An in­ter­view with Bruce New­man-win­ning team leader

The Insider - - CONTENTS -

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 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 Euro­pean Union’s Gen­eral­ 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.

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