Kunal Gupta addressed 50 people at an advertising seminar as part of last week’s INMA World Congress of News Media, nestled in the new hip offices of the USA Today Network in the northern part of Times Square in New York. His message was simple and could have been a scene-setter for the rest of the week

  • Trust is the new currency. 
  • Social is fast becoming toxic. 
  • The Web has become dirty. 
Kunal Gupta, CEO and founder of Polar, shares with study tour participants his thoughts on trust, social media, and the dirty Web.
Kunal Gupta, CEO and founder of Polar, shares with study tour participants his thoughts on trust, social media, and the dirty Web.

The CEO and founder of Polar, a global technology business, was setting the stage for a simple seminar, yet the message resonated to the full Congress. 

Schibsted Media Group CEO Kristin Skogen Lund took those words and slapped a wrapper on them: Digitisation of media is the proverbial climate change, while most other digital issues are merely storms. Knowing the difference will likely be the difference between success and failure for news media.

Kristin Skogen Lund, CEO of Schibsted Media, compared the digitisation of media to climate change in its disruption.
Kristin Skogen Lund, CEO of Schibsted Media, compared the digitisation of media to climate change in its disruption.

The broad themes of news brand value propositions and the digital ecosystem in which journalism finds itself in 2019 were repeated undercurrents of last week’s INMA World Congress of News Media in New York.   

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet talked trust: “One of my jobs is to protect the view that, if you like us or not, we try to be fair, and we try to get it right, and we’re not influenced by political perspective,” Baquet told the INMA audience. 

Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, told the INMA audience how important trust is in the news brand-audience relationship right now.
Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, told the INMA audience how important trust is in the news brand-audience relationship right now.

Baquet’s emphasis on trust, like Schibsted’s Lund, has a basis in data. According to eMarketer founder Geoff Ramsey, trust in traditional and digital news sources and search engines ranges between 55% and 65%. Social media’s trust level is at 43%. 

Darren Davidson, editor-in-chief of Storyful, told INMA’s Brainsnack Seminar changing media consumption habits have created a crisis in media hinging on trust: “Skepticism has never been higher. The need for trust has never been greater. It’s increasingly imperative for news organisations to cultimate audiences. We’re selling trust. The value of trust has never been greater.” 

Other news brand attributes emerged during World Congress. For example, The Wall Street Journal’s Karl Wells stressed ambition as the driver of his company’s audience. Quartz Creative’s Michael Dolan pointed to the perceptual need for goodwill

INMA researcher-in-residence Grzegorz Piechota differentiated between commodity-based “content” and “news” (which might be best free and open) as opposed to “journalism” (which people will pay for). Eric Gillin of Condé Nast seemed to even suggest a moral imperative to charge: “You have to ask people to pay for quality.” 

Meanwhile, the “frenemy” environment between publishers and the platforms which have become so crucial to distribution and monetisation was on full display. While Facebook and Google pushed hard to demonstrate good deeds helping publishers amid Schibsted’s “climate change,” publishers grappled with a feeling of helplessness and where to grab and impact that ecosystem.

Four media publishers aired their concerns on stage with representatives from Google and Facebook.
Four media publishers aired their concerns on stage with representatives from Google and Facebook.

Publishers on INMA’s fledgling Digital Platform Initiative aimed to winnow down the issues with Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon, yet it still came across as a waterfall of grievances with no solutions in sight. 

One kernel did resonate across the INMA World Congress Week: access to data. Aftenposten CEO Espen Egil Hansen said digital life without data is blindness. Matt Murray and Karl Wells of The Wall Street Journal told the INMA Media Conference and a study tour stop that while their company doesn’t need control of data when dealing with platforms, they do need access to the data to maintain a positive relationship. 

Matt Murray, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, shared the thinking behind the media company's partnership with Apple+.
Matt Murray, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, shared the thinking behind the media company's partnership with Apple+.

Perhaps that is a step forward, including one for INMA which is aiming to de-code the complicated platform landscape for members.

As for Gupta’s observation that the Web has become dirty, Google’s Jason Washing talked about his company’s defense of the open Web and the role publishers play: “We have no incentive in seeing your companies fall away. There’s no win for Google in seeing the corpus of information that exists around the world on the Web become a place of dark, bad content that represents an inauthentic view of what’s actually going on in the world. So we have a lot riding on this.”

Trust and navigating the digital ecosystem were repeated over-arching themes from which INMA’s 104 speakers pivoted.