News media companies are primed to make bold tech, digital moves in 2023

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


The turn of the year is always a good time to reflect and build strength for the year ahead.

We’ve been fortunate with the caliber of people who’ve been prepared to take part in master classes, Webinars, and interviews throughout the year — passing on the benefit of their experience and often taking the chance to ask for help themselves. Here’s a great INMA wrap-up of the final master class of 2022 about newsroom leadership.

In this newsletter, there’s a modest pair of predictions for 2023 from me and Sonali Verma from the The Globe and Mail, who is as perspicacious an analyst of media as I know. It is an idea I acknowledge was developed into a great annual set of predictions by U.S. journalism powerhouse NiemanLab. Tell me your predictions if you want for my next newsletter.

Journalists can be neurotic and obsessed with their own industry, but the turmoil at Twitter does look like a turning point for journalism as much as for the site. Twitter may not count much in terms of inbound traffic to publisher Web sites, but there’s no doubt it forms opinions. It is also the plaything of Elon Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist using his pulpit to attack journalists and journalism.

Predictions for 2023

Sonali Verma is a member of the advisory council to the INMA Newsroom Initiative. She’s the director of business development for The Globe and Mail’s, the intelligent artificial home page and content layout system pioneered by the Canadian media company and now available as a software-as-a-service product.

AI is predicted to become even more important to news media companies in 2023.
AI is predicted to become even more important to news media companies in 2023.

“My prediction for 2023 is a bit self-serving but based on fact: I think publishers the world over are waking up to the potential of AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/machine learning) systems, whether it is for writing copy for routine stock market reports or local sports stories, or for deciding which content to paywall or whom to ask for a subscription, or deciding where to place content on a page (print or digital),” Sonali told me.

“Everyone is under pressure to keep a lid on cost. Their brilliant, overworked journalists’ talents are better used for sniffing out a story or writing sensitively, and the algorithm is actually better at optimisation math than journalists are. 2023 will be the year when many publications make bold moves to adopt AI/ML systems — some because they want to and others because they have to. The ones who do it successfully will be the ones who understand dual transformation.”

I have seen how the io works at The Globe and Mail online and maybe even more impressively with some case studies where it can manage newspaper layouts — an area that is going to be critical next year as the cost of newsprint soars and the push towards digital accelerates. 

Which, in a sense, is the perfect segue to my prediction for 2023.

This is what I told Nieman — with a couple of additions for this newsletter:

The cost of publishing, especially of printing and paper, is skyrocketing and will go even higher in 2023, dramatically forcing the pace of media transition to digital from the print newspapers that still drive a great deal of income. At INMA we hear this all the time, and it’s driving great thinking about innovation in newspaper production.

For example, Mette Østergaard, editor-in-chief of Berlingske in Denmark, talked in the recent INMA Newsroom Leadership master class about their high-speed move away from a newspaper focus in the newsroom.

That question of trading paper dollars for digital cents we talked about a decade ago is coming back, but it’s about costs now.

Newsprint prices have risen more than 50% in many markets — if you can get supplies. Paper mills are converting from newsprint to boxes. Printing costs — including maintenance of aging and capital-intensive presses — threaten to make newspaper (and in many cases magazine) printing and distribution uneconomical.

The price of the printed newspaper may make it uneconomical in many regions.
The price of the printed newspaper may make it uneconomical in many regions.

That cost pressure will force the pace of digital transformation. Many publishers — despite what they’ve said for years about their commitment to digital-first — still cling to print, both for understandable revenue reasons and because they can’t break away from the historic cycle of daily publication. That means some of the fast-paced transitions will be disastrous.

Scandinavian publishers are experimenting with outsourcing print entirely, reducing publication days and going weekend-only on paper. The Independent in the UK abandoned paper years ago and hasn’t looked back; it’s one of the few truly digital publishers to emerge from the newspaper industry. Christian Broughton, managing director of The Independent, talked with us about the success of that digital-only leap in the last Newsroom Leadership master class.

Next year, those who moved fast over the past five years will come out on top. And those who didn’t will struggle, fire staff, and disappoint customers and advertisers with clunky sites, second-grade apps, and increasingly thin newspapers they’ll still try to charge the earth for.

Other predictions:

  • Mental health will be a big issue for journalists in precarious jobs. You might find the new journalism mental health support group The Headlines Network useful. Hannah Storm, co-founder of Headlines, spoke in the first Newsroom Initiative master class. I have been surprised how many newsroom leaders express concern about the mental health of staff.
  • Consumers will revise their subscriptions and become even more sparing than the 1.1 average reported now. Must-have sites like The New York Times will come out on top in that scenario, and local and regional sites will start to fail even more than they have so far, replaced by products like Axios Local and innovative local Substack-type sites. Vanity investigative and podcast and video projects are over, but well-costed, targeted products are in. Axios Publisher Nicholas Johnston talked to me about Axios and also took part in the Newsroom Leadership master class. There’s much more on subscription strategy in the INMA Readers First Initiative.

The full set of Nieman predictions can be found here, and the excellent UK site has a similar set of forecasts from industry figures.

Twitter turmoil is terrible for journalists and may be bad for journalism

It is — or was — a truism that the journalists were on Twitter but the audience was on Facebook (probably TikTok now). 

However, we all know Twitter has an outsize influence on journalists, and it revolutionised the way journalists shared content and exposed themselves to dialogue with colleagues, critics, and a wider audience — often for the good and all too often toxic.

What’s different since Elon Musk took over as proprietor is that the toxic discussion about journalists and journalism is driven by the owner. In almost countless tweets and actions to suspend journalists who displease him (or, to be fair, who may have breached what are now fast-changing and unpredictable Twitter rules on what is and is not permitted), Musk has demonstrated or acted out contempt for journalists — especially those at major news brands.

In Twitter exchanges with the nihilistic lawyer-turned-journalist Glenn Greenwald, Musk endorses the idea that what Greenwald pejoratively calls “corporate journalists” are amoral, parasitic, and have enjoyed undue privilege on the Twitter platform until now.

“No special treatment for corpo journalists anymore,” Musk tweeted in response to a retweet by Greenwald, mocking a tweet from Washington Post journalist Paul Farhi, one of those whom Twitter had suspended in a spat supposedly about Musk’s personal security.

Central to that special treatment has been the “blue tick.” Musk has described it as a status symbol when it was actually created to identify “real” people, which in journalism meant people with a reputation — many of whom worked for reputable organisations. Of course, it went beyond journalism and to politics and sports and many publishers now carry a gold equivalent of the old blue tick — actually a white tick on a blue rosette.

Twitter's new gold tick is for verified businesses.
Twitter's new gold tick is for verified businesses.

“In a few months, we will remove all legacy blue checks. The way in which they were given out was corrupt and nonsensical,” Musk wrote on Twitter on December 12.

It is part of what someone I respect in journalism described as an unprecedented attack on the entire profession, trade, and industry of journalism by the richest person in the world. (At least Musk was that at the time it was said.) It is hard to think that journalism could face a worse period of attack as purveyors of biased “fake news” than under former President Donald Trump, but somehow there’s a sense that journalism Twitter is being taken away from journalists.

Part of this is related to the so-called Twitter Files, given by Musk to hand-picked journalists who tend to hunt alone now having left those “corporate” jobs. It’s true that the tweets by Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss and others about the way pre-Musk Twitter interacted with security services, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are fascinating and show a company struggling to maintain its own policies and the reach of security services into the big platforms. But they hardly point to a conspiracy between Twitter and the FBI.

Exhibit A is a series of internal memos and messages about the Hunter Biden laptop — left for repairs and mysteriously finding its way into the hands of Trump lawyer Rudi Guiliani. Most important for our discussion was the Twitter decision to suspend the account of the New York Post for Tweeting about its exclusive reporting on the contents of the laptop.

Any reputable media organisation should be concerned about the decision — more or less against Twitter policies at the time — to suppress the distribution of the Post story. However, it is also hard not to understand the febrile moment in time with fear of more foreign interference in the U.S. election process and the reluctance of Twitter Inc to be used.

“Why is corporate journalism rushing to defend the state instead of the people?” Musk asked in a tweet.

The more lasting impact may be Musk’s either performative or real contempt for journalism. Twitter has been the home of the high-speed circulation of journalism, journalists have become influencers on Twitter for good or evil, and arguably Twitter has amplified the personalised “me, me, me” approach of much modern journalism and commentary.

When I last wrote about the Twitter turmoil, INMA members told me Twitter was so insignificant in terms of inbound traffic and subscription sign-up, they years ago stopped investing in developing a presence on the platform. That may be true of publishers, but it remains true that journalists themselves are on Twitter and care about the future of the platform.

Reputations have been made on Twitter. If the platform shifts more strongly to being a rebuke to “corporate journalism” with its style books, ethics, and in-house lawyers — and moves towards the more conspiratorial, less-edited approach of more individualist journalists and commentators — it may be less powerful but even more a source of bias and misinformation.

None of this means those corporate news services — the backbone of INMA — don’t have faults and haven’t made mistakes, but they generally have a level of accountability to readers and shareholders and mostly enforced policies about corrections and ethical conflicts. 

We talk a lot in the Newsroom Initiative about ways to promote and protect trust, but we haven’t before had the world’s former richest man — a true innovator with 123.5 million Twitter followers (nearly double Trump himself) — hating on us. It may be performative, but it is risky.

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at or with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Peter Bale

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