At the tail end of 2017 many round-ups and prediction pieces (including my own) confidently asserted that 2018 will be the age of ‘audience-first’ publishing. It sounds an unnecessary description – surely publishing has always put audiences at the heart of their strategies – but it means something very tangible, and something that will hugely impact the media landscape over the next few months.
Rupert Murdoch, like most media moguls, craves two things: money and influence.
What is so fascinating about last week’s proposed sale of Fox to Disney is that it demonstrates how much he values one over the other. Of course, this is not a deal that will make him any poorer – the Disney offer is strong, and Murdoch and other Fox shareholders will end up with an estimated 25% of one of the world’s largest media organisations – but this is a deal which sees him giving up a lot of control over profitable businesses, whilst retaining almost all his political influence.
As part of the deal, he is selling the Fox stakes in Sky and Sky News, despite fighting so hard to gain full control of the business. Even if Sky News is a loss-leader, Sky itself is extremely lucrative for Murdoch, earning him and his fellow Fox shareholders around £500m each year. But the deal
ITV, one of the UK’s most prominent terrestrial television channels, is looking to translate its expertise in making programmes for the box in the corner to more modern screens. Following its hiring of Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief Stephen Hull as the new digital chief in March, ITV has announced the launch of three new digital-only news shows, presumably with the intention of broadening the reach of its international news brand as its non-National Advertising Revenue (NAR) shows healthy growth.
The three shows – ‘Now What?’, ‘Ask A Woman’, and ‘Young, British and Muslim’ – use existing talent from ITV’s news section, which, combined with Hull’s track record at Huffington Post UK and metro.co.uk, and ITV’s traditionally high production values, should serve to allay fears that this is ITV doing digital video for the sake of it. Instead, in an interview with The Drum, Hull noted that the shows have the mandate to “show that digital media and publishing can be grown-up, articulate and thoughtful”.
The quality of the programming is all but guaranteed to be extremely high, then – though ITV’s decision to focus on building a product before it sells sponsorship might raise some eyebrows, even if, as Hull notes: “There are loads of carcasses on the digital publishing motorway of businesses who tried to sell something before they built it.”
Presumably ITV believes the shows will add to its digital proposition, which currently includes the ITV Hub and its premium subscription option, which removes the ads for those who choose to pay it. But
We have written before about the problem the mainstream media has faced in various plebiscites (the last election, Brexit, Trump, etc), but the UK 2017 election results do feel era-defining. It feels like confirmation of the beginning of the end of newspaper influence.
The success of the Brexit campaign, and the national newspapers’ prominent role in driving it, led many commentators – and newspapers themselves – to think “it was [insert name of paper here] wot won it”. In fact, we argued at the time, social media and the legislative restrictions around broadcast media were equally important.
The results from last Thursday, and the lead Labour now has in the polls, more resemble the Trump election than the Brexit campaign. Like Trump, Corbyn was in the ascendancy despite universal hostility in the mainstream press (even the Mirror was negative about him, right up till May announced the snap election). Corbyn’s success came from
This time the US media is in trouble for real news. Following the dreadful events in Manchester on Monday evening, the New York Times has published sensitive photographs and documents which, it is feared, might compromise the ongoing investigations into the bombing. The source is said to be from within the US security services – but the question of media responsibility again raises its head.
The NYT has been widely condemned in the British media: yet, as Hacked Off’s Brian Cathcart pointed out in a column last week, mainstream US journalists have in recent times been standard-bearers for the profession, in the face of a lot of pressure from government and commentators.
So the Evening Standard has a new editor. As we in the headhunting profession know well, no media organisation would approach such a critical appointment without a full and rigorous competency-based interview process.
Here are seven key questions we would require a prospective editor to answer in interview. We can only assume from his appointment that George Osborne aced them all.
So, Fake News is in the news again. This time, the Culture, Media, and Sport committee is to hold an investigation into the phenomenon – which is admirable. What it hopes to achieve, though, is perhaps more open to question.
Certainly, it is a trend that ought to cause alarm. Social media has made it incredibly simple to spread any kind of malicious or just-plain-silly story. Concerns have even been raised that fake news might have influenced the US election: BuzzFeed reported that, in the last three months of the election, the top 20 fake stories were shared 8.7m times, compared with 7.3m shares for the top 20 stories from reputable sources.
While I was writing my most recent blog post – on the need for journalism of the highest standards in this ‘post-truth’ world – BuzzFeed went ahead and published the full text of the dodgy Trump dossier.
This was in the week before Trump was inaugurated. In an email to our subscribers, we were critical of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish. Despite Jim Edwards’ excellent arguments on Business Insider, we felt that the BuzzFeed approach had failed to fulfil the two critical functions of journalism: to scrutinise the facts, and to guide their readers through them.
The fear was that publishing unchecked allegations would make it easier for Trump to dismiss the entire document, and to attack the media as a whole.
One of this blog’s favourite journalists – David Walsh – gave a talk this week on the Moth Radio Hour – one of my favourite radio shows. A pretty perfect combination.
For those that don’t know him, Walsh was the first journalist to raise, in print, suspicions of Lance Armstrong’s drug cheating. He was reviled by many, and ignored by most of the cycling world, but stuck to his guns. Ultimately, of course, Walsh was vindicated.
The point about the Moth Radio Hour, though, is that it is a place for personal reflection, with stories told by people from all walks: Walsh, in his quiet and faltering way, told a story as personal and moving as any I have heard on the show. It is a story from which all journalists could learn something.
In a previous post, we looked at the broad role the media played in Donald Trump’s stunning electoral victory last week. Here, I want to look in a little bit more detail at one significant aspect – social media. Or, to put it more bluntly, we’re going to look at how Donald Trump bypassed the mainstream media and used Facebook and Twitter to help win the election.
Data from EzyInsights, an organisation that normally helps news publishers understand how stories play across social media, shows that in the run up to the election earlier this month Trump was often gaining three times more Facebook engagement – likes, reactions, shares, comments – as Clinton.
This is not a sentence that I will write very often: Michael Gove was right. The public are sick of experts.
Latest evidence, clearly, is Trump’s stunning electoral victory – despite every expert telling the US public that he was unfit for office. Earlier evidence of the public’s growing distaste for experts came in the form of the Brexit vote and, from a different direction, Jeremy Corbyn’s double-header victories, both against the grain of ‘right-thinking people’.
Whatever you think of these events, they are all indicative of the same sense of anger and distrust. Anger with the political classes and distrust of the ‘mainstream media’, which is seen to carry their voices and echo the consensus.
So, people are bypassing mainstream media altogether.
The Press Association heralded a new phase of mechanised journalism in the UK with this week’s announcement that it will use ‘robot’ reporters to add to coverage of sport, business and elections.
The national reporting agency will augment its existing reportage, in the next few months, by offering ‘an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting,’ its editor-in-chief, Pete Clifton, told the Society of Editors conference.
According to the Press Gazette, Clifton told delegates the new service would work in a similar way to that used by Denmark’s national reporting agency, which produces hundreds of additional market reports a month with ‘robot’ journalists piecing together these simple stories.
Robot reporters might seem like something plucked from the pages of satirical science fiction, but their use is already very real.
It’s only two weeks since the EU referendum and media businesses and their employees are still trying to get their heads around what Brexit might mean for the economy, and for the media industry in particular. The economic and political ramifications of the vote are likely to affect us all from years to come, and it’s too early to accurately say what might happen, but in our conversations with business leaders across the media sector a broad picture is starting to build up.
As the fallout over Brexit rumbles on, with infighting on all sides of the debate, it’s perhaps worth considering the part the media played in the run up to the polls.
The three main media influences – broadcast, newspapers (and their digital equivalents), and social media – all played very different but significant roles in the debate. For one reason or another, and whether through omission or policy, it is my view that all three ended up broadly supporting the intentions of the Leave campaign.
2016 marks twenty years since I became a headhunter. While that makes me feel incredibly old, it has been a fascinating time to be an observer of the media landscape across the UK and beyond.
When I first started, the internet existed, but was a hard-to-use and limited resource with dial-up access. Email also existed, but not in my office (we relied on faxes). Things were changing, yes; but no-one had really grasped the magnitude of what was about to happen.
If you really want to know how much the media world has changed in the intervening years, imagine saying this back in 1996:
From consumer publishers wrestling with whether or not to install paywalls, to information providers struggling to place a value on their output in a crowded marketplace, the one thing media companies seem to get wrong time and again is pricing. Of course every business is different, and there’s no on-size-fits-all solution, but in almost ten years as a headhunter the issue of how and what to charge the customer has seemed to plague the media market.
Paul Mason, the economics editor of Channel 4 News, comes closest to identifying the crux of the problem that faces most media companies in the digital world. In his recent book, PostCapitalism, Mason says that as digital replaces physical media, almost everything is reduced to the same state – that of an information product that can be infinitely distributed and replicated at virtually no cost. Whether you’re talking about an episode of Game of Thrones, the historical worldwide prices of bauxite, or a picture of Kim Kardashian, it doesn’t matter – it’s all information that can be reproduced and shared.
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
It is one of the most derided quotes of all time: simultaneously mocked both for its obviousness and its obscurity, Donald Rumsfeld was trying – ham-fistedly – to explain US foreign policy in Iraq. And we know how well that turned out.
There has been much hand-wringing about the sale of The Financial Times to Japanese media firm Nikkei. But the deal makes a lot of sense and – in many ways – is the least worst option for the newspaper and its associated publishing interests.
The FT Group has, for some time, been an anomaly in Pearson’s portfolio. In the heady days of multi-interest conglomerates – when Pearson also owned Alton Towers and Madam Tussaud’s – there was no reason why the newspaper and a range of magazines could not be incorporated into a portfolio of interests. But in the years under Marjorie Scardino, and more recently under John Fallon, Pearson has become increasingly focused on a singular vision: to become the largest global educational publisher.
The consumer publishing sector is expected to see continued strong growth of its digital income over the course of the next five years. However, money from print will continue to form the bulk of revenues, according to research published this month.
Ovum’s Digital Consumer Publishing Forecast said that by 2020 just 24 per cent of overall revenue in the consumer publishing sector will come from digital – currently it’s at 14 per cent – with the remainder generated through print titles.
Earlier this month my eye was drawn to an unexpected stat amid the latest crop of ABC figures; amongst the various lists of declining circulations was a rare piece of good news: the UK’s current affairs magazine market is, if not booming, at least outperforming the rest of the market by quite some distance.
A quick look at the figures suggests at least half the titles have grown circulation year-on-year, some quite substantially. When you consider the current climate for print media, that’s an astonishing achievement.
Big beasts like The Economist, The Week, and Private Eye, all continue to put in a strong showing. Two of those three are still growing and while Private Eye’s sales have dipped slightly, they retain the highest paid circulation figures in the sector. Our good friends at Prospect magazine are also on the up, as are Monocle, New Statesman, The Spectator and the possibly miscategorised BBC History magazine.
If you buy ad space on behalf of advertisers and a technology comes along that, almost overnight, undermines your business model and makes it staggeringly easy for clients to place ads themselves, you might well have a few sleepless nights, perhaps even considering what other ad sales jobs are available.
Well, say hello to ‘programmatic advertising’.
The term isn’t one familiar to many, but for those focused on the future of ad sales and marketing, programmatic advertising is rapidly becoming the thing that dominates their thinking.
A few weeks ago, a disgruntled newspaper journalist said to me “the rationale seems to be ‘why bother doing your USP well, when you can do the ubiquitous badly?’” It’s a question many journalists of my acquaintance have been struggling with. I’m sure they would sympathise with Gareth Davies, Chief Reporter at the Croydon Advertiser, who publicly vented his fury on Twitter after fellow Local World website, the Maidstone & Medway News, ran a story on the celebrity nude photo hacking scandal.
I’m sure most people would agree this isn’t a story of immediate relevance to the Maidstone & Medway area, and many journalists of my acquaintance are queasy to say the least about the proliferation of ‘clickbait’. The website’s editor, Simon Finlay, defended the decision, saying “we’re trying to drive an audience to our site… [these stories] do get us thousands of hits and that’s a good thing.”
If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve been spending the last few months talking to senior management figures across the newspaper industry – national and regional. The aim of these conversations has been to found out how they see their industry changing, how their specific business is changing, and to understand the recruitment challenges they face.
In all three areas, one word comes up time and time again – data.
“The challenge for me”, said the Head of Digital at one big newspaper publisher, “has been to convince senior management that it’s no longer just about the number of uniques [web and mobile site readers] you can get. That’s in many ways a vanity number.”
If web traffic alone isn’t enough, he went on to say – digital commercial people working at newspapers need to understand much more about their readers in order to sell appropriate ads.
Even the most superficial reader of newspaper websites can’t fail to notice the abundance of new technology that is now regularly incorporated into the storytelling process – and as the demand for new ways of telling stories evolves, the range of editorial skills required is evolving almost as quickly as the technology used to publish.
But it isn’t just in editorial that new digital skills are required. As publishers, both local and national, struggle to work out how to make money from digital, the roles of advertising salespeople are changing even more rapidly.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been immersed in the newspaper sector; talking to senior decision-makers about the kind of posts they find hardest to recruit. By some margin, the most common answer has been ‘good salespeople who really understand digital’.
Over the course of a few short years digital technology has fundamentally changed our publishing industries. Daily and weekly print editions have been replaced by constantly updated websites, apps, and digital downloads. Not only that, but the way we tell and adsorb stories has also changed.
To accommodate new formats and ways of sharing information, those working in publishing have been forced to adopt new skills. A keen editor now knows as much about the social media impact of their content and they do about story sources. But what do we really know about the skills publishing will require in five years time? What talents will staff need to remain relevant?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to senior managers across the newspaper industry to gain some insight into their recruitment needs. For those who have been paying close attention to the sector, much of what they’re saying won’t be hugely surprising , but over my next few posts I thought I’d share some insight for the benefit of any job-seekers out there.
Banner advertising has long been the established method by which digital publishers generate income – but an increased use of mobile, difficultly innovating the humble skyscraper, and growing customer ‘blindness’ to banners has led many to re-evaluate their approach and instead start experimenting with native ads.
Guardian News & Media is the latest publisher to jump aboard the native ads bandwagon. The Guardian is by no means the only newspaper looking for new and innovative ways to raise revenue (in fact, the Times has been has been involved with branded content for years), but even by its own forward-thinking standards, its move into native advertising is a compelling one.
The publisher has set up a branded content division – called Guardian Labs – with the aim of creating innovative marketing campaigns that can stretch its revenue stream beyond display ads.
The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for a Bill of Rights to protect its users. It’s a move that deserves attention and praise.
Berners-Lee marked the 25th anniversary of his invention by this week calling for a Magna Carta for the web to establish a series of rights that protect against online surveillance.
Johnston Press announced last week that every staff photographer working for its Midlands operation would be made redundant. That’s right, every JP newspaper in the Midlands will be left without an in-house photographer.
The presumption is that JP will instead rely entirely on freelancers – or just as likely, on “user-generated content” and other snaps from whomever happens to be in the vicinity with a mobile phone next time something newsworthy happens.
When it introduced its paywall in August, The Sun became the first tabloid in the UK to charge for online content. For £2 per week, users are granted access to the newspaper’s website and its smartphone and tablet apps.
The Sun’s publisher, News UK, has previously taken sister titles The Times and Sunday Times behind a paywall, so the move was not wholly unexpected. However, taking The Sun behind a paywall was considered a gamble by some, given how News UK needs the publication to generate cash to support the wider business, and the wildly different approaches being taken by its closest rivals.
One of The Sun’s big online rivals, Mail Online, is now the world’s most popular newspaper website. It has achieved this by remaining an open site, where revenue is created by the scale of its audience.
Introduction of the paywall at The Sun also had the effect of handing The Mirror newspaper an immediate boost to its web traffic, which it sought to capitalise on with an aggressive marketing campaign intended to hoover up disaffected Sun readers who still wanted to get their news for free.
In a move to drive users to take up subscription, News UK bought rights to show Premier League highlights on The Sun’s and The Times’ online, mobile and apps platforms, in the summer of 2013.
In a 2200-word screed sent to staff this week, Montgomery outlined his vision of “highly templated” newspaper formats abstracted from “largely online published content” by one content manager or content director.
The implication for a range of media jobs is vast. Under his proposals, subs, news editors and features editors are all outdated titles. Instead, individual journalists would take full responsibility for subject areas such as crime, education, business and sport. Each of these individuals would work remotely, and “embody all the traditional skills of reporter, sub-editor, editor-in-chief as well as online agility and basic design ability”.
Journalists will be primarily responsible for “content harvesting” across their respective areas, with the majority of that content produced by third-party providers, including the police, local government, businesses and sports clubs. The aim is to “serve every one of communities [sic] with content that is rich and comprehensive so there is no place other than the local publisher that our audience and readers need to find”.