Five more takes on online media and publishing in 2018

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Insights from the first Future of Media and Publishing meetup from New York City

Last month Bibblio went to the States to launch the Future of Media & Publishing series in New York. FoMP is a get-together to share knowledge and big ideas about where digital media and publishing are headed, and how we can build sustainable and profitable businesses. The team at TechHub hosted us at their newest workspace in Chelsea, and it was a great place to begin this new institution ;).

Future of Media and Publishing, New York

The presenters for the evening were Maarten Schäfer (Keynote speaker, author and business owner at CoolBrands) and Winter Mendelson (Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Posture). The moderator for the panel on new technologies was Mads Holmen (Co-founder and CEO of Bibblio). Contributing to the panel were Ben Dietz (SVP for VICE+), Veda Shastri (Immersive video journalist and 360/VR producer at The New York Times), Marty Swant (Staff writer at Adweek) and Zahra Rasool (Editorial lead at Contrast VR, Al Jazeera Digital).

The evening covered a range of topics, from brand positioning and diversifying revenue to embracing new technologies. We've collected five of the key takeaways to share exactly what's going on in the places where innovation is really happening. Plus, we've got some great examples of storytelling using 360 video, VR and AR:

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#1 Get Serious About Diversity

The importance of diversity and inclusion in publishing, just like every other business, is increasingly clear. If you work with people who are different from you, you find new perspectives and it challenges you to be sharper. Diverse team members can keep each other's biases in check and further individual thinking. As businesses try to reach a new generation of customers with evolving sensibilities on ethnicity, age, gender, and sexuality, a diverse team will help understand your audiences better and makes a 'Dove blunder' far less likely.

Winter shared research in their talk that shows that diversity helps make teams smarter. A 2015 McKinsey report revealed that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Winter sums it up in their talk as follows:

"There are endless benefits to having diverse representation in your company. It means more innovation, accuracy, market growth and higher revenue."

Striving to increase workplace diversity is not an empty slogan
Slide from Winter's presentation referring to this 2016 Harvard Business Review article.

Zahra, Editorial Lead at Contrast VR, agreed. Later that evening on the panel, she told us that when she started Contrast VR a year ago, hiring a diverse team was a top priority:

"The brand we created for Contrast VR was one of authentic storytelling. We cover developing countries and communities of color through the lens of people who are living in these communities. I've put together a team of people from all around the world, extremely diverse people who come from the communities we want to cover."

But how do you make sure diversity and inclusion doesn't turn into an empty slogan? Winter suggested the following actions as takeaways:

  • Do not expect people to come to you. Do the necessary outreach work.
  • Create a clear value proposition for having a diverse and inclusive culture.
  • Be ready with the right training and HR team in place to handle issues, and take immediate and clear action when issues do arise.

Maarten's presentation also touched upon the importance of diversity and inclusion, particularly in corporate board rooms.

#2 The Future Of Publishing Is About Collaboration

"What is the future of publishing?", Maarten asked the audience, "it's why we're all here, isn't it? It's not new technologies, it's not print or digital, it's not about your target audience - it's about collaboration."

Many brands and publishers are destined to fail if they try to do it all on their own. Think long and hard about how you want to reach your target audience, but then focus on who you want work with to reach your goals - and theirs too.

In his talk, Maarten gave a special mention to the great work of the Women's Forum of New York. They strive, amongst other things, to achieve equal representation for female leaders on all corporate boards. In order to influence NYC companies they needed to be able to "step into" more of their offices. Maarten helped the forum by coming up with a proposition to collaborate with the chairmen and women on boards of Fortune 500 companies in NYC.

Jim Smith

This resulted in more than a dozen punchy video statements (including from chairs at Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg) on the companies' missions for gender equality. These Women's Forum branded videos were then shared across New York City - and much further - utilizing YouTube, a coffee table book displaying videos through AR technology, and the network of the board members too.

#3 'Print & Digital' Is Not Dead

“Print is dead” can be heard everywhere in medialand, with a few of the latest casualties being NME closing its print edition, news publisher La Presse going online only, and Mediacorp ceasing the print editions of 8 Days, i-Weekly and local versions of Elle. But some people aren't buying the narrative. During a presentation late last year, Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the Association of Magazine Media (MPA), argued that print is one of the most effective ways to deeply engage consumers, build brand awareness, and sell products.

Winter, who publishes Posture as a print magazine once a year, explored the liveliness of print in their presentation. They believe that niche print publications work and will continue to do so:

"I don't think that print is dead. If you're a magazine serving a particular community who doesn't feel represented or recognized in the mainstream media, then you can make it work. A good example of this is Offscreen, a print magazine with a human-centred take on technology. I think it's a beautiful, tangible way to talk about the digital age."

The rise of independent (print) media
Slide from Winter's presentation celebrating successful print magazines (in combination with an e-newsletter and/or digital platform).

#4 Only Embrace New Technologies If They Help Tell Your Story Better

The evening's panel kicked off with a discussion of the situations when a media company should embrace new technologies, such as 360 video, AR, and VR. Veda, who's a 360/VR producer and journalist at The New York Times, had this to say:

"Only use new technologies when there's a good journalistic case for it. I spend a lot of my time working with all the different news desks, finding out more about the stories they're working on and determining where we can add something - a kind of intimacy to the experience."

Panel

Marty, a staff writer at Adweek, agreed that you shouldn't embrace new technologies - or formats for that matter - just because you can. This will come off as gimmicky. Here's his take, inspired by his own Instagram feed:

"Lots of people, especially in the 'influencer space' are getting this wrong. I'm not impressed by someone drinking a coffee in the Flatiron District thanking American Express for a thing."

There are many good examples of engaging stories, he continues, created by brands by themselves or in collaboration with publishers:

"One example is the explainer on blockchain created by Goldman Sachs. Another is the 360 videos put out by Clorox drawing attention to the global public health issue of unsafe water, and to encourage people to support it with donations. They've created the content in partnership with HuffPost, AOL and thirdly Searching for Syria, a website by Google and the UN helping people better understand the Syrian refugee crisis. They do this through the combination of data from the UN along with satellite imagery, 360 degree photos and stills, videos and stories from refugees. When I saw this, I was blown away by it."

Marty commented on the amazing work Contrast VR has been doing too, and Zahra shared a story about their most impactful work last year:

"In 2017, we covered the Rohingya crisis really extensively in VR and we had something that people really wanted to watch and distribute, because the world had a lack of information about the crisis."

Ben, SVP at VICE+, added that you shouldn't succumb to peer pressure around new technologies:

"Publishers and brands sometimes feel compelled to do stuff because 'the universe' says so. There are trends within the industry that say you should do particular subject matter, regions and types of content. You should only do the stuff that really matters to you and your audience you're trying to reach and convert."

#5 Innovation Is Possible Without Big Funds In-house

The panel moderator, our own co-founder and CEO Mads Holmen, asked the panelists how they make new technologies work from a commercial point of view. How do you manage the cost of creating new, high quality products and formats? Ben kicked off by explaining how this worked when VICE started pioneering videos at scale:

"At VICE Media, we've always seen a video as an economic multiplier. When you've shoot a video, you have stills you can capture, stories you can write, brands you can represent, and a multitude of formats, existing and yet to be imagined, you can transfer that content to."

Panel

The focus on a different format to text also started out with bootstrapping, Ben continued:

"We only had money to do 'this one thing'. So you need to ask yourself how we can create the most value possible out of everything we do. It really has to be worth it."

Zahra staid that the same is true for their work at Contrast VR too:

"One of the toughest things we have to do at the studio is justifying why we are doing a certain story in VR, AR or using whatever technology and spending that amount of money. We could devote that money to 5 other stories we could do. If you're able to answer that question, if we convince ourselves that this format will have a great impact, only then do we move ahead. Most of the pitches we receive, we don't do."

Fast-forward to now, and she shared with us how she's been making things work by reaching out to brands and organizations:

"When we launched Contrast VR in April 2017, Al Jazeera gave us a budget. I quickly realized that with this budget there's nothing I could really do in our space. It's so expensive to create - and this budget was created having a 'text' editorial in mind, for which the budget was shrinking too. I decided to focus on sponsored content to get the money in that was needed to make this technology come alive."

"Our authentic coverage led to a business model where organizations would come to us because of the kind of storytelling we were delivering; the narratives we were drafting. One of those organizations was Amnesty International, who sponsored us to create more content around the Rohingya crisis at the end of 2017. Our reporting was then offered to representatives of member states at the UN too."

Earlier this year, World Vision sponsored Contrast VR to produce Dreaming In Za’atari: Stories after Syria, an immersive film on young people living in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp.

Veda explained that the immersive studio at The New York Times found a different way to fund innovation. After working on The Daily 360 from the end of 2016, which was funded by a technology partnership with Samsung that ran for 14 months, they haven't done any sponsored content:

"We don't work with other organizations to directly fund the creation of our content. The several New York Times VR projects do have spots available for brands to run advertizing - the practicality of that is taken care off by another team than editorial."

For the media studio's innovations to come alive, she says educating the newsroom at The New York Times has been critical:

"As an innovative studio within your organization it's a big effort to educate the newsroom and all the journalists you work with - there's so much storytelling going on we want to align with. The crazy amount of training, conversations and offering VR experiences in the office did pay off."

Marty concluded that for new technologies like VR to become truly viable, they need to scale on the consumer side. He observed that an average household doesn't have a headset at home yet:

"I expect, and I'm hoping, that a big player will step in and make the headsets as affordable as the Echo Dot made it for smart assistant tech now."

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