This week we hear from Andrew Ramsammy, Chief Operating Officer of Word in Black. The publication was founded in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, and brings together 10 of the nation’s leading Black publishers in a news collaborative. He discusses how the collaborative came together, how they’ve tripled revenue since launching, and other areas of opportunity for publishers to come together.

In the non-news roundup, the team examines whether publishers should worry about password sharing. We also look at whether podcasts are still a good bet for advertisers (yes), whether AI is being overhyped (also yes), and how LadBible became the biggest English-language publisher on TikTok (good at it).

Peter shares his Netflix username.

Here are some highlights:

Why 2020 was the right time for Word in Black to come together

In 2020 there was a racial reckoning here in America. When everyone saw the video…it was finally a cohort of America that said enough was enough, and something needed to be done. What ended up occuring, not only in Minneapolis but across the United States finally sunk in also at the corporate level where corporations said, ‘Okay, we too need to be a part of the solution.’ I think employees across America were demanding that their organisations and their companies became more cognizant of the world that we were living in.

It was a line in the sand on top of the fact too that we had the pandemic going on at the same time – it felt like America was getting out of control. So some people in our country wanted to bring at least some elvel of comfort and control back to a narrative that, unfortunately, has not improved the way that we, if we were to go back to MLK and his I Have a Dream speech, you look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a lot of things have happened here in America at a glacial pace. Sadly, I jokingly say now glaciers are melting faster than the pace of change that’s happening here in America around race.

[Our CEO Nancy Lane of the Local Media Association] was aware there were funds that were being raised for racial inequities and social justice through Donor Advised Funds here in the US. She wanted to make sure that journalism was included in those efforts, so in just two days Nancy and Eleanor [Tatum] launched the Fund for Black Journalism. We invited nine other publishers to join that effort, and that quickly led to the launch of Word in Black, which was made possible with a generous investment from Google to the tune of $300,000 from their GNI Innovation Challenge.

Bringing local conversations to a national level

We have a multi-pronged strategy – it really is about leveraging the 10 publishers, their legacy and the content they produce every day. We know that many of these conversations that happen at a local level ultimately go national, which effectively is what happened with George Floyd –  a local story about a black person being murdered by the police goes national. But what ends up happening is that publishers like the ones we work with lose equity in that conversation.

So to have a national platform, to be able to continue those conversations with audiences, to make sure that publishers maintain equity in that conversation, to produce content, then at the national level that we then distribute back down to those publishers at local level… It’s almost like there’s a flywheel effect that occurs between the Word in Black structure that sits adjacent with what the publishers are doing.

Why collaborations can thrive today

Collaborations are hard. But Word in Black has been the easiest collaboration to work with in terms of cooperation among participants. The Word in Black publishers have deep relationships with one another, they’ve known each other for several years, there’s a lot of trust between all of them. And that’s why this works. There’s a very special relationship also between [the Local Media Association] and the publishers – I think that’s part of the secret sauce.

I think we need more collaboration. This is not a time and a place and a space where publishers should be going it alone. We’re very open and transparent – at LMA we have conversations with other member organisations that some people might say might be our competitors. But we don’t believe anyone’s our competitor. At the end of the day, we have communities out there that need access to real-time information and context to the challenges and issues that our communities are facing every day.

Journalism as the fourth estate provides a very important role. And the Black press provides an even more important role to serve their communities in ways in which no one has been able to do before. Word in Black is a great example of a combinatorial effect where you take the subject matter experts, legacy publishers, audiences who are starving for important content – you put all those things together, you mix it, there’s something very special there.

Top story: Password sharing is not a pressing concern for most publishers

Following Netflix’s actions to limit password sharing, Toolkits’ Jack Marshall looks at what publishers with subscription products are doing about password sharing themselves.

  • In Thursday’s newsletter, Chris noted that most publisher’s subscriber bases are small enough for password sharing not to be too much of a concern.
  • Marshall notes that some publishers are seeing it as a ‘sampling’ mechanism, allowing potential new subscribers to get a taste of the content.
  • Piano’s analysis is that it only impacts around 1% of publisher subscriptions. For entertainment services like Disney+ and Netflix, however, the demand and competition is much fiercer.
  • Additionally, there are genuine technological challenges when people have multiple devices and usage patterns – as Netflix has found this week after a backlash to leaked plans.
  • Crucially, there is likely to be a substantial difference in impact between B2C and B2B publishers; the latter of which can often be expensed. Anecdotally, we know of a number of B2B publications that have seen multiple people at a corporation use a single login, and the revenue impact here is likely to be much higher. The more niche the content, the bigger the issue.
  • Toolkits has a handy guide for limiting password sharing for subscription products.

News in brief

  • Podcast ad spending isn’t seeing a slowdown, according to ad buyers. This comes from a story on Digiday, which examines some of the reasons why podcasts might not be seeing so much volatility in terms of ad spending as other formats. That’s great news, but it’s also a sign that personality-led and narrative media is still valued by consumers and ad buyers. The article also notes that the perceived contraction is probably rightsizing following the insane spend on exclusives we saw in 2020-21. With all the chat about AI-generation of content, that’s a welcome stat. It’s also probably to do with the fact that podcast ad spend is relatively small still.
  • The Atlantic has a good piece about the race to the bottom that they see if Buzzfeed starters using a ChatGPT-like bot to produce quizzes. Cecilia Campbell has another good piece on WNIP about the hype. I spoke with her this week and she suggested everyone just calm down and focus on practical applications. I also spoke with Charlie Beckett at LSE’s Journalism AI project last week and he said a similar thing. If you’re looking to use AI, start with the problem you’re trying to solve, not the tech.
  • The biggest news publisher on TikTok by a country mile is…Ladbible. They currently have 11.5 million followers across their verticals on the platform – almost 3x as many as the next biggest British newsbrand. They rely both on original content and user-generated videos for growth, and have around 30 people at the business who work on TikTok. Notably though, they still have a larger team for Facebook because they know the structure and how to monetise – TikTok doesn’t yet have a direct route to monetisation. They’re hoping to get well-enough established that when monetisation does get turned on, they’re in a great position to start making money.

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