It’s safe to say that 2017 was a bit of a bumpy year for media organisations. From mass job cuts, ill-advised pivots and a growing outcry against the burgeoning duopoly, there’s no sign of the wave of digital disruption easing up on the industry.
In our bumper end-of-year special, we chewed over many of the issues that the past year has thrown up, interspersed with contributions from some of our past guests.
Rather than concoct yet another list of media predictions for 2018, we decided instead to ask some of the experts that have appeared on the podcast what they hope 2018 holds for the industry. All the responses below are included in the episode – give it a listen if you want to hear more about what each guest thought about the year gone by and what their own personal priorities are for 2018.
Kevin Anderson, media analyst
“Hiring – I want to see lots and lots of new jobs. We’re ending this year on a bit of a sour note with cuts coming not just from the big legacy beasts of media, but also 500 job cuts at Oath, this bastard stepchild of Yahoo and AOL that Verizon owns now. But we’re also seeing these job cuts at digital media companies, large and small. I think we’ve seen the end of the VC-funded focus on scale, which for anyone who was serious about strategy, we knew that was never going to be the answer.
“I think there should be a lot more focus on the strategies out there that are working and the companies that are really building a solid business. There are some really great models out there, there are some really great strategies that I hope a lot of other companies execute, and just focus on those things that we do know work and focus on the execution to make it work.”
Becky Lucas, insight and strategy editor, British GQ
“I would love for media brands to really double down on their USPs and what they were when they first launched, and back away from trying to bring in readers from absolutely everywhere, diluting what their brands are about. So a focus on growing loyal readers who come back time and time again because they expect a certain quality or a certain type of content on a website is what we should all be aiming for.”
Matt Kelly, editor, The New European
“The most important thing from my point of view is a complete re-thinking of how we approach local communities as local newspapers. Local news is at a very interesting point in its existence in that you see it’s under threat in a lot of places, and I think society will miss it when it’s gone, if it goes. Part of the blame lies at the door of publishers; you can’t just keep blaming the audience for switching us off. We’ve got to re-think how we connect with audiences, and part of that I believe involves opening the door to communities a lot more, and trying to stop being just a one-directional product – not just throwing content at people, but allowing people to use you as a community platform.
“It’s about the reinvention of local media and it’s about really getting in to touch with the community, trying to throw away all the preconceptions we’ve got about what qualifies as journalism, not throwing away the values that we adhere to, or indeed our obligation and our duty to cover the community in a news sense, but also to accept that there are a lot of things that the community does that we don’t pay attention to. Is there a way that we can re-engage with the community, and through that re-engagement can we go back and even come back into revenue streams that many regional newspapers have considered long-gone around classifieds, property and recruitment? Can we really, coherently claim to be bigger than Facebook in our communities? That’s my goal.”
Lisa Smosarski, editor-in-chief, Stylist
“The thing that I would most like to see in 2018 in media is a brilliant new launch. Everyone’s been playing it so safe for the last few years; there’s been a lot of nervousness in the market, a lot of consolidating existing titles and brands, but actually there have been very few big content launches. It’s been fantastic this year seeing what’s happened with Vogue and Edward Enninful, how that’s reinvigorated the glossy fashion market and recreated the conversation around magazines. But I think a fantastic, exciting new launch in any market on a mass scale would be brilliant.
“We have a fantastic initiative that we’re launching in January which is wrapped into the centenary of the women’s vote, and I’ll be looking at how that manifests across all our different platforms of the Stylist brand. I’m also really interested in our video proposition, so I’ll be spending lots of time with our digital teams and working out how we can bring that to life even more – we’ve had some massive hits this year and we want to keep growing that side our business.”
Liz Gerard, newspaper analyst
“I’d like things to be a bit calmer and less aggressive – I don’t like the aggression that’s coming out at the moment directed at anybody who deviates from the prescribed view…dissent doesn’t seem to be allowed these days. I would like to get younger voices on board; our newspapers are run by old white men, and I think it’s time we got a bit of diversity in our national press. That might reinvigorate it…”
Katherine Goldstein, Nieman fellow
“I hope next year that so many of the news organisations that create great work will start to examine how their work environments have led to sexist and unequal work environments, what they can do to truly support women in reaching leadership roles and being sure their contributions are valued through all stages of their careers, and not just focus on sexual harassment hotlines, or firing a few bad apples. It’s a much much bigger problem to solve and I hope news organisations are going to do some of the long and hard work to make sure they better support everyone.
“My top media priority for this year is to continue to hold everyone’s feet to the fire about how women are treated in the workplace. It’s not just about sexual harassment…there are so many ways that women face sexism in their everyday lives and in the workplace, and I hope to tell stories that share those realities and uncover truths that have been simmering for a long time.”
Simon Davies, MD, EMEA, Quartz
“From a more macro scale, I want to see more of a focus on user experiences, and the idea of actually focusing on an individual’s experience with a brand with the environment that they’re having that experience in, rather than merely trying to blast out audiences, or target audiences if you’re an advertiser. It’s happening, and it’s happening for a few reasons…but I think it’s a realisation that what we should all be trying to do is actually produce positive user experiences on a one-to-one basis. Partly the issue is also being forced by GDPR, and by increased issues and concerns around brand safety, but generally there’s an increased awareness among advertisers [and media owners].
“We’re going to be focusing on being better at interrogating, understanding and getting meaning from data. We’ve invested a lot in our insights team, because that’s where the value is, and the better we can understand what that data is telling us, then the better we’ll be able to produce content the way that the audience wants to consume it.”
Esra Doğramacı, senior editor for digital, Deutsche Welle
“I would really like to start to see media organisations develop and discover their own identities, and especially their own digital identities. I think the last couple of years have been a really fantastic time for experimentation, but you see a lot of ‘copy-catting’ going on, and everybody just looking over their shoulders and chasing the next thing that comes along. I would like to see media, publishers and broadcasters have a much better sense of who they are and what they’re good at, and really focus on capitalising on that.”
Of course, the three of us have our own hopes and dreams for media in 2018, and couldn’t resist pitching in.
Chris: “Next year, what I would like to see most of all is an increase in transparency around business models and reporting. If you want to build a membership scheme, then you have to show your audience exactly how the pudding is made from start to finish. We’ve seen some great examples of that going on already, from the Guardian’s membership scheme, the Atlantic’s masthead, and at publish.org, and I think that it’s a great first step along that road to increasing transparency and regaining some trust.”
Esther: “I would really like to see to see a ‘pivot’ to membership. I would love to see magazine and newspaper organisations actually taking this membership approach; looking at the Membership Puzzle Project, looking at their research and the lessons they’ve learned, because it forces them to look at themselves and go “Right…what’s good about us? What do people like about us and what will people pay to be members of?” It encompasses diversifying revenue streams – you can’t just shove a product at a person and expect them to pay a ‘membership’ – membership is about more than just the content you’re producing.”
Peter: “I would like to see a focus on brand values, where publishers are actually saying “This is who we are, this is what we stand for,” and then taking that and turning it into direct relationships with their audience, whether that’s through paid, or just through regular emails, personalisation or a better use of data. They need to really build those relationships so that people know what they’re doing and they know what people want. That’ll involve a real focusing in on brand values rather than this chase for volume or chase for quantity over quality.”
Whether you’re a new listener, a frequent ‘dipper’ or tune in each week, thanks for your support throughout 2017 and we look forward to bringing you more news, analysis and interviews from the media and publishing world this year. As always, we welcome feedback, interview suggestions and general comments, so please feel free to get in touch.
Esther Kezia Thorpe