I recently attended an in-person conference, Newsgeist to be exact. This is a place where people are curated, not the agenda. It sounds strange until you are, there but the agenda flows from this group of people in an unconference format. It’s hard to do justice to all the smart things that were said so consider there a few “aha” moments I had.
1. Is there a place for NFTs in news media?
I’ve been convinced that in the future, web3/blockchain will have benefits for journalism — particularly in tracking the origins of a story and changes to any information. But NFTs have been a bit of a conundrum.
One person I spoke to had tried launching an NFT (or “minting NFTs” as the terminology now goes) — limited editions of the front cover following a major event. And in his mind it had bombed. They made a decent amount of money, but they didn't sell out.
I’ve heard similar stories from others. I think NFTs will have a value once the metaverse is actually being used and we have “digital” lives as well as real world lives. Then there will be value to owning limited-edition digital goods such as art and branded clothes.
2. The free speech debate
“Where to draw the line” is already a big topic. And as Newsgeist is hosted by Google, it is a forum where this theme is augmented. Google is keen to listen and take part because we all seem to want a solution. It’s finding a consensus that’s so hard.
I love hearing smart minds deliberate potential solutions. In the U.S., the First Amendment states that no law should “abridge the freedom of speech.” But what the debate is really about is whether people have the right to have their speech amplified.
When the law was written, people could say anything on the street corner. But the proverbial street corner has changed. At that time people were faced, literally, with the consequences of their words. Now they can hide behind anonymous online personas. Legal and financial consequences could be put in place, but that also has its challenges. To enforce a law means that platforms would need to ask for a form of ID, which doesn't work outside protected environments — and that same form of verification opens up the likelihood of persecution.
Being a gatekeeper is a bundle of judgment calls. It will never please everyone. But I think we all agree that there is a long way to go to solve this.
2.5 Is there still a place for comments?
The above directly relates to comments for news organisations. We haven’t been able to solve this for ourselves. Allowing commenting opens up toxicity, and many news orgs have opted out of comments altogether.
Others have moved comments behind a paywall, which seems to work for subscription-based titles. And (apparently) some have experimented with only allowing people who have spent a certain amount of time on the page before they can comment (if this is you, please tell me more about this).
3. What actually moves the dial for news organisations?
In a discussion about understanding user data and what that can do for news organisations, someone who works in the consulting space articulated these three things as the major reasons people subscribe to a news source:
Societal shifts such as elections or COVID.
Differentiated content (particularly for retention).
Value and brand connection.
4. What didn’t get talked about?
What doesn’t get talked about is also worth looking at. Interestingly there was little about audio and voice, which I thought would be bigger topics this year (although I think I said that in 2019, too!). It’s been high on my mind after Karl Oskar Teien at Schibsted gave us some serious stats when he spoke at the INMA World Congress recently:
“We see more and more people listen, and each person also listens more. Online audio went up 16 hours per week just from 2019 to 2020 in the U.S.” He followed up with: “We know that users increasingly want the ability to multi-task. People like to consume something while they’re doing something else.”
I see this as an untapped opportunity for news and am actively looking at case studies in this area.
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