News val­ues

Mak­ing money from con­tent

Sunday Star-Times - - BUSINESS -

The good old days of writ­ing a blank cheque for jour­nal­ism are gone af­ter the in­dus­try started giv­ing away its prod­uct for free on the in­ter­net, In­ter­na­tional News Me­dia As­so­ci­a­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Earl Wilkin­son says.

But the in­dus­try doom and gloom was hard to un­der­stand, he said, be­cause while news on pa­per might be get­ting thin­ner, news or­gan­i­sa­tions were still ro­bust.

‘‘We’re just try­ing to fig­ure it out,’’ he said.

What this looks like, how­ever, would be dif­fer­ent for ev­ery news­room, and dif­fer­ent for ev­ery part of the world.

And be­ing dif­fer­ent to other news or­gan­i­sa­tions, rather than be­ing fo­cused on be­ing bet­ter, was what was needed.

‘‘Bet­ter doesn’t get you one more ad­ver­tiser, one more sub­scriber; be­ing dif­fer­ent, I think, does that.

‘‘We’ve got to be dif­fer­ent, we’ve got to be cre­ative, but man that re­quires a cul­ture change.’’

Wilkin­son was in New Zealand as part of a whirl­wind trip vis­it­ing news com­pa­nies in 12 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, over 37 days.

His as­so­ci­a­tion, INMA, pro­vided news me­dia com­pa­nies with ad­vice on global best prac­tices for grow­ing rev­enue, au­di­ence and brand dur­ing a time of pro­found mar­ket change.

Wilkin­son said ev­ery com­pany he vis­ited was go­ing through some form of trans­for­ma­tion.

But where a few years ago most com­pa­nies were ask­ing how they could get back to the ‘‘good old days’’ where the money was big and easy, they now un­der­stood those days were gone.

As such, the fo­cus had shifted to op­ti­mis­ing the for­mula of jour­nal­ism, au­di­ences, sub­scrip­tions and ad­ver­tis­ing, as well as cre­at­ing new value for all of that.

‘‘To­day the busi­ness is trans­form­ing, it’s more com­pli­cated, it may be more in­ter­est­ing.

‘‘I think we’re all used to the con­stant dis­rup­tion.

‘‘It’s baked into the for­mula of what we’ve got to do over the next 10 years, and we don’t stress out about it any­more.’’

Wilkin­son said one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing things about the de­vel­op­ment of jour­nal­ism was that af­ter 500 years, print and jour­nal­ism had been ‘‘meshed to­gether’’.

This was rooted in or­gan­i­sa­tions giv­ing away jour­nal­ism, which it was charg­ing a pre­mium to sub­scribe to in print, while giv­ing the same prod­uct away for free on a web­site.

‘‘Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?’’ he said.

As or­gan­i­sa­tions had at­tempted to de­velop on­line pay­walls or paid con­tent on­line, many had strug­gled, be­cause once the jour­nal­ism was sep­a­rated from the phys­i­cal print prod­uct, con­sumers seemed to put zero value on it.

‘‘They, I guess, in their minds were pay­ing for the print­ing and the pack­ag­ing and the de­liv­ery, and oh the jour­nal­ism is just some­thing else.

‘‘So we’ve had to walk that back and re-em­pha­sise to them the value of that con­tent, but it’s been a tough bat­tle.’’

Pay­walls could work for cer­tain con­tent, such as busi­ness jour­nal­ism, or with pre­mium brands such as the New York Times, but it be­came harder for gen­eral in­ter­est news or­gan­i­sa­tions.

A big story in a lo­cal com­mu­nity in­ter­est pa­per could be in­ter­est­ing, but a small brief in a busi­ness pub­li­ca­tion could make some­one $1 mil­lion, he said.

The ques­tion, there­fore, was: what’s the value of con­tent?

‘‘It’s 2017 and we’re still dis­cov­er­ing these lessons.

‘‘It’s not like we’ve got 150 years of op­ti­mis­ing a model al­ready proven, we’re still try­ing to prove the model.

‘‘All we’ve proven so far is that high jour­nal­ism brands and fi­nan­cial jour­nal­ism brands can de­mand a pre­mium; that is lit­er­ally the only thing we’ve proven so far.’’

Wilkin­son said he was a be­liever in brands over con­tent.

Con­sumers wanted to have a full re­la­tion­ship with news brands, what­ever way that looked: print, mo­bile, news alerts, news­let­ters.

A full re­la­tion­ship could be mon­e­tised, and meant news or­gan­i­sa­tions needed to be in the busi­ness of at­tract­ing them to their brand at all costs. This meant jour­nal­ism needed to change.

‘‘The big­ger dam­age to brands is just in­tense medi­ocrity,’’ he said.

SI­MON MAUDE/FAIR­FAX NZ

Me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions wed­ded to print are the only ones who are pes­simistic.

SUP­PLIED

INMA chief ex­ec­u­tive Earl Wilkin­son says be­ing dif­fer­ent and cre­ate re­quires a tough cul­tural change in news­rooms.

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