I’m writing this on the plane on the way back from the INMA World Congress of News Media in NYC, which was nothing short of spectacular. And it was that for several reasons: I got to see so many people that I have only previously met on Zoom — and every single one was even better in the flesh. And I met a wealth of new people and learnt so much that my head is exploding.
Not to bury the lead to the story, but did you know I had a 45-minute unscripted fireside chat with AG Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times? Or spoke to Nick Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and tech guru extraordinaire about his seven things in media we all need to pay attention to? I got to quiz CEOs about what’s coming next, learn about interactive formats, and meet the incredible authors of New Power.
That’s enough gushing. In this newsletter, I want to share some of my immediate post event thoughts and lessons. I hope it’s helpful.
Learnings, observations from INMA World Congress
TLDR: AI is coming and we need to start experimenting. Audio is an opportunity. Build, measure, learn. Product is more important now than it ever has been. Humans are wonderful.
The human connection is real: I had almost forgotten the energy that a large group of smart people brings. But it’s not just the conference itself. We talked a lot about AI. My overarching feeling is that AI will make a number of efficiencies, but ultimately we will always rely on the human connection to really know what is true or not. Reputable brands need to stay transparent.
We need to figure out AI, and that means experimentation. AI came up time and time again: It was the top concern of the CEOs and was mentioned in almost every session.
Let’s break it down:
There are applications that can be used now. Karen Silverman of the Cantellus group highlighted the following: news aggregation, transcription, drafts of articles, discovery and idea generation, investigation of known subjects, investigating novel patterns in structured and unstructured data, immersive storytelling (and graphic generation), restoring footage, targeting readers, moderation, UGC, translation. That’s a lot of efficiency.
The copyright issue came up, led by Robert Thomson, Global CEO of News Corp. It’s a big one and hard because LLM (Large Language Models) are, at least in part, trained on our material. How much? I am sure there is data out there, but I am not sure we truly know, and I am fairly sure that it’s just a fraction of the content out there. Here’s my two cents, which I know isn’t popular: I think the ship has sailed and it will likely end up being a huge distraction to fight. I hope there are agreements that can be reached for specific quotations and charts. But frankly, we also save to look inwardly. If I write a restaurant review and speak to 10 diners and four staff at the restaurant, two of which I quote — whom should I pay? The people I quoted? The people I spoke to that helped form my opinion? In our case it’s no one. My point is the conversation is so nuanced that it’s hard to find a solution that works across the board.
There will be a tipping point where SEO doesn’t give us enough return to warrant the scraping of our content. It’s then that we decide to close off our content to search, meaning LLMs are no longer trained on our information and the value to our customers is that of verified independent truth. What does that mean to our top of funnel? Where does it come from if not search? I wish I had the answer to that.
Is there an existential threat of AI? Yes, I am convinced a lot of people will end up with their preferred chatbot type service that meets the majority of their needs — and that does not bode well for news generally. But I left the event a lot more confident about the future of news and the value of real humans overseeing our news. We need to continue to work on trust and independence, but maybe that is precisely where the opportunity is.
“There is no pivot.” AG Sulzberger told me this when I asked about their all new audio app (breakdown of which will come soon in this newsletter). I’ve been in the news industry long enough to agree. Some pivoted to social, pivoted to video — and we know how that turned out.
The upshot is that we shouldn’t pivot to different platforms, we should embrace them. But not on other people’s platforms unless there is a clear upside to your own business. I believe passionately that we need to offer different mediums for people to consume their news.
AG put it as not doing the same things over and over. Diversify the menu. Audio came up time and time again as an addition to our current strategies. And we saw in the Gen Z session that products for Gen Z have to be different in terms of branding, voice, and visuals. It’s a different way of storytelling. And I still think that “scrollytelling,” as coined by the FT, is still the best phase when it comes to interactive.
Spend time getting it right at the beginning: Set understandable goals and metrics for what you are trying to achieve overall and communicate them. This will save a lot of time further down the road. In the Product Workshop, Karl Oskar Teien of Schibsted talked about framing the problem — not the solution. A great example of this is load time. The problem is that people don’t like waiting for content. You might assume the solution is to lower the load time. But before you spend a lot of money on that, you may also want to think about placeholders that auto update, giving the impression that some content has loaded, while the rest is refreshing in the background. This is a trick from Instagram, and one that works.
Related to this: Build. Measure. Learn. Repeat. It was music to my ears to hear this so much outside of a product context. This is being understood by the whole business and that we should celebrate! Remember that when it comes to building MVPs (minimum viable product), you actually want what CJ Jacobs at Media News Group calls an MLP, a minimum lovable product. If it is too bare boned, people won’t fall in love with it and therefore you don’t have a true test. And remember that tests can be disposable. We saw this a couple of times throughout the World Congress.
Diversify your offering, or not. I actually heard mixed things on this so, you’re getting the Jodie Hoppeton view. We know news can be hard to hear and can affect mental health. We know people avoid the news more and more. We know we need journalism to hold power to account for a democratic society.
But “eat your greens” is not the most enticing message. Some argue that we should double down on news, but I think that we need to diversify, we need to fit into customers’ lifestyles because we want them to want us — and mostly we want them to want (or at least accept they need to) pay for us. And for that we need to offer softer, more fun, or even more useful content for their day to day lives. The New York Times has been impressive on this front and it’s playing out well for them.
No one has the answer. Not even the NYT. We have to make decisions based on our own circumstances. There are many dependencies which include but are not limited to: (potential) market, culture, current organisation structure and where we want it to be, economic circumstances. So while I opine on the path forward from my comfortable view here in Los Angeles, what I really appreciate with the INMA community is that we admit we don’t have all the answers, but we can learn from each other about our thinking and framing of decision making.
Some technologies are still a way off. Before I wrapped up the session with Nick Thompson, CEO of The Atlantic, I asked about two technologies that we used to hear a lot about but have gone quiet of late. Here is what he said:
The Metaverse is coming in the fact that people will use AR or VR in their everyday life. But he predicts that’s seven years away.
Blockchain and Web3 (not crypto for payment) is still likely to have some use cases he thinks, but he doesn’t see it coming for four years.
We’ll have to get him back in four years to see how his predictions are panning out. But you can come back before, we’ll be in London next year. Hope to see you there!
Date for the diary: “Blowing up the Tech Stack” is our free to members Webinar on June 21
How to decide when and how to start over when building a new product is the topic of this session. I’ll be in discussion with Chrstine Schonfelder to discuss how they changed everything for the Web site. We’ll look at the decisions made, what went well, and what they would do differently if they would do it again. Sign up here or if you have a story to share, please contact me at email@example.com.
About this newsletter
Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.