The first day of the WAN-IFRA Digital Media Asia event in Hong Kong left me both elated and challenged. Thinking digital-only is like saying “stop being dragged down by the past — look only at the possibilities ahead.”

Presentations ranged from those exuding confidence to those admitting to uncertainty and experimentation. Enterprising outfits shared successful social media campaigns and new multi-media storytelling tools, while a conversion specialist from Google Analytics shared an amusing and informative look at the treasure trove of data that exists on in Google’s free insights and data analysis pages.

There was also a shared realisation that the future of news boils down to great journalism, a committed focus on the consumer, wholesale and rapid internal operational and culture change, and adopting, adapting to, and leveraging new technology without the fear of failure.

The news consumer has changed; that’s why our world has changed. One speaker warned about how unforgiving our audiences have become. “If they don’t like what they see on the landing page, they’ll just go away and never come back.” The same speaker also reassured us that it’s OK to keep iterating until you get it right. Technology has spawned a new generation of low-tolerance customers spoiled with immense choice, and a large number of competitors with low barriers to entry.

Basically, the message was something like: we’re slow old dinosaurs that now need to operate like dot-com entrepreneurs in start-up mode, and here’s a few bright young things to show you the way.

Thankfully, there were many long-time veterans who demonstrated the change strategies they adopted early on. Many have reinvented their culture/newsrooms/content/consumer monetisation techniques, and have seen some initial success. Christine Brendle, managing director for Dow Jones Asia Pacific, and Kalle Jungvist, Schibsted veteran and senior advisor, talked about media convergence and multi-platform access. Brendle focused on the monetisation of content by opening up the doors to a bigger audience in a more social and sharing world, seducing them, then driving them down the “funnel of love” to the unique and valuable information they were willing to pay for.

Illustrating that point about the viral spiral beautifully, Next Media Animation talked about the power and addictiveness of their animated “news” clips in driving Web site visitation. These fact/fiction animations are used as both entertainment, such as political satire sketches, or give readers a 360-degree visual interpretation of what they wouldn’t have been able to see through real news footage alone. The guilty pleasure of watching the behind-the-scenes re-imagination of the domestic scene at Tiger Wood’s house on the night he lost his ability to win a championship adds a bit of “inside scoop” appeal that is more about enjoyment than authenticity.

Another realisation surfaced: the lines between marketing and product are becoming more and more blurred. The content itself is the tool to attract readers. “The medium is the message” has taken on a new meaning; social media is most effective when the message isn’t referring to a separate product that’s “sold” and “told” but when it’s inherently the product itself, or an incredibly seductive piece of the product. It’s product sampling and loss-leader marketing all in one; take a small bite of brand and get hooked.

On the same track, in the newsroom our journalists are now marketers. Traditional print journalists are now given no choice but to become bloggers and Tweeters, with those blogs and tweets being used to virally attract more conversation and interest through social media.

In some ways, the industry has always used “sampling” and editorial seduction techniques to complement other more tradition marketing tools to drive readers. They used to take the form of eye-grabbing headliners on our front pages or on sandwich boards at newsstands.

The thing that’s changed is that most of our readers aren’t seeing those headlines on the printed page or sandwich boards first. Instead, scoops and exposés get their first outing when shared by friends or Twitter groups through social media. News moves in seconds; it doesn’t wait around for a morning or late edition.

And when it comes, it’s multi-faceted, multi-media, and audiences need and consume it differently depending on time of day, medium and what else they’ve got going on. Greg Hywood, CEO of Fairfax Media in Australia, illustrated this well by sharing his model of “following the sun,” and tracking each consumer’s news consumption habits across a day, and meeting them with the right product and the right platform with the right type of engagement.

The news companies that seem to be succeeding all began with a top-management-down enterprise-wide customer-centric strategic vision. Then they put their money where their mouth was, investing and implementing with urgency, as if their lives depended on it.

So feel the need; the need for speed. Well before your timeline to extinction.