It was in the 1990s that I believed and preached that in the newsmedia industry, content is king. Of course you need promotions to seduce the public to buy and read your product. But as soon as the promotion becomes more important than the core product, you work on sympathy for the brand but no longer on the key values of your product.

Today I would like to go a step further than “content is king.”

Let’s take an average issue of a newspaper as example. Roughly 90% of the editorial content is reporting. What happened yesterday is written in the newspaper of today. Often this content is a written version of the radio or TV news. So far, nothing new under the sun. But as soon as something goes really wrong in society, we can read pages and pages about a subject that had never been in the columns of newspapers before. And later we can read opinions from editors telling us it’s a shame that things like this can happen.

I always have the same reaction and hear it more and more in my professional network: where were you with your opinion before this happened? If you have an opinion now, you could have warned us before.

If newsmedia want to play a key role in the future, they will have to do journalistic work instead of pure reporting. They will have to investigate, do research, analyse hypotheses. Think forward instead of looking back.

Difficult? No! If you ask each of your journalists to identify one item a week which could be worth analysing, you end the year with a tremendous number of ideas and potential news. If you have 100 journalists, that means 520 fresh ideas a year. Even if you do only 20% of these, it still means you come up with more than 100 fresh news items a year.

Instead of following the news and giving an opinion by looking back, it gives you the chance to make huge PR efforts, and to prove to your audience that you’re relevant, fast-thinking forward, and unique in comparison to fast media like TV and radio. It gives marketers the chance to promote a brand with a face instead of a name or a promotional gift. It can help you create brand value for the long term, not just short-term, one-off sales efforts.

Yes, some editors are predictable. It’s a sport among people I know to predict, especially the reaction of political commentators. If a politician takes an action, the commentators are against the action; if the politician doesn’t take action, they are against the fact that they didn’t take an action. They are always “against” something, and always the day after. That’s so cheap and easy that more and more people I know lose contact with that kind of “journalist.”

Fortunately, I have a subscription to a local newspaper with a political journalist who has an opinion, and brings it before things happen. The biggest newspapers in Belgium are not so lucky to have a journalist like him. They will have to promote promotions, but I prefer long-term value produced by forward-thinking journalists.