Robert Whitehead of INMA kicked off CUE Days 2022 with strong words for news media around the world: Adapt or go under - and do it now.
“There is nothing more important in the world today than to find a new business model for journalism.”
Digital Platform Initiative Lead, INMA
That’s how Whitehead kicked off his presentation at CUE Days 2022. He’s the lead for INMA’s Digital Platform Initiative and an investor and advisor in media and disruptive technologies. Most importantly, he has a sobering message for news companies around the globe: Change now or face a media massacre in the coming years – use new business models and embrace tech, or you will not survive, and neither will our liberal democracy. But all is not lost. Whitehead also points out that there is a path to a true business bonanza for media companies who act and adapt. He also stresses that this is not just about saving jobs and businesses – there is a higher purpose to save democracy as we know it.
In his presentation, Whitehead gave a quick lesson in how media needs to survive, based on five points that should be taken very seriously by news companies right now.
Point no. 1: Focus
Media companies need to sharpen their focus on why they exist. It is no longer feasible to be everything to everyone – companies are forced to find the core value of their brand. “Media companies need to ask themselves: What do we do for our core audience, and how do we make them feel,” says Whitehead. “You need to stand for something, and you need to align everything around the core way of making money. Stop doing everything else.”
Point no. 2: Create better
To create better content, you need to measure the value of all journalism. “Analyze your actions, use data, and find out what content is moving the dial for the target segment, making them stay, making them pay and making them return. For that you need data.”
“Do more of what works and cut back on what doesn’t. Simplify things. Get your deep automated insights and communicate them to the newsroom. We are currently facing a massive wave of news avoidance, so change the narrative, do constructive journalism, explain what can be done, find the positives – or people will stay away.”
Point no. 3: Simplify and automate
For the entire business, this is all about tech. As a media company, you must simplify all processes, standardize your tech stack, and reorganize around journalism, not formats. You will need to embrace machine learning and to use bots for things such as statistics-based journalism.
To illustrate this point, Whitehead used graphics for his presentation that were all created by AI – the Monet pictured here, for instance, was not really painted by the famous artist, but by Whitehead telling a robot what image and what style of image he wanted. It’s easy, it’s automated, and it’s an example of how powerful AI and robots have become. And they will continue to grow in importance.
Monet’s laptop, generated using Stable Diffusion
Point no. 4: Create scale
Instant scalability is entirely critical in a time with storm clouds on the horizon, according to Whitehead. “Creating alliances is the way forward and working with your rivals far outweighs the pains in doing so. Examples are first-party ad syndicates and tech and data co-ops, such as local media organizations and associations that are cropping up everywhere to reinvent business models for news. Also, user groups and knowledge sharing have never been as important as they are today, because… time is running out!
Point no. 5: Survive!
Survival is what we are working on. Whitehead believes there is going to be a media massacre in the future. He lists a few dire facts to make that plain: There is a recession in advertising. There is news fatigue. There is inflation, rising cost of capital, energy prices, a supply chain crisis affecting not just newsprint but just about anything else…
But some companies are already well prepared and are facing a business boom in 2023.These companies all have adopted strategies that make them sustainable media companies prepared for the future by refocusing their strategies, creating better media, re-setting their ownership and by harnessing tech to reduce costs.
Refocusing the brand is also about finding the core values and core identity of each news brand in much the same way as financial news media have done.
“Without free journalism, the liberal democracy that we are used to does not work,” Whitehead concluded. “And that is a purpose that people who work in tech do not necessarily understand. Journalists understand it to a fault but sometimes need help to focus and refine this understanding – but everyone who works in your media organization needs to understand the power and the importance of what we do.”