delivery and formats. I know you specifically mentioned Axios being mobile first. And I think that’s for a little while there that was almost a cliche industry. But I think it’s, it’s a given, is it not? Are you thinking a lot about innovating in terms of say, Tik Tok? Let’s just throw out like, are you looking at new formats?
Tick Tok? Not so much. Not yet. I mean, we have experimented, I think on all the platforms, you know, we do Twitter spaces, we do curated videos on You know, on Instagram, I think Tik Tok is an amazing platform. And a lot of I think publishers have figured out a great way to do it. But I think it actually is we, you know, right now, you know, we really are interested in podcasts, we’ve found a way to tell long form stories in smart brevity, through audio, which, you know, is is challenging, but we’ve done it with our How it Happened podcast series. It’s got, you know, 3 million downloads, and it’s really resonating with the audience. And we also have, you know, a daily podcast that we think is, you know, really innovative and how we’re telling stories in, you know, 10 minutes a day, and our audience is telling us, you know, they can’t get enough of it. So, I think that’s definitely interesting to us. You know, we just hired our first SEO editor and we’re really focused on you know, packaging our stories for social and, you know, making sure we’re we’re meeting people where they are.
I know that social audio has been really good for you guys too. How about USA Today. What do you do?
Well, it’s funny: I was just checking or TikTok I think we’re just checking to see how many followers I think we’re over a million somebody check me so we’re over a million and when we you know, I love it. My son’s 16 He gets all his news on Tik Tok. So whenever we show up in his feed, he’s really proud. He’s like, there’s my mom. So I mean, we’re gonna be in the spaces where people are, we’re doing Twitter Spaces, we were on Clubhouse, we were doing all the things. Really, it’s because we just want people to know that we’re there with the information they need, again, whether it’s Instagram, or Tik Tok, or a newsletter, or a podcast. And it just helps the overall reach and hopefully, you know, to your point about trust and media, if they see us enough, if they see that we’re right enough, if they see that we’re responsible enough, I want to develop that trust. And so I think it’s not just about the audience. It’s about developing that relationship and trust and like, Oh, I’ve seen you three or four times now. You know, I I know your real I know, you’re a trustworthy news source. And that’s really important to me.
Yeah and that’s interesting, because you both mentioned, you know, being where they are.
But then your values like perpetuated values and your ethos there to build that trusted relationship.
Well, it’s funny when the last join some of the January 6, and we made some decisions about, you know, we didn’t errors, certain of Donald Trump’s speeches, because I did, they were misinformation, and we chose not to air them live. We would go back and we would package them so we could fact check them before we did it. I actually went on Tik Tok. And I told people why we were doing that. And I did a video like: Hey, here’s we may be hearing about this. And this is why we’re doing that we think it’s important to fact check before we put information out there. So it was kind of fun to be able to talk directly to that audience
Addressing that that demand for immediacy. Head on,
We want it now. But here’s why we’re not.
Why don’t you tell me each of you just very quickly, a project or product that you’ve done recently that you feel is particularly innovative?
Sure. I mean, I think Axios local is probably our biggest project of the year. And, you know, talking about rebuilding trust, we want to meet people in their communities, and talk to them about the economic situation where they live, the lifestyle opportunities, where they live, also, the political landscapes where they live. So we’ve stood up in 17 cities, and we’re going to be in, I think, another 25 by the end of this year. So, we’re really proud of that expansion and trying to recapture some of what’s been lost in the local news landscape. And, you know, it’s really resonating with audiences, we’ve had over a million subscribers in those local markets, generated, you know, 5 million in revenue last year from loca. And so we think that’s, you know, a really big part of the future of Axios. And hopefully the future of restoring trust and journalism in America.
No small feat.
Yeah, just a little, just a little project.
Just a Tuesday. How about at USA Today?
Sure. Well, I really hope you guys will check out some of the AR we’ve been doing. And again, this leans more into the tech, but it’s really cool tech. So you can we did a series this past year on 1961 and the importance of what happened in 1961, around voting rights to what’s happening today. And our AR team built this amazing experience where you could actually ride the bus as it was being attacked by rioters and you can hear the story and you can you can you can hear we brought in historical video and audio. And you really feel like you can see the flames around you and you are really immersed in that experience. So, you know, again, we’re trying to bring the truth to people and help them understand news that empathy that you get from immersive storytelling is really important. Not just reading it; you’re experiencing it. So really proud of some of the work we’ve done on AR.
That’s a great example. Just before we’re done here: How about something that you think that everyone is talking about in media right now, that maybe is hype or that maybe you’re a little skeptical about?
Just in general?
In the digital media industry. Hype cycle?
I don’t know,
Alright, we can do NFTs? [laughter]
Well, we do have a newsletter that covers crypto and I think we do talk about that, you know, quite a bit. And NFTs have their place in the crypto world.
Unknown Speaker 15:48
Oh ho ho. No, it doesn’t have to be NF T’s. Metaverse can do another one. You guys bullish?
I mean, I think the Metaverse is interesting. If you think about it from the standpoint of like, we’re just building it now. You know, we don’t actually know what it’s going to be.
Is it going to be the Facebook-averse. Is that? Or is it going to be an open platform?
I guess it depends on who you ask.
We’re not going to ask Mark. Apparently, he didn’t want to talk to us about this.
Which is weird. So weird. I mean, I think we just have to keep moving forward. Like I said at the beginning in all these spaces, and here’s the cool thing, we get to invent them, right? We get to say what they’re gonna be. So that’s awesome. We’re like, you know, I know, there’s a lot of stress in media right now. But I’m really excited about where we’re at right now in media, we’re, we get to invent the future. And that’s pretty cool.
All right. The very last thing: leadership, like if you are looking out into the industry, and you want to just impart one piece of wisdom about leading an innovative team, no pressure. Aja: pressure.
I mean, I think it’s really just about having a culture of activation and being able to experiment with an idea and nurture it from experiment, you know, to fruition. I think we do that, you know, every day at Axios. And really, every day in media. Every day, we’re writing a story. It’s like, you know, where’s this going to take us at? Where’s this gonna go? And just continuing, you know, to do that?
I love that.
Yeah. I think it’s all about the people. No matter what you do, you’ve got to create the culture. You’ve got to believe in people you’ve got to have, I think I call realistic optimism. We are in a tough world. But you realistically have to think “we can do these things.” And you have to impart that to people. You have to have a culture of “yes, let’s try it.” What can you do? What can you do in a month? What can you do in two months? We have to keep moving forward.
Love it. Well, thank you both. I sincerely appreciate this. It was a great conversation and went to fast.
As the world learns from Australia’s news media bargaining code that has reportedly driven $200 million of funding to news organizations, a whistleblower revealed the tactics to try to stop other nations from importing and building on it. This panel featured the CEO of the whisteblower’s law firm, an advocate for the digital future of news organizations, and a member of Parliament working on new laws to create a more competitive market.
Held June 23, 10:45-11:05am ET at The 2022 Collision Conference in Toronto Canada
Jason Kint, CEO, Digital Content Next Libby Liu, CEO, Whistleblower Aid Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Member of Parliament for Beaches – East York, House of Commons of Canada Alex Kantrowitz, Founder & Editor-in-chief, Big Technology
The U.K.’s DMG is a media heavyweight by most measures and the group’s Daily Mail ranks close to the top on any chart for online newsbrands. In terms of web traffic, it places fourth in the U.K., 10th in the U.S. and sixth globally according to the U.K.’s Press Gazette.
At the FIPP World Media Congress in Portugal earlier this month, the U.K. news giant outlined its adoption of a “launch everyday” philosophy that, surprisingly, owes a lot to the paper’s print heritage. The result was a 300% increase in subscriber numbers in just two years.
Product director Simon Regan-Edwards was unable to travel, but Denis Haman of CMS supplier Glide stood in to explain how the Mail+ team brought a print mindset to the evolution of the Mail+ subscription product first launched in 2013.
Mail+ began by replicating the newspaper experience online. Between its launch in 2013 and 2020, Mail+ secured 40,000 subscriptions as a digital replica available across multiple devices, including Kindle and Amazon’s Alexa.
In March 2020, the decision was taken to begin building out the Mail+ offering and by June 2022 it had 120,000 subscribers in total, with 76,000 digital only subscribers. This level of growth is impressive in itself, but even more so considering the free-to-access Mail Online site sits alongside it.
Two years, nine updates
Over the two years between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2022, the Mail+ team delivered nine major updates.
These started with the introduction of briefings and newsletters and the addition of content in areas where the audience wanted to see more — TV and radio, food and health. Mail+ today incorporates Best Of sections, ListenTo functions and puzzles.
Moving through a homepage rebuild and a new storefront to improve the subscriber sign-up journey, Mail+ then made the shift to an edition-based format with three daily updates.
Additional releases have since brought author and category pages, new sections, and enhanced search functionality. More recently, the team implemented a second home page redesign to pull together a unified Mail+ offering.
“It’s been actually incredible to watch,” said Haman, “The Daily Mail team has managed to work and rework the product and reconfigure what it means to the customers. I have rarely seen a product move at such a pace and reinvent itself repeatedly.”
Haman began by exploding the misconception that a print foundation will slow digital development, arguing that print is possibly the most agile of all content channels.
“It gets destroyed and remade every single day, with the opportunity to redraw it, reshape it, rework it. And it has to hit the deadlines,” he explained. The Mail digital team brought that print mindset to the rebuilding of Mail+. That meant launching “every day, every week, every month.”
Of course, digital is not the same as print and Haman noted that there are “sensible limits” to digital development, meaning everything takes more time than you might think. Quoting Alan Hunter, former head of digital at The Times, Haman said: “This means you won’t be asking for a new product feature on a Tuesday and expecting it to be in the app by Friday.”
Crucially, the Mail digital team was given license from the very top to keep going until the right formula was found for Mail+. From that foundation and armed with audience data that suggested there was a real interest in the evolving subscription product, the team built quickly following a rigorous framework for decision making.
Ask what problem you are solving
Haman described the sweet spot for innovation between visibility, viability and desirability. He said it was important to be disciplined in asking key questions. Do customers want the features you are developing? Are they financially viable and are they technically possible with the available resources?
“It’s really important to fall back on the process,” said Haman. “If you’re under pressure you can easily find yourself jumping to conclusions.”
Data is crucial in building insight into what is building habits and why people do what they do. But Haman said it is also important to be open to new voices. He highlighted customer-service teams, sometimes overlooked, but often a powerful source of knowledge into what motivates or demotivates readers.
Data also avoids the HIPPO trap — the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Haman explained, “without data, it’s just an opinion.”
Networked teams bring together diverse groups with different perspectives and different skills, all the disciplines needed to launch a product. It’s important to give everyone access to the data to understand how it relates to revenue, engagement, and readership.
Haman emphasized the importance of giving everyone on the team a voice, and making sure that they are truly engaged in asking “What problem are we solving?” However, he took care to explain that although everyone should have a voice, “not everyone makes the decisions.”
To separate “should” from “could” and focus on priorities, the Mail+ development team used the MoSCoW methodology:
This helped the development team move faster and, crucially, get data back quickly to provide valuable insights for moving forward.
The team used digital tools across functions to “dig into” designs before development started. Haman compared this to making sure your architect’s plans are solid before starting to build; it’s considerably cheaper to revise plans than tear down half the house to make things right. Then lock designs to prevent changes at the 11th hour. “I love the fact that they would laminate designs,” he said. “It’s genuinely locked until it is released.”
The elegant exit
Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, said it is important to act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.
Data, again, provided insight to what was working and what wasn’t for The Daily Mail. And if something wasn’t working, Haman said it was important to ignore the sunk cost fallacy — that we have spent all this money and we have to make it work. He explained, “If it’s going in the wrong direction, you need to be brave enough to cut your losses, pivot, or rather elegantly exit and move to a new direction.”
Regan-Edwards made a guest appearance at the end of the session via Zoom and I asked him if he thought at the start of the project he would make nine major updates in two years? He said, “No, but I think what we learned through this whole process is don’t predict what’s coming in two years time, focus on what are we delivering for this next quarter. What makes sense in this next quarter? What do we want to do in the quarter after that?”
He also re-emphasized the importance of being led by feedback from customers. “We have a big focus on puzzles,” he said. “That’s come from the feedback of how people are using the product.”
And finally, he said, overcome the “moonshot mentality” that says, “We’re done now, let’s put it in the cupboard. Instead, get into the mentality that you want to constantly improve.”