Five lessons for editors from GEN Summit 2016

Who’d want to be editor of a major publishing company? Trying to make the editorial decisions that will keep the company afloat is increasingly like trying to bail out a foundering boat while keeping informed of the rowers’ techniques.

So events like the Global Editors Network (GEN) Summit are a godsend, providing briefings and in-depth looks at emerging strategies and tools to aid editors in that task. TheMediaBriefing was lucky enough to attend the latest summit in Vienna, but for those of you who were unable to follow along we’ve collected the following seven takeaways from the event so that you can benefit too.

Always bet on platform diversity

Unsurprisingly for a summit that had ‘The rise of platform-driven news’ as its tagline, third party platforms dominated much of the discussion. 

In fact there was a general acknowledgment that overreliance on third party platforms means publishers aren’t dancing to their own tunes any more, and the morning of the second day at the GEN Summit in Vienna was devoted to finding ways publishers can regain control of their distribution.

Jan-Eric Peters, deputy CEO & editor-in-chief of news aggregator Upday, by contrast, framed publishers’ partnerships on third parties as being through necessity rather than opportunity:

“I don’t think it’s a question of trust; I think it’s a question of reality. Facebook is the largest newspaper of all time. In the US almost half the population gets its main news from Facebook.”

Most interesting, though, were the assertions that plurality of distribution strategy can ameliorate the dangers of overdependence. If publishers exist across a range of platforms then no one third party can dictate their every move. That’s the theory, at least.

Digital pureplay publishers aren’t having it all their own way

The ‘fail fast’ approach to the digital pureplays is an enormous strength, since the desire to try new things in reaction to changing audience consumption habits is built into their DNA. That advantage really can’t be overstated, especially as the titanic legacy brands struggle to react to one issue even as another appears on the horizon.

But Jim Roberts, former chief content officer for Mashable, that the days of the digital boom are over, for the simple reason that the VC bubble is looking ready to pop:

“I think we will inevitably see a shakeout in the world of digital publishers. A great deal of investment has come into these companies and that’s beginning to slow. I don’t think the world will be as populated with as many pureplay digital publications. However I do think that some have incredible staying power… and we haven’t seen the end of what they can do.”

Everyone’s excited about new formats…

As more people get exposed to the potential of VR through its less-elaborate but still impressive cousin 360 videos through endeavours like the NYT’s Google Cardboard giveaway, it’s only natural that publishers should look to reach that new audience. Organisations like the Guardian, NYT and VICE were among the first to get involved, though many more are about to take the plunge.

Alina Mikhaleva, director of strategic development at RT News Channel, explains why RT was an early adopter of the technology:

“This April our team was the first news channel to do a livestream in 360 on YouTube. Every time there is any kind of innovation or any disruptive technology coming on board we’re trying to figure out whether it puts us out of business. VR is a completely new medium… by far the most powerful new medium we’ve encountered so far. It places the power back in the hands of professionals.

“Although VR has its own challenges… it brings us enormous opportunities… for engagement with our viewer. 360 degree or spherical media is not by definition VR, but it is a step towards VR. The future is definitely 360 live.”

Even though podcasts are hardly new – you can make an argument the format has been around as we’d recognise it since 2003 – there are even more reasons to be excited. Sarah Van Mosel, chief commercial officer at Acast, believes the process has already begun as more diverse creators attract new listeners to the medium:

“Up until now it’s been a pretty homogenous group…but the nice thing about this story as we’re seeing growth [is] diverse voices coming into the space. Since 2013 we’ve seen a doubling of listening about women in the US. There are the LGBT community, people of colour coming into the space. We’ve seen a 24% increase in listening in the past year because of this.”

And this fantastic session on newsgaming showed that, often, games can deliver messages more powerfully than any other medium:

…but even more well established mediums aren’t surefire successes

Given that every publisher and their dogs are investing heavily into video (especially live video), it was a little disconcerting to hear Nic Newman, author of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, reveal that audiences aren’t quite so keen.

But Storyful’s Rahul Chopra argues that video is a ‘necessary evil’ for many newsrooms, who are prodded by the commercial and business arms of the business to match that advertiser demand:

“There’s a great deal of video content being produced that doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of the audience. Some of us remain confused as to ‘what is the right model for us today’? It’s created a situation where for many video is a necessary evil.”

And the narrative around video is far from as positive as it was even a year ago, with questions around whether a video bubble is on the verge of bursting…

Chat apps are the next big hope for publishers

Chat apps, those conglomerations of some functions of social networks and direct messaging tools, are set to be the next great hope for publishers looking to engage their audiences.

So, in the run-up to the next GEN Summit, we’ll be keeping those lessons in mind.

By |2016-06-22T00:01:00+00:00June 22nd, 2016|Analysis|Comments Off on Five lessons for editors from GEN Summit 2016

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