Repositioning World Media

Repositioning World Media

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 6:25 pm


Nigerian publishers, editors and their counterparts in other parts of the world meet in Hamburg, Germany, to chart a way forward for the media in the face of new technological challenges

Ademola Adegbamigbe/Hamburg

It was at Hall 4 of the CCH-Congress Centre, Hamburg, a port city in Germany. His message and others that followed were translated simultaneously into Spanish, French, German and Russian. Xervia Vidal-Folch, President, World Editors’ Forum, surveyed the multiracial sea of heads when he was about to present the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, WAN-IFRA, Golden Pen of Freedom, won by the jailed Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, to his colleague, Akbar Ganji. Vidal- Folch told the over 600 editors and publishers that congregated there between 5 and 9 October 2010 for the 17th World Editors’ Forum that the occasion was unique for three reasons: high attendance, the historical situation and the fact that “we are in trouble”.

The “trouble” actually has to do with the challenges posed by the multimedia revolution in the world (iPad, Internet, mobile devices, citizen journalism and, of course, the economy) to print journalism. According to the Forum, the new surge in sales of electronic readers for books, notably ‘tablets’, and the multiplication of mobile devices with easy and comfortable access to news sites, “has given a new lease of life to the idea that wireless platforms may yet take a central role in news publishing”. Will the print media go under? Will tablets, e-readers and smart phones be mass or niche products? “Will they make us to monetise news content per article or via new distribution methods”, the organisation wondered, adding, how will these new devices impact news reporting? There were many questions begging for answers. It was for this reason that organisers of the event chose the appropriate theme, “The Tablet Year: Why Mobile Distribution Will Change The News Business”.

What was gratifying to many, however, was that publishers and editors, who appeared nervous in the beginning, ended up hugging one another in relief when the session closed. That was because, having analysed the new trend, inundated themselves with data and strengthened by experts and some media that had adjusted to the fresh challenges, the conclusion was that nothing could change good journalism which ensures perfect brand, customer loyalty and, of course, profit. What’s more, the print which would take advantage of fresh developments would not be swept into oblivion after all!

L-R: Bayo Onanuga, Soji Akinrinade and Segun Babatope

But that was after the media chiefs had told themselves some hard truths, which were a re-echo of their mind-set when the forum was shifted from its original venue in Beirut, Lebanon. That is, their belief that they are entering a new information age that would entail focusing on new key elements like the new flow of information and adaptation to fragmented audiences. Moreover, news organisations will have to be prepared to act as partners, rather than just competitors and that there would be a new generation of publishers, editors-in-chief and editors, who will know how to “manage both the collective intelligence of a newsroom and the collective intelligence of bloggers, users and readers”. In other words, instead of one unique platform, the forum said media managers would have “to pilot a minimum of four platforms– print, online, mobile, e-reader/tablet–and five storytelling styles– alerts, written articles, podcasts, video reports and social media buzz.”

These were sieved from the different round tables, sessions and panels that took place: The Annual Press Freedom Round table; Shaping the Future of the Newspaper Round table; Presentation of the 2010 WAN-IFRA Golden Pen Of Freedom; Keynote Speeches and Questions; Why I Believe In Print; the WEF – McKinsey & Company 2010 Newsroom Barometer; New Ways to Finance Quality Journalism: the Other Face of Content Monetization; WEF Meets Günter Grass; “WEF Meets German Editors; How to Break Away From the He Said Yesterday Journalism;” WEF Meets Janet Robinson, CEO of The New York Times; 2010 Global Report on Innovations in Newspapers and The New Content Platforms: A Breakthrough Year. There were also World Trends in the Newspaper Industry: an Update; Joint Session with the Poynter Institute; What’s Next For New Media Training? Our News and Google News: How Can We Cooperate? Word Editors Forum Annual General Meeting and Using Crowd-sourcing and Social Networks in Hyperlocal News.

Adegbamigbe and others at the forum

A pesimistic note was, in a way, set by John Yemma, Editor of the Christian Science Monitor, CSM, who told the participants that he believes more in the power of online journalism. He was, perhaps, talking from his own peculiar experience because the CSM daily edition of the newspaper was dropped in March 2009 to focus on its website and a weekly print product, and a daily news briefing via -email. The medium took that decision because the daily print edition had been losing money and, according to Yemma, “tying up human resources”. He added that the decline of the print media is partly generational as young people prefer to read content online.

Yemma beat his chest that his newspaper had improved because of this fundamental change. And he presented statistics that the web traffic had tripled since dropping the print product. According to him, weekly subscriptions had increased from 43 000 in March 2009 to 70 000 now. The daily news briefing is also successful in terms of numbers as it “is not a very expensive product to produce”, Yemma said. He added that the mottos of the medium were “grow the network, not the staff” and “aggregate” don’t acquire. And as the editor revealed, the CSM had had the same goal of “thoughtful, balanced and non-sensational way” for 102 years.

In its new adventure, Yemma argued that his medium planned to survive by understanding its audience and by diligently building loyalty, providing global news and analysis on a sustainable basis. But he threw in a caveat that the media industry had not yet come up with a consistent model and one that could allow online content to sustain quality journalism. “We are all still struggling with different models,” he submitted.

L-R: Gbenga Adefaye, Vanguard; Ademola Adegbamigbe, TheNEWS and Mideno Bayagbon of Vanguard

If Yemma and his Christian Science Monitor went wholesale the online way, others overwhelmingly felt otherwise. They based their position on the 2010 Newsroom Barometer through which 525 senior newspaper editors were questioned in all geographies between April and June. According to the Forum, the 40-question survey covered newsroom organisation, journalism, threats to the newspaper sector, digital performance and newspaper economics. Editors were contacted directly through the World Editors Forum or through national newspaper editors associations.

Three-quarters of respondents, according to the Forum, said they were very optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the future of their newspapers, a figure virtually unchanged from previous years. The editors, according to the survey, also believe that the ongoing digital revolution will keep reshaping the newsrooms through an evolution towards multi-media integration and a “pay for information” model. “They foresee a multi-platform publication model, including print, and more payment for news”, the report indicated.

To the media chiefs present, rather than jettison the print, they should sustain it to tap advantages from the digital age. For example, Giovanni di Lorenzo, Editor-in-Chief of a weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, Germany, believes in the future of newspaper, notwithsanding the position of doomsday prophets. In his speech, “Why I Believe in Print,” Di Lorenzo emphasised the importance of economic sustainability to finance quality journalism–both in print and online.

Notwithstanding the possibility of the new media being a money spinner in future, Di Lorenzo said: “As long as we do not make money out of online journalism (now) we have to concentrate on print.” He wanted the advocates of the new digital world to know that print journalism still has its advantages. According to him, “in times of crisis, the readers demand for analysis and orientation”. In his view, print caters for both. “Newspapers of the future are not the river but the shores,” he said, adding that they are providing guidance for the flow of information.

Then how did Di Lorenzo receive the World Editors Forum’s proclamation of 2010 as “The Tablet Year” as a new chance for journalistic work? Rather than being seen as a burden or a threat, the man wanted participants to understand the iPad as a promising device “to monetarise high-quality journalism in the digital world – simply to keep this independent and unadjusted profession alive.” Despite this, he expressed his anger at the psychological disposition of many publishers and editors. In his words: “When journalists declare the end of print in the newspapers and publishers promote the Internet, I wonder about this pleasure to diminish their own profession!”

Di Lorenzo reacted to another development that fewer young people read the papers today than before. He said it is not true to say that they are only interested in how many friends they had on Facebook. He quoted the experience of his newspaper that most new readers of Die ZEIT are in their twenties or thirties. “We have to concentrate on those who still do read rather than run after those that we cannot reach anymore anyway,” he said.

Then he delivered a message for other newspapers and weekly magazines that they need to know their readers better and listen to what they were interested in. A way of making this possible, as he argued, is that not only journalists but readers too can create great content. For instance, he argued that the print media could try to embrace a “digital idea of user generated content.” Here is how.

In his newspaper, Die ZEIT, for instance, the management introduced a new section that gives readers the opportunity to write about what they are angry about, what quotes they liked – something they would normally do online. Di Lorenzo explained that on this page, readers nominated their “hero of the week, protested against political decisions and wrote letters to prominent personalities.”

The feedback, according to him, was amazing, adding that this content could be transferred on an iPad as well. While warning trenchantly that the boundaries between professional journalists and readers should never be blurred, he advised that in times of change, print media must dare something instead of freezing in fear.

The same position was taken by the WAN/IFRA Chief Executive Officer, Christoph Riess, who delivered a keynote speech on the future of newspapers and challenges for advertising. “Whatever form the newspaper takes, it will remain the dominant media force in the world,” Riess assured the audience.

He reeled out statistics from the World Press Trends, the annual industry survey collecting data all over the world from 2010, to counter the overwhelming belief that the future tendency of the audience often seems to be towards the Internet and online publications. According to him, there had been a 61 percent growth in print newspaper circulation in 185 countries over the last year. He stated that based on this information, “newspapers reach more audience than the Internet”.

But he offered a stern advice to the audience that in the digital realm, however, paid content is a necessity. He maintained: “Will paid content generate revenue? It’s not a question of yes or no. It’s question of how. In order to survive, we have to do it.” He advised that the business model be tailored to the situation and needs of each newspaper. He added that the situation is different for each country, but “clearly, daily titles grow”. He emphasised further that Asian countries, including India, boast 67 of the top 100 paid daily newspaper titles of the report. In terms of free daily newspapers, he said Russia has 41 free newspapers, the biggest number. Therefore, the stress, according to him, should be on the print, as “the contribution of our paid content model is and it will be much more important”.

How are some media organisations coping with the development? Reuters President of Media, Chris Ahearn, told the audience that Reuters was developing “something for you to distribute your content,” and this will be built around news organisations’ preferences, encourage more original reporting rather than regurgitating and it will allow organisations to save money and resources.

He paid attention to the diverse needs of the audience that must be served. “I fundamentally don’t believe that people are paying for content, they pay for experience and they pay for something which has unique value for them,” Ahearn told the audience. In his words, “make the features more personal to give readers the reason to believe”. Nevertheless, he stated that new platforms will coexist with the newspapers: “Now that doesn’t mean the death of the old. I believe that the best days are ahead of us and we are entering a new golden age of journalism,” Ahearn concluded.

The New York Times is actually following this path. This much was revealed by its CEO, Janet Robinson, who spoke at the forum about her plans for the paper’s upcoming switch to paid online content and why she thinks it will work.

“While it may seem bold to ask our readers to pay,” Robinson said, the fact that the paper has a loyal and engaged audience means that if it can continue to deliver its promise of high quality journalism, many readers will oblige. “There is in our minds, a willingness to pay for that richness of experience,” she told the Editors Weblog. “We are positive about how much traffic we think we will retain,” she said. The “porous” nature of the metered model means that the site can retain its place in the global media. She revealed that the metered model was chosen after extensive research. She, however, advised other papers looking at paid online content to find out what their readers really want before taking any steps in that direction. The Times will launch a complete iPad application in November this year.

A 261-year old newspaper in Denmark, Berlingske Media, is also following suit. According to Annemarie Kirk, the medium’s digital business development manager, the company set up a project group with only a handful of members and what he called a shoestring budget which followed the development of the iPad closely. With most money being raised through print media and the majority of readers being around 60 years old, Berlingske Media realises the chance to reach young readers and other new target groups through tablets.

Whatever form the media take, nothing can replace good packaging. That is why the participants appreciated the topic, “How to Break Away From the “He Said Yesterday” Journalism”, a discussion by Sylvie Kauffmann Editor-in-Chief, Le Monde, France; Abdel-Moniem Said, Chairman of the Board, Al-Ahram group, Egypt; Jeff Reifman Founder, NewsCloud, USA, and Francisco Amaral Director, Cases I Associats, Spain. It was moderated by Malte von Trotha, CEO, DPA News Agency, Germany.

Akbar Ganji, left, receives the Golden Pen from Vidal Folch on behalf of Zeid-Abadi

According to the editors, newspaper content will dramatically change in the coming years.
Kaufmann, first female editor-in-chief in France, pointed out three major things that publishers must take note of: control of costs, embracing new ways in journalism and belief in the publishing business.

She added that 20 years ago there were only newspapers vs other newspapers, but today newspapers compete with internet, which is widely understood as a mixture of different platforms and startups. In her words: “Every single online player is the basic competitor to the newpspaper publishers. The problem is not within the platforms, it is all about the content. Platforms are only new ways of distribution to different targets, the challenge is to find the right content for the right niche. The challenge is also to organise the newsroom to be adopted to the new reality.”

Abdel-Moniem Said also said that the main objective for newsmedia publishers should be to think how “to transform journalism to work better in terms of knowledge.” Al-Ahram’s approach, according to its boss, is about a path of communication, which should not be forgotten as a mission of journalism nowadays. He maintained that data “helps gather information, information leads to knowledge, knowledge should be transformed into wisdom.”

Reifman also defined journalism as telling stories that interest as many people as possible. “If yesterday journalism is not what readers expect, the solution is simple – change that,” he admonished.

How can publishers achieve all these? “You have to train”, states International Centre for Journalists, ICFJ, President, Joyce Barnathan, when talking about how to maintain quality journalism in a time when the profession and audiences change radically. In her words: “Stories go out on various platforms nowadays, and audiences are not solely consuming any longer – they want to be producers themselves.”

Barnathan summed up her recommendations on multimedia training for journalists in four points. Firstly, journalists have to learn how to involve their readers as this will attract increased numbers of readers to the respective newspaper and website. As an example, Barnathan mentioned the ICFJ training project in Malaysia, where the website experienced a massive boost in traffic after citizen journalists made use of the website to post their videos.

Second, she recommended that key staff members need to know how to apply new multimedia technologies and be familiar with how to use the tools. Barnathan also strongly recommended training journalists to be experts in areas which are most interesting for the readers.

Other side attractions of the forum were the re-election of Xavier Vidal-Folch, Deputy Director of the Spanish daily, El Pais, as President of the World Editors Forum, the global association for senior newsroom executives within the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, WAN-IFRA; the visit by the German Nobel Laureate, Gunter Grass, who also advocated good reporting and the presentation of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, WAN-IFRA, Golden Pen of Freedom to the jailed Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi-through his friend Akbar Ganji.

…This piece was first published in TheNEWS of 25 October 2010

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