Media companies show resilience in the face of rapid change, INMA CEO says

By John Horstmann

City, University of London

London, United Kingdom


As the media landscape continues evolving rapidly — particularly in the areas of digital transformation and generative AI — the priorities of media companies are changing, too.

At the 2024 INMA World Congress of News Media, INMA CEO and Executive Director Earl Wilkinson addressed the challenges media companies face and the changing priorities in today’s media environment.

The current media environment has both pros and cons for publishers.
The current media environment has both pros and cons for publishers.

Generative AI takes centre stage

In recent years, GenAI has become a priority for media companies. At the INMA Vail Roundtable in August 2023, CEOs ranked it as their top priority. 

Investment in GenAI has skyrocketed in the last 12 months, with more than 40% of this year’s World Congress delegates naming it as a top three investment area for their companies in 2024.


GenAI is one of the top areas of investments for news media companies in 2024.
GenAI is one of the top areas of investments for news media companies in 2024.

Wilkinson pointed out that “understanding and implementing” GenAI has also become a key challenge for media companies.

Media organisations’ c-suites view AI as a huge opportunity but also a risk: “AI is an opportunity for increased effectiveness, productivity and efficiency but it is also a threat,” Wilkinson said. “A threat to the news industry, yes. A threat to humanity, no.”

However, executives are still figuring out the impact GenAI could have on their newsrooms. Many of the ways in which it could change newsroom work remain to be fully explored and understood. As Wilkinson said, “AI is shifting from the unknown to the known.”

Subscriptions and advertising models

As the media industry has evolved, media organisations’ business models have changed, too. In 2000, advertising represented 87% of newspaper revenue. Today, advertising remains important but is “perplexing,” accounting for a mere 50% of publisher revenues.

While advertising itself has grown steadily over the last 100 years, it has now “become more digital and is primarily going to five big companies,” according to Wilkinson: Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Bytedance, and Meta now receive more than half of the global advertising share.

Global ad spend is primarily going to five Big Tech companies.
Global ad spend is primarily going to five Big Tech companies.

“Our [media companies’] piece of the pie continues to decrease,” Wilkinson said. He described the opinions among news publishers’ executives regarding the future of advertising as “a very mixed bag.”

With a decline in advertising, subscriptions have become a major revenue stream for publishers. The volume of online subscriptions has grown linearly since 2019. 

Expanding subscriber bases is of utmost priority for media organisations; as Wilkinson noted, “There is no ceiling in terms of subscriptions.”

But with an increase in subscriptions come many important debates that publishers must contemplate. Wilkinson urged the audience to consider the questions: “Are we shifting journalism away from being essential to people?” and “Is journalism becoming a niche product for wealthy and well-educated elites?”

Media companies should ensure journalism remains widely accessible “beyond the funding core,” he emphasised, encouraging partnerships with Big Tech companies that may act as “reach extenders.”

Wilkinson urged publishers to loosen paywalls or develop free sites and suggested that with the rise of misinformation and disinformation, they must work to regain “trust at scale.”

Journalism’s digital future

 A consistent theme throughout Wilkinson’s presentation was the incredible speed at which technology is advancing, which, in turn, is forcing media companies to constantly adapt: “Technology is changing. Keeping up with it is a beast. What once took nine months to develop can now be done in nine minutes.”

One of the main ways publishers have adapted to technology in recent years is by using data to optimise the reach of their content and maximise their profits.

“Data fluency is the biggest indicator of newsroom culture success,” Wilkinson said.

He highlighted the importance of media companies staying nimble and adaptable in the face of the various challenges they face today, which include diminishing public trust, struggles with profitability, Big Tech antagonism, and the aforementioned ever-increasing pace of technological developments. 

Wilkinson pointed out there is room for positivity, as publishers have historically been resilient.

On media companies adapting to continuing technological changes, he said: “Transformation isn’t something we’re going to complete but rather something we instill in the muscle memory of our newsrooms.

“Our dream is to get from transformation to a process of constant learning and improvement.” 

He also stressed the importance of the journalistic mission to the audience: “You are Generation Next for the news industry. This is the highest bar ever set for a group of professionals to preserve the values that your mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers set decades ago.

“We have a moral imperative to the future of journalism to be financially sustainable.”

Despite the challenges, media executives have become more optimistic about the future of their organisations within the last 12 months, he said: “The INMA community is optimistic.”

About John Horstmann

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