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The Death of the Deadline and ‘It’s All Content’ Debating the Future of Journalism

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With citizen journalism, the rise in content and growing competition for ad dollars, what is the future of media? This was the topic of a highly-attended session at FutureM/Inbound in Boston, an event drawing over 10,000 marketers from around the globe, with keynotes from Martha Stewart, Guy Kawasaki and others.

Andrew Perlmutter, EVP, Boston Globe Media Partners, moderated the panel on how the news industry continues to evolve and innovate, testing new approaches to producing, distributing, and monetizing journalistic content. Galen Moore, Editor-In-Chief, Streetwise Media; Justin Ellis, Assistant Editor, Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, and Stacy Martinet, Chief Marketing Officer, Mashable, offered interesting insights into how the industry is evolving. What do they see as key changes, and how do they think the future of journalism will look?

Growing competition and the increased importance of data and analytics

Panelists agreed that greater emphasis is being placed on audience acquisition across the media landscape. “We did not think about readers as an ‘audience’ before,” offered Ellis. And ‘marketing is now an important core to any media company online, where it was not before,” Martinet added. First, our mission is to readers, and second, we’re a business, and need dollars for the paychecks.

Media outlets, like Mashable, are looking at unique visitors as a key metric, primarily, and time spent is more important than total views. “We want to see that people are engaging in the content,” she said.

Increasingly, some media outlets are looking to paid media to grow their audiences, Martinet later remarked. “Social is the new search. That’s where the audience is,” and it brings in a community, but “people have to know what you are about [first] to click on it [your post]; you have to have community first,” she warned.

Given growing competition for readers, Ellis noted the fear by many in the media that content is being driven by audience, as with (tongue in cheek) ‘posting kitten videos’. “But that didn’t happen, he says regarding what he called, “The Mullet Strategy”, where you have the business in front and party in back, as with Buzzfeed and other sites that cater salacious content specifically to draw readers in with click throughs.

Ellis noted that we actually ‘guarantee engagements for advertisers on things like job listings’ and that ‘party in back’ doesn’t work if you are not getting right people in, which all of the panelists agreed is the key. It’s not just the numbers, but who is your reader? “It’s not how many people read, it’s who is reading that’s important,” said Moore.

It’s all content.

Panelists cited the rapidly changing landscape including the evolution of the term ‘New Media’ or what one panelist suggested is ‘everything that was not in print’. Newspapers laid off staff and those people started their own sites. Increasingly, brands have newsrooms, with Frito Lay just one example. “If you have to be at GM as an editor…how do you balance that?,” Moore posed, “You have to be mindful of where the money is coming from and what you are covering all the time,” in that instance.

Adding to the changing landscape, even some unlikely news outlets are partnering together. Martinet noted that her publication, Mashable, yesterday ran branded content from the New York Times. Recent example here http://mashable.com/2014/09/15/cellphone-history-brandspeak/ “They have readers that would be good for Mashable growth… and 18 million followers are on Mashable,” she explained.

Even the line between editorial and paid content is getting harder to decipher. The advertorial is changing. “The new advertorial is savvier…now it’s in the same channel, stream, and markets, as [PR pros and companies] have gotten more savvy about writing in the same style [as the publication],” said Martinet, who noted ‘it’s part of the landscape’.

Brands, agencies, and publishers are all figuring out their roles in the new era. We’re competing with Netflix, Ellis offered, “it’s all content.”

Journalists hate the word “content” like most of you hate the word "moist”, Ellis summarized to attendees, with many laughing in agreement, encouraging panelist to playfully interject the word into their comments for the next five minutes.

“Agencies bring expertise that are valuable to brands and publishers. We see ourselves as an agency of sorts, but not a replacement,” said Martinet, about Mashable.

Deadlines are dead. Pictures, please!

One big change in the online media landscape that Martinet noted is that there is no longer such thing as a real deadline. Journalists are writing a piece, posting it, and then someone will comment or more news on the subject will emerge prompting more coverage or a follow-up story. Additionally, media are looking at generating stories from the angle of ‘how can I use this content?’—from online, to broadcast, to print, and leverage it in different ways across all of the channels.

With this greater focus on further leveraging content overall, the panelists noted a common media pet peeve: “Photos are more important”. In addition to driving interest in a story when a good photo is involved, Google has also placed a higher interest in photos. Panelists nodded in agreement about one common pet peeve: receiving a new hire announcement or good story and not having a photo.

Art is primary. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and your story is only getting 300, joked Ellis.

Though the newsroom has changed drastically, it is still about journalists and PR professionals working together to write a great story to keep the public informed. “No skills are irrelevant. Conversations on phone, Twitter, in the newsroom before and after the piece gets up are key,” noted Moore.

And “the old fashioned skills you learn in ‘J’ school are more important than ever,” noted Martinet. “Having relationships matter now more than ever. We see that in the story.”

It’s a great time to be a journalist, Moore summarized. We’re watching a new universe being born and there is a lot of violence that happens before the big bang, added Ellis.

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