George Jarrett talks to DPP editorial director Edward Qualtrough, and looks at key points raised in the Tomorrow’s News report.
The DPP has started its Tomorrow’s News project with a bang, in the form of a report created around the opinions of four news luminaries, on a host of key issues. Maintaining relevance in the news space and sustaining core journalistic skills are amongst the market concerns.
“A number of member organisations cited the future of news and newsrooms among their top priorities for 2022,” says DPP editorial director Edward Qualtrough. “Currently we are working on the next parts [of the project] – Making the News and The News Business, which explore the technology innovations and business models.
“It would have been hopelessly naïve not to include the views of senior editorial leaders to create the context for that work. We had to hear from the journalists first.”
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One of the stats that confirms times are a changing is that 75% of news isn’t being accessed via the media providers websites. Keeping both ends of the consumption graph happy surely requires mammoth new strategies?
“That more news is being accessed online is not a concern. It represents a significant opportunity, albeit a challenging one. And while many traditional news organisations still have gigantic linear broadcast audiences, there is an expectation that news providers have to be everywhere,” says Qualtrough. “The days of taking bits of TV and repurposing it for the Internet are gone.
“News providers need to ask what is important, and for some that might be flipping from digitising their linear output to trying to linearise digital, creating a bulletin package output across multiple digital channels,” he adds. “There are new incumbents like The News Movement, which doesn’t have a traditional homepage, and will eschew TV. Others may not see any business values in being on new platforms where they can’t generate revenue.”
Tackling news avoidance
The challenge is not a lack of technical innovation. It is the power shift towards platforms and audiences.
“This is a world where the audience no longer comes straight to your TV news channel. Metadata, labelling, tagging and rights combine as a core tenet of upcoming pieces of work,” says Qualtrough. “For some organisations it is absolutely front and centre, and no doubt data flows between systems and platforms will be important.”
“How do news providers actually make money when they do not own the platform or the means of distribution?” - Edward Qualtrough, DPP editorial director
News organisations have long believed that it is good business to have teams representing their audiences, which is common across all the media markets.
“By improving the diversity of who is producing news, and what is covered, this can be seen as a way of engaging new audiences and tackling news avoidance. During our research we heard nothing that suggests news organisations care any less about older audiences; it is just that the ways of onboarding younger demographics in news is changing,” says Qualtrough.
“News organisations need to go where the audience is rather than expect the audience to come to them. This is the power shift of mobile and social media,” he adds.
New technology is just an enabler
Will skill set pressures cause problems, or will new technology simplify and automate many tasks?
“There are recruitment and retention pressures across multiple industries, and news companies will be no different. As news workflows and the newsroom transform to encompass more elements of the digital and software world, the pressure will become more acute,” says Qualtrough.
“The real opportunity with emerging technologies is not about removing people: the focus for news leaders is using the talent they have to develop new editorial services. Technology innovation is just an enabler to augment the human, empowering them to make smarter decisions.”
The two biggest questions to merge from the four-person discussion transfer onto new ways of working. The first is to what extent news organisations can unify content workflows to deliver news over platforms, mediums and channels.
“This is so that the onus is not on journalists to just multiply their workload by delivering news content tailored to different platforms,” says Qualtrough.
“Secondly, how do news providers actually make money when they do not own the platform or the means of distribution?
“We have had 40+ expert contributions already, and whilst we have touched upon trust and information security in our work, we will investigate whether ‘protecting news’ is an area for exploration in its own right, perhaps with a scope encompassing trust, truth, cyber security, misinformation, war, and political attack,” he adds.
Our content approach has to change
The four journalistic inputs came from Katie Drummond, global editor-in-chief at VICE News; Kamal Ahmed, editor-in-chief of The News Movement; Nathalie Malinarich, executive news editor, Digital BBC; and PA Media editor-in-chief Pete Clifton.
The VICE audience is primarily 18-to 35-year-olds, and they have caused a huge shift to mobile first consumption.
“We are seeing a massive surge in audience interest in news at those destinations; instead of someone going to the VICE.com homepage they are going to TikTok,” says Drummond.
Kamal Ahmed adds: “The big change is how do we now include the audience in choosing what is the news? What are the conversations that audiences are having that mean we may make different decisions about what we think is the news?”
“It is clear that young people will consume news if the right content is put forward into their feeds in the right way.” - Kamal Ahmed, editor-in-chief of The News Movement
“We no longer own the means of distribution, and people are not coming to destinations for the news. We are no longer competing with each other, but with anything you can do on your mobile phone, and this means our content approach has to change,” he explains.
Clifton pointed to big customers who still fill hundreds of pages of print every day, and not abandoning their needs.
“We also need to be improving the quality of our digital services. The next iteration of these may be how we make it easier for some of that content to be used on TikTok and other social platforms,” he said.
Pete Clifton sees the lack of diversity in newsrooms as a massive problem. “We are way, way short of what we need in our newsroom in terms of the diversity of the people creating the content for what is a very diverse audience,” he says. “It’s probably my number one priority.”
The DNA of the news industry
As Nathalie Malinarich points out: “We have to be able to think about the same story in many formats. Live is hugely important, but you have to be really quick at turning that moment around and offering it as a short form video.”
Ahmed adds: “TikTok is about brevity. Through the Ukraine crisis, the BBC, VICE and ourselves have all had big hits on the platform, so it is clear that young people will consume news if the right content is put forward into their feeds in the right way. Your storytelling style needs to be very different from a TV bulletin style.”
Trust is a big issue, and Malinarich suggests: “It is really important and something we can’t lose. But we also have to be universal, which is a big differentiator.”
Katie Drummond raises the nasty issues of life threats to journalists, and misinformation/fake news, before turning to the vibrant opportunities.
“In the past few months, we’ve found in certain parts of the world where we have been typically able to work, it has been difficult to do that work, and it scares me. There has been a shift and a chill,” she says.
“But what we’ve seen is that we are able to reach this massive global, young, connected audience. They are interested and they are engaged.”
“That type of partnership working is what’s going to need to be in the DNA of the news industry,” says Kamal Ahmed.
Finally, Malinarich identifies the competitors that newsrooms now face and it’s not other news organisations… “It is the millions of companies and individuals who produce amazing content, and are getting it out really fast. That content might be quite news-adjacent, or a bit like news, [but] that’s really tough competition.”
What does the future of news look like? Discover the new technologies and techniques that will engage next generation audiences in the next generation news studio