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Media Matters: The Future of News

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Andrew Ng, Oxford MBA at the Saïd Business School, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Media Matters: The Future of News”.

In today’s fast paced world, there is high demand for quick news on the go to suit our busy lifestyles. The way we consume news has changed dramatically, at breakneck speed. Just two decades ago, radio, TV and print news dominated this arena. The proliferation of social media platforms has resulted in a democratisation of news; however, this new reach has also brought with it some new and complex challenges.

On Friday, 7 May, the Skoll World Forum 2017 brought together a panel of leading voices in the media industry to discuss the key opportunities and challenges ahead.

Pat Mitchell (Founder & President, Pat Mitchell Media) opened with a sobering reminder of the significance of this conversation: it is not about job preservation; rather, it is about whether we as a global population continue to have open and free access to critical information.

Traditional business models are being disrupted, with leading social media platforms now claiming the lion’s share of revenue from viewership. While quality journalism continues to be a labour-intensive, time-consuming activity, key revenue streams are drying up, creating increased reliance on grants and fundraising. Trust in the media is at an all-time low. The proliferation of “fake news” at an unprecedented pace and scale has led to implications for not just the media industry, but democracy itself. Big data and analytics have been used for nefarious purposes in targeting the voting public, while many media companies are left wondering how to keep up with the pace of technological advancement amidst shrinking resources.

Andrew Jack (Reporter, Financial Times) contrasted the implications of digital and social. Digital has been beneficial, slashing costs and making it easier to engage with readers. Meanwhile, the social side has been more challenged, due to disintermediation. Katharine Viner (Editor-in-Chief, Guardian News & Media, The Guardian) shared how the forces of social media have been tremendously beneficial for readership, but financially detrimental.

The implications and appropriate response for each media provider are different, and majorly dependent on the organisation’s ownership structure and business model. The Guardian has responded by seeking to grow its revenue through the membership scheme and contributions, both of which have found success. With providers like National Public Radio (NPR), the model brings the business community and government together with philanthropy. As Edith Chapin of NPR put it, “in some ways, public media in US is a piñata at the moment”; the audience has a big say. She emphasised the need for keeping financial health by maintaining multiple revenue streams, whether from advertising, corporate or philanthropic sources, and the need for quality content and programming. For example, All Things Considered (ATC), the flagship news program on NPR that premiered in 1971, has offered viewers more than what they get through evening news. Quality journalism calls for investment of time and effort to dig deep into communities and feed insights into strong regional or national approaches.

On issue of financial sustainability, Kinsey Wilson (EVP Product & Tech; Editor, Innovation/Strategy, The New York Times) pointed out how “serious news of quality has always been cross-subsidised.” For example, with newspapers, this was achieved through classified advertising. The future of quality news is likely to involve continued cross-subsidisation, if not re-bundling.

In closing, Edith challenged fellow media providers to “make the best content and fight by showing value in what we are creating… This is the challenge of our lifetime. Let’s take that hill.” Indeed, it is this spirit that fills me with hope for the future of news.