Tomorrow sees the publication of a new book, “Innovators in Digital News” exploring the experiences of several key players in the digital news industry – including the Guardian, the New York Times, Quartz, BuzzFeed and Vice.
How do they operate?
How do they innovate?
Dr Lucy Küng’s study identifies and discusses the common elements that underlie their success, and provides valuable pointers for how all players, legacy and clean sheet, can seize the growth potential that digital markets present.
In this extract we set the scene for the book and some of the key lessons which emerge from it. (NB: For viewability purposes – including bolding some text – we’ve reformatted the text for a mobile and web audience.)
We will have a further exlusive extract from this book on Friday.
The internet and World Wide Web have been part of the media world for well over two decades now.
A new landscape of digital media products, platforms, consumption devices, and consumption patterns has emerged, and continues to evolve.
These changes have brought challenges for all established media organisations from Hollywood movie studios to public service broadcasters, from the publishers of books and scientific journals to music producers and advertising agencies.
This book focuses on one segment of the many sectors that make up the media industry: digital news organisations. Within that segment it focuses further on just five players: the Guardian, the New York Times, Quartz, BuzzFeed, and Vice.
These players have been chosen because they are all to different degrees and in different ways successful with digital news, even though in the current disrupted and increasingly divergent state of the news industry, the term ‘success’ can only be used in a qualified way: there are profound differences between digital and analogue revenues, between legacy and clean sheet status, between public ownership, trust ownership, and venture capital backing.
So while these are not the only successful actors in the field, they are all recognised to different and disputed extents as leaders, successes, and perhaps role models.
The Guardian and the New York Times are legacy newspaper organisations that are far along the process of transforming themselves into digital news organisations.
Quartz and BuzzFeed are pure player or clean sheet digital news providers. Quartz is 100% news, BuzzFeed is a viral content company that has only moved seriously into news provision in recent years.
Vice is a different animal again. News is one element of a broad palette of video content, but its investment in the field is growing, and now equals that of some leading legacy players.
In this book, a series of detailed case studies explores how these five organisations approach digital news, how these activities are anchored in the larger organisation, the corporate strategies and rationales that underlie them, and the cultures, competencies, processes, and measures involved in the implementation of their approaches to digital news.
Image: Part of the VICE office in Williamsburg, photograph from Gigaom
The final chapter of the book sifts through the detail of the case studies to identify factors common to these organisations that contribute to their success with digital news. It highlights a set of interlinked elements which need to be viewed systemically: their power lies in their combination, in the virtuous circle that is created when all are present and function together.
At the core of these are three interrelated elements which are standard practice for high-performing organisations – a singularity of purpose about the role of the organisation and the ‘value’ (in management terms) it creates for its users, high calibre leadership from smart individuals who have developed a viable strategic path forward and have credibility with the culture of the organisation, and a clear and unequivocal strategy that sets boundaries, allows prioritisation, and avoids distractions.
Then come two elements specific to some to the emerging digital news industry and to the nature of competition and consumption within it.
The first is a blending of journalistic, technological, and commercial competencies, involving a deep integration of tech into editorial processes, the presence of digital editorial thinkers, and content creation processes that are response and data driven.
Second comes a ‘pro-digital culture’ that views the digital news arena as an opportunity (albeit a highly competitive field), that is not particularly nostalgic about the old legacy days, and which is open-minded about using the functionalities of digital technology to reinvent quality news.
The final two common elements are not easy to acquire or replicate.
The first is an early start.
The longer a news organisation has been active in the digital field, the more it has learned about how this functions, and the more attuned it is to the pace of the industry and how innovation is best approached.
The final element involves autonomy – the ability to innovate and respond as directly as possible to opportunities and threats in the digital news market.
This is directly influenced by ownership arrangements (and the priorities of those stakeholders) and by the financial resources available, both elements that a digital news organisation has limited opportunity to influence.
Dr Lucy Küng is a research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford. From 2010 to 2016 she was Professor of Media Economics and Management at the University of Jönköping, Sweden, and is currently Visiting Professor of Media Innovation at the University of Oslo. She is also Non-Executive Board Member of SRG SSR (the Swiss public service broadcaster) and of Vizrt (a media technology supplier).