These were some of the discussion topics at the Future of Media 2010 panel discussion held in Toronto’s Drake Hotel, where a standing room-only crowd crammed into the Underground space to hear what panelists had to say about journalism’s prospects. The Future of Media event is hosted by DigitalJournal.com. It’s a regular event intended to bring a variety of experts together to discuss changes in the news industry, emerging trends and their impact on the media business.
The panel was made up of executives from a variety of companies: Elmer Sotto, head of growth at Facebook Canada; David Skok, Senior Producer of Online Content for Global News; digital marketing and social media strategist Mark Evans; Kunal Gupta, CEO of Polar Mobile; and The Globe and Mail’s Managing Editor, Digital, Anjali Kapoor.
The standing-room only event began with a discussion on the challenges facing mainstream media today. Despite the struggle to retain print readership, the digital era is ushering in a new variety of media consumer, the panelists agreed.
While the conversation focused primarily on social media and its influence on news, Evans stated strongly that content is still king, and many panelists agreed. “Content will still be king, not all the bells and whistles that comes with it”, said Kapoor, with Skok nodding in agreement. “Journalists should be great storytellers, no matter what,” Skok noted.
But where content is read is changing and will continue to evolve. Gupta from Polar Mobile says reading news on your smartphone should be the norm, if only media outlets invested more in implementing apps. “The growth in mobile users has blind-sided media companies. [Polar Mobile] has gone from one million to six million users,” he said.
Gupta also cited an intriguing statistic regarding content consumption, saying mobile users consume 100 pages of content per month on Time.com’s smartphone application compared to only 14 pages on Time.com’s website.
Evans countered Gupta’s statement, saying mobile isn’t yet catering to advertisers so its success as a news platform is still up in the air. Gupta responded by saying the mobile ad market is immature in Canada, so all we get now is that tiny banner ad across the screen. “The infrastructure needs to improve,” Gupta said.
Gupta also discussed how payment systems need to be simpler in the future in order for any kind of micropayment process to work effectively. He’s unsure when this will occur, but Gupta said he is certain news outlets would benefit from a more mature smartphone market.
Kapoor from the Globe & Mail responded by saying she sees print newspapers still appealing to news junkies; compelling content will continue to attract readers, it’s just a matter of complementing print stories with online add-ons, she said. Evans agreed, saying the growth of free dailies should demonstrate there is still demand for print.
When the talk turned to Facebook’s role in the media industry, Facebook Canada’s Sotto and Evans argued about the issue of the social network being a “walled garden.” Evans felt Facebook doesn’t offer a variety of ideas since people tend to read within an echo chamber. Sotto replied by saying you never know what you’ll find in your Facebook News Feed. He recalled clicking on links from a friend about country news in his feed, even though he never liked the music, “but I felt compelled to learn more about it.”
Kapoor noted the Globe & Mail enjoyed partnering with Facebook recently to bolster the Globe’s viewership. Sotto said the Globe saw an 81 percent increase in Facebook referral traffic when it implemented the Facebook “Like” button on the site.
Kapoor also said media outlets should get away from the idea of “we need to build everything ourselves.” She added, “The challenge is that news organizations shouldn’t be developing everything, they should be partnering. The online environment is a very different environment, and those skills aren’t always translated to traditional newsrooms.”
The panel also touched upon the issue of moderating comments. They wondered if online comments should be moderated in-house or outsourced. Evans believed this service should be outsourced because of cost, but some of the other panelists disagreed.
The panel was then asked about Twitter’s potential as a breaking-news source. Look at how the hostage crisis at the Discovery Channel building heaped praise on the micro-blogging service with headlines such as “Twitter breaks hostage story.” What happened to news outlets getting those scoops?
“Twitter is not a content creator,” Evans said. “It allows people to have conversations, to say what they want, but it’s not a news outlet. We have to remember that.”
Evans went on to say the difference between journalists and the public tweeting news they come across is storytelling. Laying out the facts and uncovering verifiable sources are skills media organizations still covet.
Speaking of skills, what talents should the next generation of journalists perfect in order to be attractive to news outlets? Kapoor said the Globe looks for journalists who can tell a good story and report effectively. She also said today’s journalists should also know more about SEO, analytics and knowing who the audience is, as well as social media and multimedia journalism.
“Be bold, experiment, that’s what we want to see,” Kapoor said.
Skok echoed her statement but stressed he would still like to see journalists hone the age-old skills of producing quality content. That said, Skok also supports using technology to tell stories in new ways. For example, Skok said his company gave every Global National reporter across Canada a new iPhone 4 with which to shoot video reports in addition to standard coverage.
When it comes to working at Facebook, Sotto likes to see risk-takers try new things. Some of their best ideas, such as photo tagging, came from all-night programming sessions when staff wanted to play around with brainstormed ideas, he said. Sotto also praised the University of Waterloo, where he said Facebook has discovered some of the best interns who went on to become employees.
After the panel discussion, the event moved to a Q&A where panelists took questions from the audience. One self-professed techie asked the panel what it thought about the future of radio and podcasts. Evans admitted he doesn’t listen to radio much, saying “podcasts are like the ugly orphan in the corner.”
Skok, on the other hand, thinks audio reports could be part of media’s future; during the G20 protests in Toronto, a Global reporter complemented her editorial with a voicemail add-on to a liveblog during a car fire. “She was terrified and you could hear it in her voice. It was the most compelling thing I have heard in years,” he said.
On Twitter, Digital Journal got a question via @annejoyce, who asked about social media’s popularity creating positions such as community managers at news outlets. Will these types of job openings continue to flourish or is it a passing fad?
Kapoor said the Globe isn’t consistent in how it handles this newly created position, considering how hazy the ROI has become in implementing a social media manager. It can also be difficult in measuring the success of someone involved in social media. “Do you base the qualification on traffic or Twitter mentions or something else?” she asked.
Evans answered Anne’s question bluntly. “Today, would you rather be a social media manager or a journalist? I’d go with social media, without a doubt.”
The Future of Media event was hosted by DigitalJournal.com and was sponsored by Suite 66, Queensway Audi and CNW Group. Prize sponsors included Rogers Wireless, Palm, Flip Video and Dell.