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. I want to share some of my immediate post event thoughts and lessons.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. “There is no pivot”
AG Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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!
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