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News media industry is in slow-motion transition to multi-media, reinventing itself along the way

Earl J. Wilkinson, executive director of INMA, concluded the INMA European Conference in Berlin with his outlook for 2014.

Among many gems of advice for publishers, he stressed that the cultural change among newsmedia companies is a necessity, but publishers must be very cautious about it.

Wilkinson began with the example of The Washington Post, which was recently bought by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.

The news media company is facing the same challenges as everyone, no matter who owns it. Among those challenges are declining evenue, increasing innovation, revenue losses that will not be reversed, and cut costs. Like every other newspaper, The Washington Post invested much in hyper-local, paywalls, online video, and more.

Despite that, it had to be sold.

One thing is sure, Wilkinson told delegates: “The Internet is transforming every element of news business. And there is no map or guide to that.”

What does sale of Washington Post mean, Wilkinson asked?

“It will create budget room for experimentation,” he said. “But, to be sure, no business model will be able to replace dollars lost. The transformation requires a longer landing field. Whatever changes are implemented, it is not journalism to be challenged but audiences.”

The industry is facing a slow-motion transition to multi-media, he said. Certainly it is not the death for publishers but their reinvention. A new generation of owners with different motives are emerging, but it’s nothing to worry about, Wilkinson continued: “It may as well mean new brain power and new energy.”

Publishers worldwide are facing big issues. But all publishers are in the same global publishing funnel, Wilkinson said: “We’re all going in the same direction. We’re just in a different stage of a funnel leading all publishers in a digital direction.”

Nowadays, competencies determine products, Wilkinson said: “Those are journalism, story generation, storytelling, and communication. Plus, on the advertising side, those competencies are loyalty, audience solutions, data, and reach.”

The challenge for the rest of this year and 2014 will be to fill the revenue hole left by print ad migration, he said. Print+digital should be a hybrid value proposition offered by newsmedia companies.

As far as marketing is concerned, at this stage there are too many platforms to market: “Publishers don’t have budget to do all of that.”

Publishers must be very cautious with the cultural change, he advised. They should think about the links between culture and multi-media, yet be very careful about wrong people and wrong skill sets: “Too many print people were touching digital and not enough digital people touching print,” he said.

A structured approach to innovation and transformation is required, as well as people management and expectation management.

As a wrap-up, Wilkinson concluded with main points of his presentation:

  • Slow motion transition to multi-media companies.

  • We are in the same funnel but on a different stage.

  • News brands across platforms = limitless opportunities.

  • Fill hole of print ads with 10+ revenue opportunities.

  • Neither print nor digital … print+digital!

Wilkinson reminded delegates that digital will never fill the hole of missing print ad revenues … but print together with digital will.

About Marek Miller

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