What is the future of news? It’s a question that perplexed — and terrified — traditional news outlets a decade ago.
Now, it’s a query that concerns nearly every business on the planet as brands find they need to engage people with great content or risk falling behind the curve.
An intimate gathering of journalists, publishers and marketers came together last week at General Assembly in New York to crack the code of the next sustainable business model for “Journalism in the Digital Era,” the event’s namesake.
As the featured panel, organized in part by NewsCred and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, dove into the industry’s toughest issues at the May 2 session, 10 key lessons emerged:
1) “The trend of all brands as media brands will continue to rise,” Chris Ahearn, former president of Reuters Media, said, echoing a popular sentiment among industry leaders.
The key for brands as they become media brands and publishers, though, is learning how to do it right, he said. It’s about more than self-promotion.
2) “Stop being so damn queasy that news content can show up in a variety of places,” Betsy Morgan, president of The Blaze and former CEO of the Huffington Post, advised, noting that those pushing back against brands’ new role as publishers are fighting a losing battle.
“You can get your news from Coca-Cola and it can be awesome,” she said. The media gates have been busted wide open, and in this age, anyone can win in the journalism game.
3) “The consumer is pretty smart,” Morgan added, so brand publishers should be transparent about their content and not try to pass off self-promotional pieces as objective copy. “If you try to trick them, they will come back and yell.”
4) “You’re big, you’re small, or you’re dead,” Ahearn said, explaining that successful publishers either need to be an institution like The New York Times or own a small niche audience. “Everyone in the middle will die.”
5) “Focusing on audience matters,” Ahearn said, urging publishers to think deeply about whether their content strategy is delivering what their audience craves. “Publishers waste a ton of resources on [stories] that are marginal for audiences,” he said.
6) Unique content wins. “People trick themselves into thinking they have unique content,” Morgan warned.
She used the coverage Occupy Wall Street May Day protests as a prime example of content that seems unique but is not. “There were almost as many media people there as protesters,” she said.
7) “Deliver 3 types of content,” Morgan said, before elaborating on the simple but effective strategy that made Huff Po a success:
- Voice and Opinion: Find a voice and angle that will turn your audience into passionate, devoted readers and stick to it. For Morgan, this meant a strong center-left stance at Huff Po and a strong center-right stance at The Blaze. For others, this might mean asserting bold thought-leadership on their industry.
- Original Enterprise Reporting: Original reporting is expensive, but when done right, it stands and spreads. Don’t be afraid to invest in it.
- Curation: Curation means finding the best of the web that your readers want to read about, Morgan explained. She acknowledged the flack Huff Po took for its widespread curation, but asserted that there was serious value in telling readers that, for example, the New York Times take on Obama’s trip to Afghanistan is the one to read. She cited Buzzfeed’s piece on how news of Obama’s trip to Afghanistan broke as a brilliant piece of curation.
8) ”Syndication has matured,” Dylan Cohen, head of syndication for Bloomberg, said. “Twenty years ago, [Bloomberg] viewed syndication purely as marketing … now we view syndication truly as a business that can drive revenue.”
Quality content has a lot of value, and it’s all about finding partners–like Newscred, the event’s sponsor–to get it out there. “You need to find 3rd party operators to help you slice and dice,” Ahearn agreed.
9) “More distribution is better than less,” Ahearn said. As a general rule, he believes as getting as many eyeballs as possible on content and not worrying about where it’s appearing.
Cohen countered that Bloomberg is more selective about his syndication, but didn’t disagree with Ahearn’s overall principle.
10) “The companies that change on the dime survive,” Cohen said.
He stressed flexibility in pursuing a single, primary goal: “Own a topic and go after it full force.”