INMA President Maribel Perez Wadsworth shares thoughts on media in 2024

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


As 2024 begins, the news media industry faces tremendous changes, challenges, and opportunities. During this week’s Webinar, INMA Executive Director Earl Wilkinson sat down with President Maribel Perez Wadsworth for a deeper dive into what’s on the horizon in the new year — and what leaders should be doing to prepare for it.

Events worldwide promise to provide compelling news stories, with 60 elections, including major elections in the United States and the EU. Two wars — in Europe and the Middle East — are already underway, and tension is building in East Asia.

But it’s not all bad. There’s also the Olympics, a global sporting event with tremendous potential to attract audiences. The presence of so many newsworthy events to attract audiences could be a double-edged sword, Wadsworth noted.

“On the one hand, you expect that these moments generate tremendous demand for news, and it is important that our industry be poised to capitalise on that, to be sure that they are positioned … to meet the needs of their readers and viewers and listeners,” she said.

But now news publishers must watch for “landmines” that are already in place, such as the ability of generative AI to rapidly spread misinformation and make it more difficult for legitimate news media companies to accurately report information.

“Just the spread of deep fakes alone poses tremendous threats to our abilities to do our jobs well, and in a world where we are already struggling with trust, potentially seeing that come under even greater assault,” she cautioned.

INMA Executive Director Earl Wilkinson and President Maribel Perez Wadsworth shared their insights on where the news industry is headed.
INMA Executive Director Earl Wilkinson and President Maribel Perez Wadsworth shared their insights on where the news industry is headed.

Creating an impact strategy

At the recent INMA Board of Directors meeting in London, key themes emerged that are critical for the industry to address, Wilkinson and Wadsworth said.

“Journalism’s emerging North Star is impact and influence,” Wilkinson said. “How do we build a strategy around that?”

Such strategies will require companies to re-evaluate the work they’re doing and return to thinking about the business of journalism, Wadsworth said.

“We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the business of journalism is fundamentally about journalism,” she said. “There is no journalism without a strong business to support it. And so that takes every aspect of the business understanding that creating quality, credible, trusted journalism is that North Star. Supporting it through a strong business, through diversified revenue streams is absolutely critical to making that happen.”

Recent years have seen publishers reacting to changes in business models and revenue streams, and as many have shifted to subscription-based models, Wadsworth said they have seen their influence shrink. That needs to be discussed and resolved, she said:

“There’s a really important emerging debate around how to ensure that the business model and the revenue streams that support it also support that impact and influence of the journalism itself.”

A matter of trust

One of the driving factors for maintaining impact and influence is trust, which has been shaken in recent years. News brands have suffered as easy access to the Internet has allowed content creators to share stories and ideas without the scrutiny and ethical practices held by traditional media companies.

“Between that and the increasing polarisation and very politically motivated, intentional actions to undermine trust in media and other institutions, I think all of those things have caused trust to erode,” she said.

But media companies themselves must shoulder some of the blame, too. In the rush to be first to share news, some companies have had “major stumbles” because they haven’t fact-checked before they published.  

“The reach of those brands was a very big part of their success and of their ability to influence and drive impact,” she said. But today, with so many sources of information to choose from and an increased sense of scepticism amongst audiences, it is becoming harder for users to know what can be trusted.

That lack of trust could be pulling the trigger on another challenge for the industry — subscriber churn. But along with trust, consumers battle with subscription fatigue, and news organisations need to ensure they’re providing value with information that consumers can not only trust but that they feel is essential.

That includes creating an experience that is frictionless and enjoyable for the subscriber.

Taking on AI

The elephant in the room of nearly any conversation these days is generative AI. And after a year of companies cautiously experimenting with it, industry perspectives appear to be changing.

Wadsworth said news publishers now look at its opportunities and the many ways it can help transform operations.

“I’ve seen numerous examples of companies that are creating dedicated teams to really focus on what the opportunities are, not just in the newsroom, not just from a content creation perspective, but also how do we optimise our marketing? How do we get to know our customers better? How do we better tailor what we do to them?

“There are myriad opportunities to create efficiencies in the business in a good way and optimise our efforts in terms of connecting the right marketing messages to the right customers at the right time, pricing, all kinds of things,” she said.

“This is, I think, a lot of opportunity even as we have to navigate some of the obvious challenges — not least of which is challenges to our intellectual property.”

Generative AI became the central focus for many INMA Webinars, master classes, and blog posts during 2023, so now it has launched its own Generative AI Initiative, which is being led by Sonali Verma, the former business development director of The Globe and Mail’s automated Sophi product.

“There’s no bigger thing facing our industry right now that we really need to quickly get our arms around,” Wadsworth said. “What are the opportunities, what are the best practises, what are the standards? There are ethical concerns, and INMA has always played a central role in helping educate and share best practices at scale for the industry. So this is incredibly important.”

Moving into 2024, INMA also has retooled its Newsroom Initiative to become the Newsroom Transformation Initiative, led by Amalie Nash, a former Gannett | USA Today Network executive. A transformed newsroom, Wadsworth said, is one “where the newsroom fully understands its place in driving the sustainable business of journalism.”

That means connecting the audience they’re serving to the content they’re creating, understanding how that content helps convert subscribers, and understanding how it helps them expand their reach to their audience, she said.

“They understand what is driving engagement, and they can tie that all to the business results, revenue, subscribers, et cetera. I think that state of transformation should be what we’re aiming for.”

About Paula Felps

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