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”.
In today’s Evening Standard, Roy Greenslade makes a case for metered paywalls for newspaper websites. As he says, it is the pragmatic (rather than dogmatic) approach: users who get past the maximum number of articles each month are required to subscribe. This has several commercial benefits, not least that it does not hugely impact visitor numbers through redirection from Google and others. Advertisers, therefore, are happy; and potential subscribers become used to the service and are more likely to subscribe – it may even help preserve a few media jobs.
Greenslade notes that, since telegraph.co.uk introduced its ‘soft’ paywall in March, it has remained the country’s third best visited newspaper websites (behind the free to access Guardian and Daily Mail websites).
It is a technique pioneered in the UK – after much indecison – by the FT, which now has over 600,000 online subscribers. After similar debates, the New York Times recently alighted on the same model, and now has 700,000 subscribers – and is adding 100,000 each year. In 2003, I met the then Editor in Chief of the NYT’s website, and the debate on business models was raging – it has taken a good ten years to resolve. But pragmatism has won out.
It is odd to think of the BBC as a victim of bullying. It is by far the largest and best-funded child in the playground, should be afforded the protection of the headmaster (though it rarely is), and consistently hands in top work. But, of course, in the pathology of the playground, this makes it a natural victim. And the fact that it consistently takes a mea culpa position rather than punching back only makes the problem worse. Come on, Beeb, the circling bullies chant. Have a go if you think you’re hard enough.
Like many victims of bullying, it simply doesn’t know how to respond to such goading. Mostly, it demurs. Occasionally, it tries to bite back. And inevitably this misfires.
So when Ceri Thomas stepped up to say that the students who accompanied John Sweeney on the trip to North Korea had all given their consent, he must have been aware he was likely to be challenged. The BBC’s Today programme didn’t take long to get stuck in; when asked how he could be sure this was the case (students were briefed individually, without witnesses, and signed no consent document) he blustered: it doesn’t matter whether it was done orally or in writing, he said. Because of the lack of evidence, of course, it matters enormously. The corporation’s detractors will pick away at these bones, and there are at least some of the LSE students who are willing to undermine Thomas’s version of events.
The news that Yahoo has apparently paid $30m for Summly is surprising. It is a clever app, but has a few problems.
The algorithm that is designed to condense long news stories into three smartphone friendly paragraphs often garbles prose and leaves the story and the reader hanging.
Often, the third par tends to end quite abruptly, as if the algorithm has run out of patience). It also presents a very limited range of news stories in a package that is quite tedious to navigate.
Presumably, Yahoo’s money will help sort these glitches out and do a bit to engage media recruiters by hiring a few people.
But the business model is heavily flawed – in that there isn’t one. In its current form, this is
The day after acting Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens was obliged to apologise to the Jewish community for the offence caused by Gerald Scarfe’s anti-Netanyahu cartoon, there was generally a lot more heat than light shed on the subject.
A Scarfe cartoon is never pleasant, and this seemed designed to provoke a reaction. But in my view, one commentator got it right. The Jewish Chronicle’s comment editor Jennifer Lipman wrote a superb column for the Independent’s website which gives real balance and insight on the issue.
“What is anti-Semitic is always unpleasant, but what is unpleasant is not always anti-Semitic. That was my take on Gerald Scarfe’s now infamous cartoon,” she writes. Later on, she comes to the nub
This evening’s British Journalism awards was a low key affair (and not the boozy do media headhunters have witnessed in the past). That said, it wasn’t – as you might expect given the Leveson inquiry and the mass-summoning of newspaper editors to No 10 today – a downbeat affair.
It was run by Press Gazette which, even in its new online-only form, continues to celebrate the best (and excoriate the worst) in British journalism. It was fitting, in this week of all weeks, that the awards were held in the sober surroundings of the Stationer’s Hall. The Stationer’s Company, its spokesman reminded us, was responsible for enforcing the closure of unlicensed publications for much of its early history. ‘Unlicensed’,
I don’t especially agree with Martin’s conclusion on yesterday’s Leveson report (media headhunters disagreeing? For Heaven, I hear them shout) although like many I share his core concerns. The next few days, and months, will present us a range of conflicting voices ranging from the reasoned to the hysterical on both sides. For many, we need press regulation to save innocent lives from being torn apart by a feral destructive press, for others this is the first step on the road to the Thought Police and Stalinist control of the free press. Or many more reasoned points in between.
I’ll freely admit that I still don’t know for certain which side of the argument I come down on. I’m most inclined to agree with Emily Bell over at the Guardian. The debate already seems as outdated and redundant as the superinjunction at a time when virtually anyone can publish, in some cases with huge influence. But that’s not to play down the massive influence the printed press still holds in the UK.
Like most people who will comment upon it – or certainly have in the last few hours – I have not read the Leveson report in full. There are, after all, 2000 pages, and media headhunters‘ lot is a busy one (I’ve been in a lot of meetings today). But I have read enough and seen enough to give an accurate and definitive summary (I hope). Here it is:
1) Everything that is bad is
Dermot Murnaghan interviewed me today on Sky News about George Entwistle’s departure and the new search for Director General at the BBC. It was a warm-up for his interview with Tim Davie, which ended testily, with the acting DG saying he had a job to get on with and walking off. In contrast, my interview was the very embodiment of civility.
Prior to my interview, I was asked several questions by Sky staff which didn’t make it to air – and some may be worth recording. The following contains a summary of those questions and my answers.
Q: Is it normal for internal candidates to be appointed?
A: As has been fairly well documented, the media headhunters concerned in Entwistle’s recruitment (not us) approached and interviewed a broad range of candidates for the role. The shortlist contained
Gordon Brown once famously said that there are two types of Chancellor of the Exchequer: those who failed, and those who got out in time. The same may be said of Director Generals of the BBC.
George Entwistle might be feeling like Napoleon’s apocryphal unlucky general today. In a few minutes, the BBC will air its Panorama Special on the Newnight investigation into Jimmy Savile, and why that investigation was dropped. (It is an interesting scheduling choice to put the programme up against Newsnight itself.) Peter Rippon has already “stepped aside” as the programme’s Editor while the matter is investigated; Entwistle’s role in the decision making process
There has been a small but, I hope, significant trend over the last few days. ‘Traditional’ UK consumer media companies have been announcing encouraging results – let’s hope the media recruiting follows. Today’s announcement from the Lebedevs that The Evening Standard has made a £1m operating profit in the last year was preceded a few days earlier by Briefing Media’s short blog on the fortunes of IPC, Dennis, and Haymarket.
Whatever its shareholders may think, News Corp
At this time every year, The Guardian publishes its Media 100 – a list of the most powerful people in the UK sector. At this time every year, our media executive search team spends 20 minutes in the office dissecting it, and some time texting those people we know with jokey messages about their brilliance or under-representation. And at this time every year, I write nothing about it.
There’s no point getting hot under the collar about the often seemingly arbitrary names that start to come in after place 20 on the list. The fact that there are 47 new entries on this year’s list illustrates the point: the media market is moving fast, of course; but not
It will be fascinating to see whether Elisabeth Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture (full text here) signals a glasnost moment in the relationship between BskyB and the BBC. While it is important to note that she is not an executive at either News Corp or BskyB, her company Shine is owned by News Corp, and her membership of