Insights on the Future of Media

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  • 8/3/2019 Insights on the Future of Media


    Insights on the Future of MediaBy Steve Rubel, EVP, Edelman

    Volume I - January 2012

  • 8/3/2019 Insights on the Future of Media



    Its easy to forget but back in 2008 a lot of people weredeclaring that the media as we know it was dead - or dying.In fact, one enterprising Twitter user, Paul Armstrong, set upa special account (@themediaisdying) to chronicle the press

    alleged death spiral. Today it has nearly 25,000 followers.

    Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. Themedia, faced with the threat of extinction, used sheer will andinnovation to turn things around. Today the fourth estate isarguably stronger than ever. This even as the global economysputters.

    Consider TV. The networks have all aggressively deployed an

    armada of second screen experiences for tablets and smartphones. These apps, which curate Twitter and Facebookstreams in a single place, are encouraging live tune in byessentially creating a social show around the show.

    Theyre not alone. Stalwart newspapers like The Guardian andThe Washington Posthave created immersive news experiencesinside Facebook. Theyre even syndicating full text storiesinside the social juggernaut.

    The bet as paid off. In just two months since these social newsplatforms were unveiled The Guardian said it saw site trafficincrease by more than a million page views a month. ThePost, not to be outdone, has seen a sharp uptick in newsreaders under 35. And Yahoo is expanding their Facebookintegration to many more properties.

    2@themediaisdying on Twitter (top), Get Glue social badges for TV shows (bottom)

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    Finally, blog-based upstarts like theHuffington Post, Politico andEngadget, all of which pioneered the use of short-form, rapidfire posts, are now expanding into long form content. Thisincludes ebooks and tablet magazines.

    There are countless other examples. The media is back in a

    big way. And this is having a significant impact on howbusinesses synchronize and prioritize where, when and howthey tell their stories. This process, to borrow a term fromHollywood, is often called "transmedia storytelling."

    Curious about the medias reincarnation, in 2011 I set out ona journey to learn more. I visited media executives andreporters, technology vendors and social networks - all in aquest to identify some common best practices. Five new

    "rules" emerged.

    In this scrapbook I share what I learned.

    # # #


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    I - Curate to Dominate

    My journey to dissect a re-invigorated media began with JimBankoff - CEO of Vox Media. When we met for coffee lastspring Vox was operating one site: the highly successful Sports

    Blog Nation (SBN). Since then it has expanded into tech with a

    new sister site, The Verge.

    I didn't know what to expect that warm April day. But what Idiscovered is that vertical curators like SBN may soon play alarger role in how we consume content than many of us mayrealize. This has ramifications for both journalists andcommunicators.

    Sports is one of the largest and oldest online interest verticals.

    The category is dominated by large brands - sites and Yahoo Sports, which rose to prominenceduring the 1990s.

    Suddenly, however, the edges are fraying. First, athletes andteams are becoming their own media channels. Beyond that,new curators are moving in and disrupting the business. SBN,for example, rolls up the best independent blog voicescovering individual teams into a carefully curated network.

    The Bleacher Report, meanwhile, takes a more open, crowd-sourced approach. Today it's the 12th largest sports site,according to comScore.

    Both SBN andBleacher Reportare demonstrating that there's ahuge opportunity for new media brands to emerge that focuson separating art from junk. This is all a result of too muchcontent and not enough time.



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    Sports media, however, is filled with analysis - an editorialasset that is always in high demand. But what about breakingnews, which is more of a commodity these days? Can acurator win in news too?

    According to the 3.3 million people who follow the MSNBC-

    owned @breakingnews account on Twitter - the sub-140-character answer is "yes." That's where we pick up the story.

    To learn more, I sought out fellow Hofstra University alumLauren McCullough. She recently joined @breakingnewsfrom AP as a Senior Editor.

    I was surprised to hear from Lauren just how much MSNBChas bolstered the Breaking News brand, which it acquired

    from an enterprising Twitter user a couple of years back.MSNBC has turned it into a 24/7 news operation thatcurates links faster than anyone else. In addition to itssubstantial Twitter footprint, MSNBC has pushed the brandaggressively into Facebook, Google+ and via its own web site( and mobile apps.

    The @breakingnews team aims to find and credit the originalsource of a story. This can be difficult. So the team has set up

    a way for other reporters to tip them when they have a scoopvia a simple hashtag. This also gives the source additionalexposure for their stories.

    Curation, I learned, doesn't need to be a business. It can be afeature too.


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    One of the notable trends to emerge in the last couple ofyears is that journalists are finding meaningful content rolesbeyond the media. In 2010, the BBC's Richard Sambrook,for example, joined Edelman (my employer) as our ChiefContent Officer. He's not alone. Facebook hired Columbia

    Journalism School grad and wunderkind reporter Vadim

    Lavrusik to help journalists use the platform to engage theiraudiences. Tumblr earlier had hired Mark Coatney fromNewsweekfor the same purpose.

    Another individual in a similar role is Daniel Roth, who lastyear joined LinkedIn as its Executive Editor. But what makesRoth unique, as I discovered when we met for coffee lastNovember at New York's Ace Hotel, is that he is a curator.

    LinkedIn Today - the network's news platform and Roth'sfocus - is quickly becoming a go-to source for business newsacross many of key verticals. Need proof? Consider thatLinkedIn is routinely one of the top sources of traffic to biznews sites.


    Curation is a buzzword these days - so it's murky still what itstrue potential may be. On the one hand, an emerging group ofcurators like Flipboard, MediaGazer and TechMeme aresuccessfully mixing human and social algorithmic editors.Former Time Inc. journalist Josh Quittner joined Flipboard asits editor. Techmeme and MediaGazer too have editors.

    On the other hand, Staci Kramer, editor of,helped me see that there's a difference between curation(editorializing) and aggregation (compiling) - which is what someof these sites do.

    Still, what's clear is that a new layer is emerging where humans,specifically editors, help us separate art from junk in the vast seaof digital content. And this will be a recurring trend in the years


    # # #

    LinkedIn's Roth (L), Tumblr's Coatney

    (M) and Facebook's Lavrusik (R).
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    II - Data Mine and Time

    Math: I don't know about you, but for me it's a four-letterword. I had always suspected the same truism heldthroughout the journalism world. After all, the field is filledwith liberal arts graduates. However, that's not what I

    discovered. It turns out that quite a lot of what we see in themedia today is at least shaped by data mining and timing.

    Lurking behind the scenes at many media companies is anemerging field of data journalists. This group not only knowshow to mine the numbers, but also how to turn them intodata-driven insights that influence (but don't dictate) editorialdecisions.

    Drake Martinet, Associate Editor at Dow Jones'All Things Dtech site, is basically a real-life version of the Robert Redfordcharacter in The Horse Whisperer- except with data. He poursover mountains of information and provides actionableinsights to colleagues. The key, Martinet says, is to speak in

    verbs, not nouns.

    Timing, meanwhile, is the name of the game at theHuffingtonPost- now part of AOL. The site has a traffic and trends

    team, I learned during my visit there, that spots topics thatare hot on social networks and search engines and then writesstories about those it deems newsworthy. This not only leadsto solid reporting, but also a pretty good way to capturerelevant inbound traffic too.


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    The HuffPo is not alone in using data to inform their timing.Several media brands, including theEconomist, are workingwith SocialFlow to more effectively optimize when theirheadlines are seeded into Twitter. The Business Insider,meanwhile, uses Newsbeat to dig through their data andmake much of it public via their Engage-o-Meter.

    Although I haven't polled media companies directly, Isuspect most prefer to keep these strategies close to the vest.However, the above examples show that increasinglyeditorial decisions are being at least guided by data, even asnews still rules.

    It's also worth noting that there are other startups emergingthat are arming the media with technology that enables it tounearth such insights.

    One such company is Storyful, which is stacked withrefugees from the news