This has been a Congress of passion,” Earl J. Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA told delegates at the conclusion of the World Congress of News Media in New York on Friday. Wilkinson outlined and prioritised the most inspiring, interesting, and intriguing themes from the week which included two study tours, five half-day workshops, and a two-day media conference.

Wilkinson summarised a view of today’s media landscape presented earlier in the week by Kunal Gupta during the Advertising Seminar on Wednesday: 

  • Trust is the new currency.
  • Social is becoming toxic.
  • The Web is dirty.

“It sounds like the beginning of an Eminem tune,” he joked.

Referencing a presentation from Schibsted Media Group CEO Kristin Skogen Lund, Wilkinson reflected on strategic repositioning of brand value and offerings.

“I found it fascinating that the non-core media assets of Schibsted outperform the core media assets,” he said.

Wilkinson explored nine themes he recognised from the 105 speakers’ presentations over the past five days, sharing quotes and lessons from those sessions.

INMA CEO Earl Wilkinson recapped the 2019 World Congress of News Media by exploring nine themes.
INMA CEO Earl Wilkinson recapped the 2019 World Congress of News Media by exploring nine themes.

1. New value propositions

Wilkinson referenced Kristin Skogen Lund’s presentation: Customers know about algorithms and feel fine about it, but it’s because they really trust their news brand: “I often hear about trust as critical to our value proposition,” he said.

Karl Wells of The Wall Street Journal told participants of the study tour: Know what the hero is in your bundle. Also know if there are any killers in your bundle.

“Consumers in markets where information is free — they know they’re getting away with something, they’re waiting on you to take the step,” Wilkinson said.

2. Culture as the lynchpin for change and transformation (people!)

Wilkinson referenced the presentation that Matt Murray of The Wall Street Journal made on Thursday: Change and transformation are all about culture and mindset. 

“This idea about permanent coaching is becoming important at news media companies,” Wilkinson said.

3. Getting newsrooms re-positioned for enhanced leadership

“Look, as we heard this week: Newsrooms are shifting from managing products to managing customers ... that sounds like Greg Piechota,” he said. 

4. Positioning data to boost business outcomes

Making data work is about top-down leadership, training, and democratisation. Wilkinson pointed out that 24sata has gone from 25% of company employees using data to 95% today across all departments.

“It’s not just cleverness, but they’ve democratised access to it,” he said.

5. The pending entrance of personalisation

Again referencing Piechota’s session, Wilkinson said designers of algorithms that personalise news experiences are editors.

“Greg suggested the designers of algorithms themselves that design this news experience are, in fact, editors,” he said. “I think in this last session (with New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet), we might have heard some disagreement with that.”

INMA CEO Earl Wilkinson closing out the 2019 World Congress of News Media.
INMA CEO Earl Wilkinson closing out the 2019 World Congress of News Media.

6. What publishers and platforms should talk about

Wilkinson talked about the previous day’s panel with Facebook and Google where, he said, publishers got a lot off their chest.

“I think we wanted to be able to strip to varnish off the polite conversation. I think we were getting to the point. And we want to build on this. We feel this panel is a beginning not an end.”

7. Re-positioning Facebook as complementary

On Tuesday’s study tour, Chartbeat said it is more likely a reader will discover a story on your home page or app than through Facebook. 

“I heard a Latin American publisher that said more than 70% of their digital traffic is from Facebook,” Wilkinson said. “Folks, it’s not healthy to have 70% of your traffic coming from Facebook. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s not that.”

8. Podcasts and voice: Invest today for 12 to 18 months from now

During a session about podcast monetisation, presenters said listenership has disproportionately affluent young adult listenership and is deeply engaging, with 80% of podcasts consumed beginning to end.

“As of May 2019, podcasts are being used for top of the funnel engagement,” Wilkinson said. “I’m not seeing too many examples of podcasts being behind a paygate or a paywall.”

9. Where print is positioned in news media companies

During Wednesday’s Print Innovation seminar, Juan Señor said publishers must be realistic about print, not nostalgic about it. “You need to become digitally sustainable before you become print unsustainable.”

And about print?

“Isn’t it interesting that this conference used to be about print,” he said. “I didn’t even have to say anything about print, and we used to park digital into a little corner. In some ways this is what we’ve done with print. Now it’s print in the corner.”

In conclusion, Wilkinson said there are two threads of discussion in the news media industry. He will leave updates about arbitrage to the trade press as he aims to dive deeper into discussions about value, he said.

“I wanted to attack the value creation line of our business and really get into big trends and the shift from ad focus to reader focus.”

Wilkinson again referenced Karl Wells’ presentation during Monday’s study tour at The Wall Street Journal, stating he had a realisation as he listened to Wells talk about propensity models and data.

“There was something oddly familiar about what he was talking about,” Wilkinson said. “And I’ve had this feeling for several months and I’ve been told not to say it out loud. But I can’t help it, I can’t hold back anymore. All we’re talking about, ladies and gentlemen, when we talk about brands and digital and data — we simply are looking at the re-birth of marketing in the news industry.”

Data is re-introducing science into the marketing equation, he said. This data-powered re-birth of marketing is making the news media industry smarter: “We are getting smarter and better at what we do. And we’re getting used to the new language of this business in digital format.”