Last week I attended a panel discussion held by I Want Media in conjunction with Internet Week New York. The panel consisted of some top players in the media world, who discussed, debated and broke down what's to come in the future for media.
The panel was led by Patrick Phillips, the founder of I Want Media, who moderated the conversation between media CEOs, editors and presidents. Each of the panelists had some interesting views and insight on the topics discussed.
- Henry Blodget - Editor and CEO, Business Insider
- Mark Thompson – CEO, New York Times Company
- Cindy Jeffers - CEO and CTO, Salon Media Group
- Roy Sekoff - President and Co-Creator, HuffPost Live
- Jonah Peretti - Founder and CEO, BuzzFeed
Jumping right in, Phillips brought up the recent acquisition of Tumblr by Yahoo. Blodget calls the acquisition an aggressive move and a very smart thing for Yahoo to do. Thompson agrees that it was a smart move for the company, and a great thing for the city of New York. Jeffers agrees as well, saying how the acquisition speaks to the importance of visual storytelling.
Q: What are some of the positive changes that disruption in media brings?
Sekoff: It lowers the bar on participation. It’s about people being creative. It’s about media being "participational" instead of just presentational -- allowing everyone to get a seat at the table, thus democratizing media.
Peretti: Social is shifting from just being a few sites where people can consume media. You’d rather get something from your friend sharing it than having it pushed to you through industrial headlines.
Thompson: The disruption makes it possible to tell stories in new and different ways. Using graphic and text together to tell a story makes the story rich. At New York Times, we want to be both the most authoritative and the most innovative storytellers. We want to enrich the storytelling experience – this will draw people in.
Q: Do you think that more traditional outlets can provide the storytelling element more than Facebook and Twitter?
Sekoff: “Data touches your head, storytelling touches your heart.”
Peretti: After Boston, we saw a flood of information from people on social media – for example people tweeting the police scanner, posting pictures from the scene, etc. The story of the Boston bombing broke on Twitter, but it was still surprising to see live stats of the front page jump. Twitter is the front page, it’s spreading on social media, but people out there still want to see curated information on a site.
Sekoff: People go to sites to see information that’s been filtered through.
Thompson: We know Twitter will have the story first – which is different than how it was years ago. There is a sea of actuality and points coming at you, which we saw after Boston, but you have to sift through and curate the information. Making sense of the information and putting it in context is what people want to see.
Blodget: Twitter is not going to be the source for all breaking news stories. There are lots of things that are important – not just social. People are searching on Google and going to the direct site as well. It is great that media is being disruption. We are getting instantaneous fact-checking when it used to take weeks.
Q: How does a traditional news outlet stand out?
Blodget: By producing great stuff, people will want to come to you for information. You can share your great stories on Twitter and it will draw the attention.
Sekoff: During Boston, we brought on people who were on location, on lockdown in Watertown and also Chechnya experts. We were following what people were saying on social, and then having conversations around that.
Jeffers: It’s important to always check your sources and make sure you are reporting good information. The biggest challenge is building and maintaining original voices that are part of the site and part of the brand.
Thompson: Make sure you know what your brand stands. Being quite good isn’t good enough anymore. Be ready to adapt.
Q: What are some challenges with media disruption?
Peretti: Disruption has hurt people who are regionally based because people can get information from elite reporters. There’s a huge difference between the very best people and people who are a level down.
Thompson: The distribution mechanisms mean that the “stars” get more of the attention. It’s like, “he who has more will be given.”
Sekoff: There’s so much innovation and happening so quickly, you’re always looking over your shoulder. Don’t throw out the thing that made you good in the first place. Be able to adapt but don’t be so seduced by what’s new that you change completely. We are trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Thompson: Innovation leads to a competitive.
Q: What’s the next big thing?
Jeffers: You see the value of smaller data sets and you see them in discreet ways, such as Google Glass. These new and smaller platforms are going to be a creative challenge for news outlets.
Blodget: I think it’s all about storytelling. It’s fundamentally different than TV or print. It’s a multiplatform, multiscreen world. News travels across platforms – that’s the whole point.
Thompson: Another platform is face-to-face live events. Live experience is a platform to integrate. It’s fascinating that physical newspapers sales are increasing. Different platforms depend on your time, what you want to find out and your circumstances.
Q: How important is online video?
Sekoff: It’s incredibly important – but it’s not the only thing. It’s about engagement, participation and bringing people in to the conversation. We find it to be rich and engaging. We can change videos into smaller bites. We aren’t trying to be CNBC.
Blodget: People are not so interested in videos of talking heads online. I know what they look like, tell me what they are saying in bullet form. If they wanted that, they could put on the TV. Smaller clips are better – that’s what people want.
Jeffers: Everyone has access to these sources online. Regular citizens are producing extraordinary content. Bystanders with cellphone video has shown to be useful and it’s shown to be important.
Thompson: It’s a powerful way of experiencing news and actuality. Actuality is raw material and the facts. What is the right mix of news-related video? There is a universe of video on YouTube alone – what will you do with it to key in with your brand?
Peretti: Video is becoming increasingly popular. Half of traffic on video is coming from mobile.
Q: What are outlets doing to keep top talent?
Thompson: We are up for experiment and change. The future of the New York Times name depends on being really brave around innovation.
Blodget: People are coming in and wanting the full range of creativity with this medium. In the past, people would use it as a stepping stone for their careers in print. It’s a great opportunity for people coming out of school because there are more opportunities in digital. People are excited for the full range of creativity that comes with this medium. Being talented in digital journalism is fundamentally different than in TV or print.
Peretti: There are pros and cons to hiring people from traditional settings. You want to hire good people and people want to work at great places, whether they have print experience or not.
Q: What are the ethics regarding borrowing from other sites?
Sekoff: This is what the medium is. It’s creative aggregation. You’re adding to the story and keeping within fair use. Link out to the original source and you are drawing traffic to them.
Thompson: There are sometimes abusive uses, but this is a world where people aggregate information. You’re constantly reflecting what other sources and mediums are saying. On the other hand, being quoted everywhere is good exposure.
Blodget: This is what public relations people do all day – they want people to talk about their articles.
Peretti: Original content has a second life when it’s rewritten with keywords and SEO. On Twitter, people want to retweet the authoritative source even if it’s a big older.
Blodget: Build on and credit other people’s work exactly the way you’d want your work credited. If I write something that is valuable enough that you want to send your readers to then it’s a positive.
Jeffers: In order to be part of the conversation you need to flag good information and site it.
Q: What is your bold prediction of the future of media?
Peretti: Thrillist will have an IPO – they are doing very well. For BuzzFeed, an IPO is not in the works. We are growing faster than we’ve expected.
Thompson: There is room for growth in terms of what’s happening in disruption. Journalism is far from being dead – it has a great future. What journalists do will be different than what they did historically.
Jeffers: The ways and the sources that people are using are changing. In the short-term there will be a continued convergence of visual and social platforms with news. Long-term: getting smaller inconspicuous devices that bring in the news is going to force news companies to think of different ways to bring in the news.
Blodget: This is the golden age in storytelling. We are vastly better informed and it will keep getting better. We are vastly better informed than we were ten years ago. There is tremendous news production capacity.
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