Author and New Yorker columnist, Ken Auletta, moderated the panel on the future of journalism at DLD16. He was joined on stage by Marc Al-Hames, managing director at Cliqz, Zanny Minton-Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist, and Norman Pearlstine, chief content office and executive vice president at Time.
Digitalization has changed media consumption. Sit in any airport lobby, metro or café and compare the number of people reading their phone with the number reading a print edition of a newspaper of magazine, and it becomes clear just how much technology is disrupting traditional journalism.
Many take technology to be a threat to the industry. “But I feel optimistic”, said Zanny Minton-Beddoes. The mission of The Economist is to deliver mindstretching journalism for the globally curious. The magazine has always been very aware of its target audience, says Minton-Beddoes. She identified two big challenges for the future for the weekly.
Firstly, it needs to maintain best quality journalism. “We live in a ‘winner takes all climate’ – and that’s not only true for journalism.”
Secondly, the industry needs to improve its use of technology. “Technology is disrupting journalism. But it also brings tremendous opportunity.” For example, Minton-Beddoes said the widespread use of social media is like having a massive, global megaphone. It’s a delivery truck that gets people to hear about what The Economist does. If the message is clear and well-received, Minton-Beddoes hopes it will lead to new subscribers.
Norman Pearlstine said Time was in the print box for a long time. Now the company has recognized the power of mobile, which means we need to "rethink everything we know about journalism".
Social media can be intimidating for large media companies, said Pearlstine, because there is a “fear of losing control over the brand”. “But now we really have no choice but to use those channels.”
Pearlstine also raised the issue of government intrusion. Many journalists in many countries are sitting behind bars. Beyond that, they are independent content producers, not tied to an established publication. “When I think about the future of journalism, then I’m much more concerned about that, the changing relationship between government and people, than about technology,” said Pearlstine.
Marc Al-Hames also spoke of the issue of independent journalism. He said that whereas during the printing revolution, publishing houses were pioneers, with digitalization they lag behind. “Newspapers no longer sell through their front page. But monetization is left to others”, said Al-Hames. Advertising is no longer bundled to content. Leaving monetization to others is a big risk, however, Al-Hames warned. “Online disruption is still very much at the beginning and not at all figured out yet.”
The question of money
Ken Auletta asked how monetization could be improved in the journalism industry.
“I don’t have the answers,” said Al-Hames. He elaborated his earlier point on unbundled content, which he said is bad for publishers because it is against their business model. In Germany a third of users use an ad blocker. This is a clear message that shouldn’t be ignored. A printed out web page could not be sold because ads are so bad. “End content is one combined experience, though. A user doesn’t know the ad is not coming from the publisher,” said Al-Hames. Furthermore, many users use an ad blocker because they are uncomfortable with tracking.
Pearlstine suggested branded content and native advertising as avenues worth investigating. “I think the use of ad blockers shows that people are increasingly unwilling to have obtrusiveness of ads, whether that’s in terms of content on in terms of tracking,” said Minton-Beddoes.
The editor said native advertising is not a good option for The Economist. “Our challenge is, how do we take what is a very strong brand, which has 173 year history, and how do we make sure it succeeds in this world? How do you do all of this change, without wrecking the culture of the Economist?”
Indeed, the point of how journalistic integrity can be maintained without losing profit resonated with the audience. Author and professor Jeff Jarvis suggested bundling people to reach communities rather than bundling content.
Al-Hames said that for journalism to retain its value, it should not give away the core of the consumer and become independent of businesses again.