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If digital talent in newsrooms equals younger hires (and it does), why aren’t media companies making them?

21 August 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

Anette Novak wrote this week in her INMA blog that media companies claim to be “digital first,” yet they don’t hire like it. Her words struck a chord with me, echoing what I hear and see in my travels around the world interacting with news publishers.

My two big observations about today’s newsrooms are this:

  • The talent pool for digital-first editorial leadership is shallow. 
  • We need to get younger – fast – if we are to adapt to the changes in how people consume news.

In the past three years, I have heard an odd confession by CEOs of major publishing companies: They are having difficulty filling their top editorial leadership positions with what they perceive as ideal candidates. 

The reasons for this are three-fold:                 

  1. Digital leaders for print newsrooms: They are seeking digitally savvy editorial leaders for newsrooms that, despite the polite “digital-first” talk to the contrary, remain stuck ...
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How print-centric Latin America is coping with the rise of digital

07 July 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

Latin American newspaper publishers are caught in the early stages of the vice peers worldwide have struggled with the past decade: how to diversify revenue streams even as print continues to contribute 98% of revenue.

In a 10-day period last month, I visited 15 media companies in six Latin American countries: Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Colombia. I talked with advertising agency executives and media buyers.

It was an intense baptism into the opportunities and threats facing executives who have long questioned why peers worldwide have tilted so far digital so quickly.

The opportunities

First, the optimistic news ...

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Details emerge about how world’s best media companies innovate routinely

16 June 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

GIA Winners

Innovation is a process more than it is a great idea. That was one of the great lessons from last month’s INMA World Congress in San Francisco

And it’s especially important for media companies aiming to reinvent themselves in the eyes of readers, advertisers, communities, shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders.

David Kelley, the founder of the global design and innovation firm IDEO, told INMA last month that companies should prioritise the art of “innovating routinely.” 

Merging that idea with what I see among media companies worldwide, I would say that it is the willingness to throw down seeds that will multiply that separates the companies that occasionally come up with great ideas using gut instincts akin to the mad scientist in his garage and those that are laying the foundation from which ideas grow systematically via culture and process. 

“Innovation” is an over-used word in the media industry these days. For companies to capitalize on innovation’s ramifications...

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How news publishers are adjusting to technologically exponential times

19 May 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

INMA’s recent visit to Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter yielded unique insights that were confirmed last week at its World Congress in San Francisco: 

  1. Technology drowning share of voice: Publishers are operating in a technologically exponential environment that is quickly dwarfing their share of voice in the markets they aim to serve.

  2. Print culture holding back digital development: While Silicon Valley digital pure-plays attack audience, product, and monetisation with fervor and radical experimentation, the publisher attention span is constantly divided by what to do with the print side of its business.

  3. What does news brand represent across platforms: Brands and missions must communicate the news brand’s essence across platforms. We can’t be a collection of tactics that add up to a strategy. What does your brand represent? Then how to ...
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Embrace the bold and diminish inch-by-inch change

14 April 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

A decade ago, newspapers jumped on the print format change bandwagon with reckless abandon.

With an infusion of gutsy moves by The Independent and The Times in the United Kingdom to publish tabloid-sized editions of their famous broadsheets, a momentary rift in an otherwise conservative hide-bound industry opened up.

For a brief moment in 2004, newspaper publishers were open to new possibilities of packaging and connecting with readers because the tectonic plates of the competitive United Kingdom print industry unexpectedly shifted.

London became Mecca for newspaper executives from Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, and the South Pacific. I recall former U.S. newspaper chain Knight Ridder setting up an anthropological outpost near a London newsstand as it watched British consumers choose between broadsheet and tabloid Independents and the Times.

After weeks of study, Knight Ridder did little, even as consumers chose tabloids by two-thirds, and The Independent and The Times switched to tabloid format.

With the hindsight of 10 years, what did we learn?

The big lessons were these:

  • Consumers prefer more compact formats: functionality, modernity, and the like.

  • A change in format can provide a temporary lift (often at the expense of a flat-footed competitor), but circulation trends tend to return to former patterns after a year or so.

  • There are few, if any, new readers gained in a market as a result of one publication changing format.

  • To preserve revenue, advertising formats must be shifted from the inch/centimeter/millimeter to proportional page measures before the format change. Otherwise, marketers will argue an advertisement half the size should be half the price.

  • All of this change masks, after many case studies, the best excuse for broadsheet to tabloid or Berliner format change: It’s an attention-getting move with consumers that galvanises the publishing house. Format change succeeded best when it was the face of broader changes.

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The 3 keys to a multi-media transformation storyline

31 March 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

As media companies transition from “best practices” to “storylines of transformation” as the currency to communicate value to stakeholders, a wild inconsistency is emerging that makes the news industry susceptible to misreading.

From the small local U.S. newspaper consolidating its physical space by 50% to the regional daily replacing real plants with fake plants to save money to the multi-media behemoth reviewing stretch limousine usage by its army of editors to the Indian company diversifying revenue from the seed of a news brand, “transformation” has many faces.

My visits to media companies in recent months culminated in a recent visit to the Middle East, where I was confronted by the most direct of questions: How do you systematically attack transformation as a business strategy?

The question crossed a few lines for me. I’m not a consultant. I am an orchestrator and synthesiser of the global “INMA conversation,” a constant chatter among our nearly 7,000 members. My answers usually involve pointing to who is doing what best.

Yet to put a toe across that line, I would put forward the following.

Print to multi-media transformation is about three things:

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How publishers can embrace digital natives and digital immigrants

10 February 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

I attended a publisher conference in recent weeks where the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant” were liberally tossed around:

  • Digital native: Roughly, if you are 35 years old or younger in the United States, you likely are a “digital native.” You live and breathe all things digital. Gadgets jazz you. Social media experimentation is the norm. The world of 1’s and 0’s is a comfortable old shoe because you’ve known nothing else. Print is a mind-stumping peculiarity to you.

  • Digital immigrant: If you are older than 35 in the United States, you are a “digital immigrant.” While the world tilts digital, you spend much of your time un-learning your print habits (even as you secretly prefer them). You don’t want to look old. You understand social media, smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices like you understand that Mars and Venus are the next planets to us – you read it somewhere.

And, in a state of fluidity, digital immigrants are ferociously trying to lose their accents.

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10 big ideas that will guide news publishers in 2014

13 January 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

The growth path for news publishers in 2014 boils down to diversifying revenue streams beyond “print + digital,” developing a transformation storyline, nurturing the “new” news brand, and building foundations that will pay off in outlying years.

Drawing these conclusions for INMA’s “News Media Outlook 2014: Navigating the Minefield” report released last month, I relaxed comfortably over the holidays knowing media companies have become accustomed to the “new normal” of getting out the next edition and constantly reinventing their business models.

Now that the holidays are over and I prepare for a global Webinar on the report for INMA members, I am looking back at the Outlook report with fresh eyes.

Here are 10 thoughts on the report that stand out for me:

  1. Digital replacing print: Digital revenue will not replace print revenue. Filling the print advertising hole will be about “print + digital + other things.”

  2. New digital business models: People keep writing the obituary of the print business model. Yet here we are, entering 2014, and the digital business model for publishers is dead or dying, and we are reinventing that on the fly.

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How Trome’s ladder brand strategy made it the world’s largest Spanish-language newspaper

14 October 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

In much of the INMA network worldwide, the focus is on big news brands producing life-changing, business-building journalism that transforms democracies and speaks truth to power.

Yet among the other 99% of news publishers worldwide, the challenge is simply how to connect relevant content with relevant audiences being disrupted by digital technology.

In my recent travels, I got to know about a newspaper that didn’t exist 12 years ago but today is the largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the world at 702,000 circulation.

The newspaper is Trome, a popular tabloid newspaper in Peru that has connected an emerging lower middle class with a brand that speaks its language and exudes its vibe.

As a product, Trome might not translate well to an international audience. The content is tame, local, family-oriented, and conservative –maybe even safe, as many local community newspapers can be.

Yet what does translate is how a newspaper that struggled out of the gate found its footing and created a new reader market of enough scale to break the unwritten rule that advertisers don’t want C and D demographic audiences.

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News publishers redefine innovation through investments in people, culture

23 September 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

In recent weeks, I have borne witness to the seeds of innovation being planted throughout the news industry. They come in all sorts of varieties. They involve people, programmes, processes, products.

For Singapore Press Holdings, it is the hire of its first data scientist to lead the company through the Big Data revolution as executives predict – after careful study of counterparts in Europe and North America – their market is on the verge of making the print-to-digital shift.

For Australian rivals Fairfax Media and News Corp., faced with the fresh structural shifts in print advertising, there is a rush to change the cultural foundations.

Fairfax Media has Google-fied its Sydney offices to encourage teamwork and camaraderie:

  • Nobody has an office anymore.

  • Nobody has an assigned desk.

  • There are 130 seats for 180 sales reps, the not-so-subtle message being you should be out selling and not in the office.

  • There are coffee nooks and rooms for remote Google video hangouts.

  • Not even The Suits, including the CEO, has a desk, prompting bemusement among employees surprised to have a conversation with someone whom cultural traditions suggest they’re not supposed to have easy access to.

I’m told the twentysomethings love it, which is the likely intended target, as media companies need to get younger – fast – to attract the young platform-agile employees who are keys to our industry’s success. (Google Australia is about to move into the same building as Fairfax Media.)

Across town at the newly rechristened News Corp. Australia, a first-ever hackathon among 19 teams of technologists, journalists, marketing, and advertising executives produces a mind-bending slew of ideas to create digital products that grow audience, revenue, and brand.

Given 54 hours to come up with a presentable idea, the young teams pour their hearts out to peers and judges faced with the task of a Top 5. The room is filled with lessons:

  • Technologists are the emerging superstars at legacy news publishers.

  • New products, services, and ideas don’t need to cost a lot of money nor take a lot of time to ramp up.

  • The best ideas need to be pitched succinctly. For the News Corp. hackathon, each team was given four minutes. Some great ideas under-performed because they couldn’t be communicated in a timely manner, a lesson for all of us.

  • The old guys at news companies need to understand things like speed, innovation, and communication, too. Even if they aren’t producing products in 54 hours, they need to manage and encourage the new generations, and the graying judges (me included!) got a bird’s eye view of unleashed (young) innovation.
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About Earl

Earl J. Wilkinson is executive director and CEO of INMA. In his interactions with INMA members worldwide, Earl has one of the broadest views of newspapers of anyone serving our industry today. He is a trendspotter and a leading advocate for cultural change, transformation, and innovation. This blog represents his unique view of the emerging global news media industry.

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