Key themes from day one at INMA’s European News Media Conference, Amsterdam

So here we are in Amsterdam for the first day of INMA’s Media Innovation Week. Today the weather was warm, the location spot-on and the city humming.

But, to echo the central theme of the day, it wasn’t so much about the setting – or the package – as it was about the content that made Day one at INMA so interesting.

We’ve seen a lot of conferences form around themes over the years. Whether they accidentally reflect the zeitgeist of the season, or they’re grouped around an area of interest, may vary, but what is certainly true of 2018 is that it’s been the year to reflect on the very core of journalism: allying content with audience.

“Four years ago our business was almost completely driven by reach. Now it’s driven by registrations and conversions” says Nico Wilfer of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His point is an important one and reflects the broader trajectory of the industry: with a different endgame now in focus, there’s developed a different approach to content production too.

We’re glad to hear it.

The best vehicle for your journalism is the one most suited to your subject – and audience

The conversation has shifted from talk about big ideas (AR! VR! Video!) to a more nuanced discussion of how those ideas fit within the broader frame of each individual newsroom and publishing house. To take a point from De Persgroep’s CEO, Christian Van Thillo, “for us, video is the important thing right now. Everybody is running after reach, but we’re debating the kind of videos we should be producing: we want to get it right, not just to say ‘we do it'”.

At De Persgroep they’re experimenting with integrating newsrooms, so print, online, television and radio sit together. The idea – that content finds its distribution channel based on what’s likely to work for each story – is a good one. “The media we make and sell is very much linked to the cultures we sell them for. Content is at the heart of everything we do”.

Lessons from social media

Nadia Nikolajeva lived and breathed Facebook for work. So, it came as a surprise to many when she proposed to her team at TV Midvest that they undertake a two week Facebook detox. At Upsala Nya Tidning (NTM), Jens Pettersson and his team were able to marry the changes in the Facebook algorithms with an almost-unnoticed rumbling of discontent with the city’s public transportation system to create a group which could inform and share information. Over at VG, a newly installed team have harnessed the power of Snapchat Discover to bring new readers to the news company through this younger social platform.

The takeaway from all this? Social media, when used judiciously and on the back of the same kind of diligent fact-finding and audience analysis continues to be a very valuable use of time and resources. The Facebook detox (which surely for many sounds blissful), refocused Midvest’s strategy and encouraged the team to ask precisely why something was being posted on Facebook: was it force of habit, or the result of considered strategizing?

Understanding your audience’s needs and wants was the key to NTM’s success with their Facebook group. The most important thing? “For us, it’s listening. Know your audience and know what engages them”

In the case of NG, they’ve used Snapchat as a lesson in how to engage the ‘impossible generation’. In responding to a 19-year-old’s complaint that reading VG made her ‘fall asleep’, they started to look at how to engage with this demographic – and doing so while retaining their own voice and credentials. Punchier-length articles, the option to delve deeper into subjects (or get the highlight) and plenty of visuals were several key components. Emojis? Not so much. ‘We don’t emojis because we’ve been told that those who use emojis are either 8 or 50’.

What is innovation, anyway?

Ellen Monten, of Sweden’s Schibsted says there’s a lot to be taken from the Bee Gees on that one: it’s mostly about staying alive.

While that much-used adage – that necessity is the mother of invention – it’s also a case of adopting a creative outlook to dealing with roadblocks. The last session of the day from Ondenken – part motivational activity, part serious thought experiment – explored just this: moving from a ‘yes, but’ approach (highlighting a problem) to a ‘yes and’ approach (embracing solutions).

Just as quality content remains the common thread which runs through all successful journalism, so too is the understanding that distribution is merely a way of disseminating that journalism – it shouldn’t define it.

Jonathan Falk Systad at VG acknowledges the fleeting nature of social in particular: “Snapchat will die out someday, and something else will come out of it. We have an understanding of what might work elsewhere”. The advice he was given – be indispensable – are wise words just as applicable to the sector as the individual.

Delivery mechanisms are only part of the puzzle: what’s really important is the content, and the ability of the newsroom to tailor that content to the specific audience. In working through the challenges of the bottom line, of that ‘impossible generation’, of the fickle nature of Facebook algorithms, you’re actually flexing your innovation muscles, so when that day comes where the wind does turn, you’re agile enough to make the change you need to flourish.

We’re looking forward to day two.

 

 

 

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