Day two at INMA, Amsterdam: are you listening well enough?

Day Two at the European News Media Conference was another broad sweep of industry trends, success stories and tales of innovation. Good. All that brain food is exactly what these kinds of conferences are about, right?

With so many ideas abounding, here are three key things we took away from another intellectually-packed day.

We’re not as engaged with our communities as we think

The seeds of this were sown yesterday with the case studies highlighting specific cases of highly effective audience engagement at Facebook and Snapchat, but went a stage further on day two.

Ben Whitelaw of Engaged Journalism Accelerator laid it out in no uncertain terms: “We’re not as engaged with our communities as we think – we rarely ask their opinion on the topic. The web is about creating a two-way dialogue, yet we use it as a broadcast channel”.

He referenced Ismail Blagrove, the British filmmaker, whose verbal tirade against the mainstream media in the wake of London’s Grenfell disaster went viral. With trust such an issue across the industry, we must – as INMA’s Executive Director, Earl J. Wilkinson later said – “be willing to listen closely to what readers tell us”.

There’s more than simply a social consequence at stake here, though. Both Whitelaw and Wilkinson have made the connection between audience engagement (in a subject/ topic context, not in post-publication terms) and successful reader-revenue strategy: “nothing triggers subscriptions or engages readers more than an authentic voice” says Wilkinson.

Editorial judgement matters and usually can be proven by numbers

Strength of editorial convictions is a theme touched on time after time, from

No example showed this better than in Alen Galovic’s presentation about what they at 24 Sata call the ‘Megacover’. Simply put, this strategy ensures that important subjects and stories are given maximum exposure by saturating all outlets with the same story. In one example, a story the editorial staff felt was vital to tell – about a man with apparently no name, and no identity – was given front page treatment across all their titles and platforms. Galovic reported that the overall reach of this article was 2.7m, and in a country of 4.2million people, that’s fairly impressive. Of course, ‘reach’ is a tricky term in and of itself, but leaving aside the specifics of what this meant in practice, what we can take away from this is that when a story needs to be told, it should be – and massive reach is possible through ideas such as the ‘megacover’.

Do fewer things, better

If, as Wilkinson reminds us, 90% of traffic is typically driven by 10% of content, then surely it is time to take stock, pay attention to consumption patterns and make the changes specific to you and your organization. ‘Beware of embracing bright, shiny objects’, he said, and he is of course right: even a look back over the past few years has revealed that those beacons of hope – the new tabloid format, tablet editions, AR – are not sufficient or universal enough to resuscitate a dying industry, though in the right context they may help buoy it along.

What seems to be the case is although subscriptions are clearly the prevailing narrative of 2018, they underpin a broader issue: publication succeed when they serve the reader, and the demographic. Subscription success is but a symptom of that success, it’s not the means to it.


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