An interview with Bruce Newman-winning team leader
Thanks so much Bruce for taking the time for this interview. Can you please tell our audience a bit more yourself, your work, and areas of expertise?
I’m kind of a strange entrepreneur. I grew up in the Midwest, went to New York City, became an investment banker, and then eventually went to work for my largest client on the west coast. They owned a diversified range of consumer, B2B, and agricultural companies.
After about 13 years I went out on my own and got progressively involved in private equity, growth capital, and venture capital activities. Together with two partners I began investing in and owning a number of B2B and
B2C marketing services companies where we helped entrepreneur-led companies transition to the e-commerce forum.
I kind of grew up in direct response, cost per action before the internet ever existed. So, I have an eclectic background of experiences from investment banking to hardcore consulting to being a line operating officer in transportation companies, agriculture companies, direct-to-consumer marketing and B2B marketing.
What brought you to our TED workshop, Breaking (the) news: Now what? Why did you decide to focus on media as part of your TED experience?
A little less than a year ago, I joined an advisory board for Philadelphia Media Networks (PMN) — the non-profit holding company for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com. PMN is committed to public service reporting that positively impacts the community and finding a longterm economic model that preserves investigative journalism as a foundation of democracy.
I figured TED was a good place to go to learn about all things media-driven and hear more about what was happening in these spaces.
How did you find the TED experience with respect to what you were looking for?
I’ve been to TED before and, in general, it’s full of spectacular experiences that stretch your thinking by exposing you to things you don’t know.
You can’t approach it with a conclusion looking for justification. You have to listen with an open mind and come to conclusions from what you hear. It’s not just the speakers who catalyze that thinking, but it’s all the people that you meet along the way, all of whom are interesting in one form or another.
Being on the advisory board for PMN, your interest in media is obviously not new. What media do you enjoy? Is it mostly American media or do you venture outside of the US for content?
That’s a really interesting question. You have to venture outside the US for content or you have no global perspective. During the course of the Florida hurricane (Irma), however tragic that hurricane may have been, in the four days that ran up to it while North Korea threatened to launch another missile on that Saturday, 100% of CNN was focused on the hurricane. It’s absolutely nuts. You have to read broadly in order to obtain multiple perspectives on US-oriented issues, global perspectives on US issues, and any perspective on global issues.
In terms of media that you trust, what are your go-to sources, broadly speaking? Titles I usually read every day include
The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Economist. I subscribe to all of them. Sometimes I read Al Jazeera and I tend to watch Bloomberg.
Do you think that The Atlantic’s move into a membership model is a good thing for them?
I think it’s hard to know. Within the audiences who have an affinity for any title, it’s never homogenous. It’s likely that one revenue-oriented model will never be the only revenue-oriented model.
If you want to have a membership orientation and that’s your only model, then you’re only going get people who are predisposed to use that model or prefer that model.
It’s hard to convert the other people who want to consume content on some other basis — whether that’s a per-unit basis, or an adviser-funded basis where it’s not user paid. Ultimately, the only way you
achieve that group’s monetization strategy is through segmented communication and segmented content.
Interesting. Let’s go back to the Breaking (the) news workshop your team performed so well in. How did you tackle your assigned issue of “restoring trust in media?”
I had already started thinking about the concept before we even walked into that room. I really worry about the worsening echo chamber effect of media, driven by the economic model of social sharing and the personalization technologies that are rendering the news to us.
It’s bad enough in the broadcast world that they only show us news that’s entertainment oriented, but it’s even worse in places where they only show us news that we agree with so we view them in a positive light.
We had to come up with a different model and process refine it, and propose it in our presentation.
If you were a publisher of a title such as the Philadelphia Inquirer or Philadelphia Daily News, which address slightly different audiences, what would be the first steps that you’d undertake?
That’s a hard question. I think that the things that publishers are doing in every city today are probably the things they’re going to have to do.
They’re going to have to understand the segmentations of their audience and what they are consuming, and the price elasticity associated with the person who pays for those things.
They need to try to get to a more optimized model that combines ad-supported media for people who seek to consume high-velocity commoditized content, and subscriber or member-based, metered or un-metered models.
They may also need to offer some kind of continuum for people who are seeking to consume non-commoditized, hyperlocalized and high-value media that’s desirable on the one hand and available only from that source on the other.
Unique content always has authority, authenticity, and uniqueness. In any business, if you’re trying to create something that you hope somebody will pay for, you have to have those things.
Of course, the other thing is that the content has to be of value, not to you as a producer, but from the standpoint of the consumer who you’re asking to pay for it. Things that people don’t pay for have no value. Now, they may have societal value, but it’s hard to build a business on societally-oriented values.
With respect to uniqueness of content, once a piece of content has been published, it’s arguably no longer unique. It’s a bit different from the music or video industries where there is a chain of royalties associated with reuse of that content or dissemination of that content. How does one address that point?
It would be nice if the publishing industry had a better engine for syndication the way there is for licensing in music.
You wonder though how much content is truly unique. It would have to be produced
by a specific writer who has broad-based appeal beyond their local region. It would have to have a specific set of analyses — an investigative report of non-local regional interest.
To me, this is the kind of locally-oriented content that has a value proposition beyond its original distribution methodology. But there really isn’t a ton of ways to monetize that content easily outside of a newspaper’s geography.
In terms of knowing readers and building personalized experiences for them, how do you balance the use of personal data and that person’s right to their privacy?
I’m in favor of people being able to control their own privacy, of course, but I think it is an extraordinarily small subset of people, who from a practical standpoint, value privacy in these matters over convenience, relevance, time, and value.
I also think that, at every point where you seek incremental information, you should also be trying to provide incremental value as a quid pro quo in that exchange.
Do you think people are aware of these concepts? Do we need to educate the general population about the controls available to them, and the implications of providing personal data to publishers?
I think that educating people on how to better control their privacy, in some ways, is really a waste of time and economics. I don’t think people care that much. I think people who write about it care a lot, and I think a very small subset of people really care about it.
But if you really care about it, there are certainly plenty of hard choices that you can make that will be significantly inconvenient. And I’m not so sure that we should inconvenience the 99% (who are willing to disclose certain things in exchange for convenience, time saving, and relevancy) for the 1% of people who have another set of choices.
Don’t use a credit card, use cash. Don’t use a cell phone. Don’t use a computer. Use anonymizers with browsers. Use these other options. If you want to be off the grid and leave no trail, there are certainly ways to do that, hard as it is.
In terms of the http://www.eugdpr.org/ European Union’s General http://www.eugdpr.org/ Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that are coming into effect next year, do you feel that they’re an overreach in terms of putting unnecessary safeguards that will effectively hamper business, or they’re good for the consumer?
I think, even within the new European regulations, you can accomplish almost any business objective you would like to accomplish. You’re just going to require affirmative consent and more fulsome disclosures.
It’s going to be a bit more burdensome in terms of compliance and security. I don’t know that fundamentally there is anything necessarily wrong with that. On the other hand, I would say that anything that impedes personalization has a cost to the ultimate users who are meant to benefit from those personalizations.
It’s hard to find the right balance between what Europe wants from a regulatory
schema standpoint, what is a rightful fear or concern about the abuse of data, and the economic model that arises for the benefit of people other than the people whose data it is.
There are strict limits with respect to IP address collection (without user consent) because it can lead to an ability, as your team have rightly stated at the workshop, to derive additional demographical data about the user.
Right. All it’s going to require is a pop-up window at the top of the website saying, “We would like to use your IP address to pre-populate information such as blank, blank, blank…, so that we can better tailor our offering to you.”
Then you can market it and say, “We believe this will have higher value to you. Here’s how you can see what we’ve collected and how you can control, and opt out of, the schema at any point in the future.”
So, bring more transparency?
Sure. You could make an argument that a regulation schema increases transparency, accountability, and creates a level playing field for users of data. You could further argue, in fact, that the reason the US financial markets are the strongest, safe haven markets in the world is because the US has the strongest, most transparent regulatory schema there is.
If data is valuable in the future as a commodity, and tradable for the benefit of both the data creator as well as the collector of it, then a strong regulatory schema that can provide accountability, and transparency is going to create the best markets for data.
This has been terrific, Bruce. Before we wrap up, going back to the original topic about trust and media, is there hope in re-establishing that trust?
I think if we expose our data and analytics to the people who are consuming news and help them understand who trusts what, we’re going to be in much better shape.
If you see an article online, and you realize that only a small subset of people have indicated that they trust it (because it’s clustered around either a dimension of social liberalism and conservative or fiscal liberalism and conservatism) you’re going to find very quickly that people will question, “Is this trustworthy?”
I also think there’s a long term issue here. Like I said, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could figure out how to broaden the basis of trust of the things that we write? If we were able to expose these analytics in the end, responsible journalism may write for a much broader audience.
Thanks so much Bruce for an enlightening conversation. You’ve given publishers a lot to think about and I hope they take your recommendations seriously on how to rebuild trust with their readers.