While the Media Disruption Tour lead participants on an in-depth tour of several of London’s hottest digital start-up media companies, its counterpart Legacy Media Reinvention Study Tour took a deep dive into what the some of the city’s best-known traditional media companies are doing to successfully compete. 

More than 30 media executives toured London's most-innovative news media companies for two days this week.
More than 30 media executives toured London's most-innovative news media companies for two days this week.

Key takeaways from the tour as a whole include: 

The majority of content — sometimes up to 80% — is being consumed by mobile audiences. As The Guardian tells its journalists: “If it doesn’t work on mobile, well, it just doesn’t work,” Sophie Zeldin-Oneil, the media company’s deputy mobile editor, explained. 

Video and social were the most-discussed digital action items at the media companies on the tour. What’s after that? The next steps in mobile for The Guardian center around distributed content (or “off-platform” content, as they call it in London), Virtual Reality, chat apps, 360 video. 

“There isn’t as much loyalty as there used to be so you have to build relationships where your readers are,” said Ross Paterson, head of publisher sales at The Guardian. “I think what that relationship looks like is still up for debate. The sheer scale of Facebook and some of these platforms is just enormous.

“You have to be there, we think. Is that relationship working effectively? I think that’s something that needs to be constantly reviewed.”  

Study tour participants stand in front of Thomson Reuters.
Study tour participants stand in front of Thomson Reuters.

News media companies must be adaptable. Nowhere was this more evident than at ESI Media, which six weeks ago took its 30-year-old Independent to a digital-only product, becoming the first national newspaper to do so. 

“We listened to our audience,” said Jon O’Donnell, ESI’s group commercial director. “We had 2.3 million reading print, 293 million reading digital. We believe the concept of digital-first is full of contradictions. We believe The Independent has always been a really bold innovator that had to be liberated into a digital-only product that didn’t have dueling priorities.” 

Content is still king. And London-based media companies continue to value and invest in it. When The Independent went digital only, it hired 40 new journalists. Trinity Mirror produces 500 news articles each day. Thomson Reuters produces 200 raw videos daily. Instead of producing rolling news on its Web site, The Times updates its site at 9 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. each day. 

News Corps' The Times paid attention to audience habits and decided to update its Web site just three times daily.
News Corps' The Times paid attention to audience habits and decided to update its Web site just three times daily.

Audiences — or “community” — are second only to content. “When you talk to the cool kids, they say you need three things to run a successful digital organisation and they all begin with “c” — content, community, culture,” said Sue Brooks, global head of product at Thomson Reuters. 

“’Community’ is a new way of referring to your readers. Most of your audience, unlike most of the pure-play start-ups, is engaged, loyal, local — all things the digital start-ups would kill for. Know your community.” 

The Times recently changed its paid content strategy to allow paying digital customers to share articles on their tablet via social media. Audiences of many of these media companies consider the content they receive or association with a trusted company as a boost to them personally.

Getting audiences to pay for something — journalism or advertiser attraction — is key to a profitable future.

“Ideally, we should have a subscription model somewhere in our business,” said James Wildman, chief revenue officer at Trinity Mirror. “We continually wrestle with whether there is something we can provide that we could charge for. So we’ve chosen advertising. We’re experimenting with a freewall.”

A decade ago, as much as 80% of the FT's revenues came from advertising. That is no longer the case: “We’re really trying to convert people into paying subscribers,” said Eveline Sliwowska, partnerships marketing manager for the company’s B2B division.

The Telegraph newsroom, where no employee stays put very long in an effort to keep creative energy flowing.
The Telegraph newsroom, where no employee stays put very long in an effort to keep creative energy flowing.

Newsrooms reflect the flexible, multi-media nature of legacy media today. At The Telegraph, all but a handful of employees work in an open environment, with offices available on an as-needed basis for, say, sensitive interviews. Staff is moved around frequently to encourage creative interaction with other people and departments. 

Trinity-Mirror’s social team sits by its reporters, who sit by the video team, who sit by the editors who manage it all. 

Data is no longer an afterthought. Financial Times moved data analyst McKinley Hyden from its data department to its audience engagement team one year ago. The team has two goals: 

  1. To grow reach and impact of our journalism, driving quality traffic to FT.com, growing engagement on-site and off.

  2. To help transform our newsroom and journalists into audience-first journalists who integrate principles and tools of engagement into their work. 

FT has its own Chartbeat-like data insight tool, Lantern, created by the audience engagement and editorial teams: “It’s our data. Lantern is sitting on top of the databases that power us.”