September 12, 2005

What Journalism Could Learn from Advertising

I went all the way to Buenos Aires to hear an advertising guy describe how the journalism business can adapt to the future.

During a conference on journalism and communication in the digital age sponsored by the Buenos Aires business business newspaper Infobae, Eric Wheeler, who heads OgilvyInteractive, North America, outlined eight points ad agencies must embrace to ensure a seat a the digital media table. If you change the phrase "ad agencies" to "news organizations," I think Wheeler's advice applies equally well to journalism. Wheeler's points are in bold; my comments follow:

 Customer insight is critical: News companies must not only understand their markets better, but journalists must operate closer to, and in conjunction with, their readers and viewers.

 The future is fragmented: The much-documented disintegration of mass media - and the accompanying division of advertising dollars - continues (and accelerates) with the ability of people to create their own media and remix that made by others. Successful news organizations will be those that can slice their own products thin enough for their audiences to rearrange them as they choose. [Read: Oh, Canada: An Innovation Presentation.]

 Continual change will be the norm: Static, plodding news organizations will lose market share, money and relevance. Dynamic, adaptable organizations will win out. Think Senge, not Patton. The learning newsroom, one that can continually educate and reinvent itself in accordance with the world around it, will have the best chances for survival. [Read: Rethinking the News Factory (Again).]

 Brands need stewardship: Newspapers are not leveraging the legacy power of their brands. The best journalism organizations, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, invest in those brands by investing in their news products. Penurious, short-term news managers will pay the prices for their Scrooge-like ways. The future of news belongs to those who build it. Here's Bill Keller of the New York Times talking about the merger of the Times' print and online newsrooms (my emphasis):

" One of the biggest long-term challenges facing our craft is to invent a digital journalism and new services for our readers that both live up to our high standards and help carry the cost of a great news-gathering organization."

 Consumers need help managing media: It's called editing. Journalists do it well. Now that media have exploded into thousands of remixable slivers, there is value in those who can help sort it out.

 Push boundaries: Journalism is what we do. What form it takes and how we distribute it are secondary. The only journalistic rule that matters is to tell the truth (about the news, about our sources, about ourselves). Other than the only limitations are self-created, boundaries of tradition, newsroom culture and production. We made them. We can get rid of them. [Read: Journalism is a Verb, Not a Platform.]

 Creativity means technology: Digital technology enables news organizations to meet the demands of fractured audiences, to empower their journalists to work in more than one dimension, to present news and information in layered, contextual formats and to report, analyze and narrate the events of the world in inventive new ways that can connect with people for whom traditional media, like newspapers and the sonorous anchor, have no relevance.

 Big ideas still rule: "Think big. Don't just be practitioners of the craft." Tinkering won't get us anywhere. Media has exploded. We need to explode the newsroom.

Finally, Wheeler told the many students in the audience that now is a great time to get into advertising because the advances of digital technology have created a period of great change. Ditto for journalism.

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Posted by Tim Porter at September 12, 2005 08:03 AM