‘Content Shock’ Puts Top Publishers at an Advantage


The titanic eruption of web-based content has reached overload, and a consequent drop in reader engagement. The good news? In this new world of content saturation and falling social shares, the big winners are publishers that have built a strong reputation for original, authoritative content.

In a world where 40,000 articles a week covering Bitcoin were published online in December 2017 alone, the coining of the phrase “content shock” should come as no surprise.

The Content Trends 2018 research report from Buzzsumo, released in March, is based on a review of 100 million articles published on the web in 2017.

The results are sure to send the digital marketing world into a tailspin:

  • Social sharing of content has halved since 2015.
  • The days of viral posts gaining hundreds of thousands of shares are waning as the majority of content now receives zero backlinks.
  • New topic areas are rapidly becoming saturated with content.

The winners in the world wide web of ‘content shock’

In his foreword to the report, Mark Schaefer, author of The Content Code, claims credit for naming this “content shock” back in 2014. He had once seemed a lone voice in the wilderness —until now.

While there’s a battleground ahead for digital marketers and companies that invest heavily in content marketing, there’s also positive news for quality publishers. They are the ones reaping the rewards of an increasingly saturated and competitive online environment.

“Not all sites have seen a fall in content engagement,” reads the report. “We have seen some major publishers increase both their total and average shares.”

Two such sites bucking the downward trend are the Harvard Business Review and The Economist, both of which have experienced an increase in content sharing.

In fact, seven of the top 10 most shared articles on Harvard Business Review over the last five years were published in 2017. The average number of shares has also increased from 4,007 in 2015/16 to 4,506 in 2017.

Similarly, the two most shared posts from The Economist over the last five years were both published in 2017. For comparison, the median number of shares for posts published by The Economist in 2015 and 2016 was 43. However, in 2017 such social shares increased to 78.

It appears that increased content competition has not adversely affected these sites. Paradoxically, it may have helped them reinforce their position in a world of content saturation.

“If you are going to share something with your audience you want to make sure it is well researched and authoritative from a trusted source, thus it is possible people are more selective with their sharing,” states the report.

Profiting from partisanship and LinkedIn shares

Another long-standing publisher sticking out from the crowd is The New York Times., According to the Buzzsumo report, rising engagement with its content may largely be due to political reporting coupled with the trend of rising shares for partisan political content generally since 2015.

After Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm in 2017, most online publications saw a massive drop in social shares. However, The New York Times again sidestepped some hardship by gaining shares on a different platform.

According to the report: “We have also seen major publishers like The New York Times increase their LinkedIn shares, albeit this is still a small proportion of their overall shares. LinkedIn may represent a better opportunity for business to business [B2B] sites. Many businesses were building their presence on Facebook but the recent algorithm changes could prompt a renewed focus on LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn recently told Digiday that comments, likes, and shares on the platform are up more than 60% year over year. The Buzzsumo data also shows that while social engagement with content is falling on Facebook and Twitter, many B2B publishers, including Forbes.com and BusinessInsider.com, are seeing increases in social sharing on LinkedIn.

The trend with backlinks is also positive for quality news publishers. Overall, the median number of backlinks in Buzzsumo’s sample of 100 million posts published in 2017 was zero. However, the report found that backlinks were gained consistently by authoritative sites. For instance, the report states that for sites such as the Pew Research Center, the median number of backlinks per article was higher in 2017 than in previous years.

Good news for the future of online news?

To borrow from the financial lexicon, it appears we are witnessing a market correction in response to an oversupply of lower-quality content and overused formats like clickbait that have peaked and declined.

Reassuringly for news publishers, however, there is clearly rising demand for high-quality, well-researched, and reputable content. For publishers with an established track record of authority in specific topics, they seem poised to gain the most from this climate of “content shock.” Fledgling and lower-quality publications will want to focus on delivering top-notch content rather than resorting to gimmicky publishing tactics that have long-frustrated audiences.

In the end, the Buzzsumo report’s bleak look at social engagement in 2017 offers a glimmer of hope for the future of news online. Quality, not quantity will be rewarded, likely leading to a more productive competitive model that ultimately gives news consumers a better and more valued final product.

Image sources: Buzzsumo

Predicting the Media Landscape: What Lies Ahead for 2018


In an era of “fake news” is journalism at last fighting back? Taking a look back at 2017 it would appear so. Indeed, it would seem that the shocks to the media industry over the past few years are helping many organizations focus once again on quality news and investigations–in part to distinguish themselves from the mass of other, often dubious, information online.

2017 proved to be a vintage year full of reporting that made a real difference–from the The New York Times exposé on Harvey Weinstein to the ProPublica investigations of Facebook, and the Paradise Papers investigations. In terms of revenue, however, it was a mixed year that saw stronger titles pulling ahead while others faltered. The shift to reader revenue is well underway, but will not work for everyone. So what lies ahead for journalism and the media in 2018?

The report Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2018, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism with the support of Google’s Digital News Initiative, holds some clues. Based on survey responses from 194 digital leaders from 29 countries, it lays out the challenges and opportunities expected for the news industry in the year ahead.

The battle with the platforms

Concerns expressed by the respondents include increasing worry about the power and influence of platforms, especially Facebook and Snapchat. However, many publishers blamed themselves for their ongoing difficulties, citing internal factors such as resistance to change and inability to innovate.

The survey makes clear that many publishers still feel that platform companies, Facebook in particular, need to do much more to face up to their wider responsibilities. Advertisers are demanding greater transparency over measurement and for more protection for their brands. Politicians, regulators and ordinary users will be adding to that pressure. Something significant is likely to give in 2018.

According to respondents, we should also expect more news organizations to pull out of deals with Facebook, Apple, and Snapchat as they realize they are not delivering sufficient financial return.

The report also predicts that the platforms will be forced to employ armies of human internet moderators.

More focus on subscribers and personalization

Almost half the publishers surveyed see subscriptions as a very important source of revenue in 2018, more so than digital display advertising and branded and sponsored content.

To attract more subscribers, publishers say they’ll focus on podcasts and look at developing content for voice-activated-speakers. Almost three-quarters plan to actively experiment with artificial intelligence (AI) to support better content recommendations and drive greater production efficiency.

Media companies, it appears, will be actively moving customers from the “anonymous to the known,” so they can develop more loyal relationships and prepare for an era of more personalized service. Quoted in the report, Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times, said: “AI/intelligent assistants solving for the consumer needs across devices, environments and media is the big tech story of the year.”

The rise and rise of artificial intelligence

The report also highlighted developments to watch in this space:

  • Computer-driven recommendations
    One of the most likely uses of AI by news publishers will be in driving better content recommendations on websites, via apps, or through push-notifications. A new recommendation service called James, currently being developed by The Times and Sunday Times for News UK, aims to learn about individual preferences and automatically personalize each edition in terms of format, time and frequency.
  • Assistants for journalists
    Get ready for AI bots that can manage journalists’ diaries, organize meetings, and respond to their emails. Already, Replika is an AI assistant that, with a bit of training, can pick up your moods, preferences, and mannerisms until it starts to sound like you and think like you when writing text. In the future, it may be able to mimic your style of posts on Twitter and Facebook and take care of your social media while you’re asleep.
  • Automated and semi-automated fact-checking
    AI will also assist journalists with fact-checking political claims in real time, possibly even while conducting a live radio or TV interview.
  • Commercial optimization
    The use of algorithms to recognize patterns in data and make predictions (machine learning) is already being used to drive commercial decisions. AI-driven paywalls will be able to identify likely subscribers and, based on previous behavior, serve up the offer (and wording) most likely to persuade them to subscribe. Another use will be to create more personalized advertisements.
  • Intelligent automation of workflows
    News organizations know they have to do more with less, without leading to journalist burn out. In the survey, 91% of respondents cited production efficiency as a “very important” or “quite important” priority this year. Intelligent automation (IA) is one way to achieve this. As examples, the Press Association in the UK has been working with Urbs media to deliver hundreds of semi-automated stories for local newspaper clients, while an automated news rewriting programme called Dreamwriter is already creating around 2500 pieces of news on finance, technology, and sports daily.
  • New audio platforms
    Meanwhile, new devices and technologies are set to change consumer behavior, especially the rapid adoption of voice-enabled smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Media companies polled in the leaders’ survey said they would be investing more this year in audio-based media such as podcasts and shorter form content experiments that are native to the new platforms.

Facing an uncertain future

The report concludes with the inevitable—that the future looks uncertain. “There is no sense that the technology revolution is slowing down. If anything, it seems as if we are at the beginning of a new phase of disruption. The era of artificial intelligence will bring new opportunities for creativity and for efficiency—but also for greater misinformation and manipulation.

“Ironically, publishers know that in many ways they need to behave more like Silicon Valley tech companies, even as they try to wrest back a measure of control around distribution and strategy. That means taking risks, breaking down hierarchies and delivering higher quality products and services that audiences love. In doing this, the smartest companies will be combining data and algorithms with great content as they seek to rebuild both trust and their businesses.”

The Future of Associations: vision, capabilities and leadership for a changing world


Last month I gave the keynote at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Annual Board of Directors Strategic Retreat held in Panama City, Panama, on The Future of Associations.

IEEE is an august institution with over 400,000 members and an enormous impact on the technology industry globally, publishing over 170 top-rated journals, running 1800 conferences a year, and managing over 1000 standards, including WiFi.

All associations globally have been impacted by technological, social and structural shifts. IEEE’s board is on the front foot in understanding and addressing these issues, inviting me to speak on these changes and the emerging opportunities to help frame the discussions over their two-day strategic retreat.

A video of the full keynote has kindly been provided by IEEE.tv here.

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Vectors of Disruption: a framework to clarify the key forces of change


Yesterday I gave a briefing on Technology Trends and the Future of Work to a group of Non Executive Directors of major corporations, organized by a large professional services firm for its clients.

The group was the first to get a run-through of my new concept framework Vectors of Disruption, shown below, which I used to introduce and frame the rest of my presentation.

Click on the image for the full-size pdf
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Key Strategies for Building Successful Audience Revenue and Engagement Programs: Report


Digital media publications struggled in 2017. The Facebook-Google Duopoly continued to rake in the lion’s share of advertising dollars. The much-hyped “pivot to video” strategy flopped as ads proved difficult to sell. While several online news companies fell short of their revenue targets, former media darling Mashable was sold for a fifth of the $250 million valuation it received the previous year.

It’s time to revisit revenue approaches once again. To help The Tow Center for Digital Journalism recently released the report “Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement,” after carrying out hundreds of interviews with people involved with news sites, including their creation, operation, and consumption.

The 105-page report reveals these findings along with strategies that focus on how media organizations and entrepreneurs can develop revenue programs based on strengthening interactions with audiences.

The report’s main findings:

  • Digital news publications depend on a combination of revenue strategies, not simply direct revenue from audiences. They include advertising, affiliate programs, syndicated articles, funding from foundations, corporate underwriting, books sales, and merchandise. In some cases, such approaches take the place entirely of direct audience revenue programs.
  • Subscription strategies work well for publications that offer highly differentiated reporting as well as those with institutional audiences for which employers will pay for the work-related content.
  • A significant hurdle to building a lasting membership program is discovering interactions that benefit both the publication and the members.
  • Members want to join programs to become part of a bigger cause or something unique that the publication represents. They aren’t interested in branded merchandise or local discounts.
  • To attract members, news organizations must publish compelling “who we are” stories that reflect its mission and give readers a sense of its importance in the community.
  • The degree of editorial engagement a publication has with its members can have a significant impact on a revenue program’s sustainability.
  • Treat your approach to turning people into members as a stage in a conversion funnel: research, expose and attract, engage and deepen, convert and sustain.
  • Face-to-face interactions, newsletters, digital product design, and your particular brand of journalism are critical factors in strengthening audience engagement. Use data to influence how you target those in your audience.
  • Culture change is hugely important in developing news organizations that are audience and membership driven. Strong leadership is necessary to ensure and sustain two-way engagement between the publication and the audience.

Read the full report here.

Decline of News-on-paper: United States


Mapping the decline of news-on-paper

[Latest update: December 15, 2017]
The Newspaper Extinction Timeline, released in 2010, predicted that news-on-paper would become “insignificant” in the U.S. Read the Review of the Newspaper Extinction Timelinefor full context.

This page compiles some of the most recent available data on the state of news-on-paper in the U.S. Note that there are massive challenges to gaining an accurate current view of the state of news-on-paper.

  • The Newspaper Association of America (now renamed News Media Alliance) stopped providing detailed industry information in 2013.
  • Publicly listed news organizations have been largely very opaque in providing details on their print revenue and circulation.
  • Almost all so-called “newspaper circulation” figures available include both paper and digital formats. Most of the data below includes both paper and digital so does not provide real insight into the state of news-on-paper.

However the most important issue is NOT the decline of news-on-paper, but from the position we are in today how we can best create a positive future for the news industry over all channels.

More than a 1/3 of paid daily newspaper circulation has disappeared over 10 years

At the turn of the century, newspaper circulation in the United States rested at a relatively stable level of approximately 55 million copies a year. Nevertheless, ever since peaking in the late 1980s—hitting 62.82 million in 1987—the circulation of paid daily newspapers has consistently declined.

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & PublisherAlliance for Audited MediaPew Research Center  Chart source: statista

The pace of decline accelerated in 2004 (54.63 million), but not precipitously, resulting in a drop of more than 36% by 2016 (34.66 million). According to the last ten years of recorded data (2006-2016) supplied in the chart above, paid daily newspaper circulation sunk 34%.  

To take a closer look at the yearly circulation numbers, statista provides an interactive version of the chart above as well as multiple options for downloading the information.

2016 circulation for both Weekday and Sunday editions has plunged to the lowest figures since 1945

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & Publisher (through 2014); estimation based on Pew Research Centeranalysis of Alliance for Audited Media data (2015-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center offers deeper insight into the decline of newspapers in the United States, providing separate circulation data for Weekday and Sunday daily newspapers. The center’s analysis shows that in 2016 both hit their lowest levels since 1945, with circulation figures of 35 million and 38 million respectively.

Advertising revenue dropped nearly two-thirds between 2005 and 2016, while circulation revenue rose slightly

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: News Media Alliance, formerly Newspaper Association of America, (through 2012); Pew Research Center analysis of year-end SEC filings of publicly traded newspaper companies (2013-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center also analyzed advertising and circulation revenue for U.S. newspapers over a 60-year period starting in 1956. Although circulation earnings have gradually increased, total advertising revenue fell significantly between 2005 and 2016. During these 11 years, total advertising revenue for the industry plummeted by nearly two-thirds, decreasing from $49 billion to $18 billion. The bulk of advertising revenue still comes from print, compromising approximately 80% in 2011 and dropping to close to 70% in 2016.

We recommend the valuable Pew Reseach Center website on Journalism & Media, which is compiled from a variety of industry resources.

Print became the least popular news source in 2014, continuing to fall through 2017 down to 22% weekly consumption

Data and chart source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

From 2013 to 2017, the number of people who read print newspapers decreased by almost one-fifth. As the medium dropped out of favor, social media as a news source enjoyed a steady climb, with consumption growing by about 6% each year.

Each year since 2012, the Reuters Institute in partnership with the University of Oxford has released a digital news report offering insights into the transition to online news and its effect on the media landscape. Although the first report covered just five countries, the latest included survey data from 70,000 participants across 36 countries.

For people wanting to delve deeper and compare data between and within countries, we strongly recommend reading the latest report and using the interactive feature to create your own charts.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are uniquely positioned to monetize print but its role is rapidly declining

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are distinct from other newspapers in the U.S. in that they are truly national and in fact arguably global “newspapers of record”. All three have made a concerted and successful shift to digital subscriptions and advertising. However, their role means that the role of print in their business models continues to be solid.

These uniquely successful news organizations recognize that they may not continue indefinitely on print. New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson says in an interesting interview in Nieman Lab on when to stop the presses forever:

“The print product is a mature platform. It is, as you say, an economically important platform to us. It’s possible that platform will plateau. I think it’s more likely that the platform will eventually go away. It’ll go away because the economics will no longer make sense to us or our customers.”

Weekly community newspapers are severely challenged but are likely to have further life

There remain many newspapers across the US, primarily weekly, with small circulations but advertising revenues that are sometimes not eroding as fast as larger newspapers due to their highly geographically focused audiences and unique content.

Data source: Editor & Publisher, American Press Institute, Columbia Journalism Review

An excellent report from Columbia Journalism Review’s Tow Center on Small-market newspapers in the digital age provides strong insights into the state of the sector and some of the ways community newspapers are successful responding to change.

Since September 2005, employment in the U.S. newspaper industry has dropped by more than half

Note: Shaded areas represent recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Data and chart source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

U.S. Newspaper employment:
January 1990: 455,000 (62% decline since this date)
January 2010: 260,800 (33% decline since this date)
September 2016: 173,700

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides the above chart in an interactive format. Users can explore the data further by hovering their cursors over the lines representing the different information industries or by clicking on the “Chart Data” tab to view it in a table format.

NOTE: “Newspaper employment” includes staff working on both print and digital editions, a fraction of these figures work

Four Scenarios to Guide Pathways to a Prosperous Future for the News Industry


The higher the degree of uncertainty, the greater the value of using scenarios.

One of the deepest uncertainties today is the future shape of the news industry, which certainly faces deep challenges from both producer and consumer perspectives.

However it is feasible that the news industry can find its way to both strength both financially and in terms of social contribution.

This publication is framed around how we can create a positive future for news. Generating some simple scenarios on different possible high-level outcomes for the industry can help industry participants to consider both what they believe is most likely, and what they believe is possible.

Two of the key uncertainties in the future of news are:

  • The quality of news; and
  • The prosperity of the news industry.

Mapping these two variables gives us four quadrants as shown below.

Exploring these high-level scenarios allows us to examine our beliefs on what is likely or possible in the future of news. I will lay out what I see as possible across these quadrants.

You may have different opinions; in fact the true value of these scenarios is in helping to consider what you see is likely or possible in the future of news.

Distributed news

High news quality | Low industry prosperity

It is certainly plausible that we move to a world in which individuals have access to high-quality news but news organizations do not prosper. This would almost certainly be significantly based on crowdsourcing and the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Crowdsourcing is not just user-generated content. In a workshop on Crowdsourcing for Media I ran in New York I identified 12 applications of crowdsourcing to news, including investigation, data gathering, fact checking, copyediting, and metadata tagging. It is also important to note that crowdsourcing is not always unpaid, as many in the media seem to think. It is participation by many people, sometimes experts, to achieve superior or more efficient results.

Blockchain could prove to be an excellent platform for getting and rewarding participation. The startup Civil provides an intriguing example of how this may work, particularly in supporting talented individual journalists.

AI is of course already being used to support journalists in structured reporting such as on financial reports and sports results. While there is significant uncertainty how fast this will progress, it is highly feasible that experienced journalists supported by AI will be able to focus their capabilities on the domains where deep investigation and insights are needed.

There are a variety of other ways this scenario could come to pass, including technological and structural mechanisms that could see efficient news delivery.

Agenda-driven news

Low news quality | High industry prosperity

On the face of it this scenario is highly unlikely, potentially implausible. Surely if the news industry is prosperous it will have sufficient resources to generate high-quality news?

This is certainly likely. However, there is the possibility that news organizations become primarily driven by specific political or social agendas, thus leading to an impoverished news landscape. It appears this trend is already developing. This could be accentuated if audiences continue to be polarized by political stance, requiring news organizations to make choices on their coverage.

Another situation that could lead to this scenario is that the companies that are reaping the most rewards from the news landscape are failing to invest in quality news, even though that could support their profitability.

News implosion

Low quality news | Low industry prosperity

This is the great fear of the last decade and more, that the rapid erosion of financial resources at news organizations leads to decreasing news quality and in turn to reducing audiences and revenue in a particularly vicious cycle. It is easy to point to the demise of many news organizations and deteriorating quality at many others as headcounts and budgets have been sliced.

This is indeed a plausible scenario, which many people seem to be taking almost as a given. However, any solid futures methodology examines the responses to trends. Responses to this scenario developing include the concerted efforts by many to drive higher quality news through technological solutions, philanthropy, crowdfunding, and other approaches.

Increasing industry prosperity could come on the other side of a dark valley in which many existing structures for news creation are lost, allowing a fresh start for new and more contemporary business models unencumbered by legacy cost structures and audience positioning.

News-powered progress

High quality news | High industry prosperity

In this world a virtuous cycle of high-quality news feeds industry prosperity and the ability to improve the news landscape to one that is substantially better than we have ever had before. Hopefully, but not necessarily, this would help create a better-informed, more proactive society that shapes a more positive future for humanity in fraught times.

This would likely to be supported by new technologies, broader distribution, high audience engagement, and broad participation in news creation to support the work of news professionals.

However there are potentially many paths and scenarios, all quite different in their detail, that could lead to this quadrant being realized.

Starting with the belief that a positive future of news is possible

The intent of my work on creating the future of news is to explore the potential paths to a world of higher quality news and higher industry prosperity. This will undoubtedly be better than one in which the industry doesn’t prosper, not least in supporting the highest possible quality of news.

The first step to creating a positive future of news is to believe it is possible. It cannot be done without that belief. That doesn’t mean that it will be inevitable or even that it will be easy, simply that it is conceivable.

From that belief we can explore how we might get there, and as an industry and society take the actions most likely to create it.

Can The Trust Project’s Plan to Win Back Audiences Work?


The news industry is dealing with some serious trust issues. Yet even as confidence in the global media sinks to an all-time low, hopes for regaining it are far from lost.

The Trust Project, comprised of a consortium of news organizations and tech platforms, have a plan to win back audiences by sharing more information behind the creation of news stories online.

Staging a comeback

Led and created by Sally Lehrman, the senior director of journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, The Trust Project began growing roots in 2015 and officially launched in November 2017.

First on the agenda was to determine what consumers value in news and what makes them trust it.

Over two years, researchers conducted dozens of interviews across Europe and the United States to get the information they wanted. Then with collaborators from more than 75 new organizations, the initiative devised a set of digital standards meant to increase accountability and transparency.

They agreed on eight core “Trust Indicators” to roll out to help identify and surface high-quality journalism:

Best Practices: What are your standards? Who funds the news outlet? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.

Author/Reporter Expertise: Who made this? Details about the journalist, including their expertise and other stories they have worked on.

Type of Work: What is this? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.

Citations and References: For investigative or in-depth stories, access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.

Methods: Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a story and how they went about the process.

Locally Sourced? Lets you know when the story has local origin or expertise. Was the reporting done on the scene, with deep knowledge about the local situation or community?

Diverse Voices: A newsroom’s efforts and commitment to bringing in diverse perspectives. Readers noticed when certain voices, ethnicities, or political persuasions were missing.

Actionable Feedback: A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas. Readers want to participate and provide feedback that might alter or expand a story.

To see an early example of the Trust Indicators applied to a news story, view this mockup.

Notably, The Trust Project’s scope extends beyond online news sites. Through partnerships with tech giants like Facebook and Google, the goal is to send such platforms machine-readable signals they can incorporate into what articles they display and how.

The following video shows how Facebook plans to display the indicators on articles in its News Feed:

Will it work?

The Trust Project’s goal to restore confidence in the news media, while cutting through misinformation and fake news, is commendable. Pairing abysmal trust scores with publishers’ rocky transition to digital (if they have survived long enough to get that far), many online news outlets are sitting in precarious positions. Implementing strategies that could both bring them more traffic and rebuild their public credibility would be like killing two very threatening birds with one stone.

However, at this point incorporating the eight core indicators may translate into little more than a well-meaning gesture.

According to Laura Hazard Owen of Nieman Lab, the first publishers that will display the Trust Indicators alongside its content will include:

  • From the US: The Washington Post, Mic, and The Independent Journal Review
  • From the UK: The Economist and Trinity Mirror (national papers include Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, and Daily Record)
  • From Canada: The Globe and Mail
  • From Germany: The German Press Agency dpa
  • From Italy: La Repubblica and La Stampa

The leanings of the majority of the above publications are left or center-left, excluding The Independent Journal Review, The Economist, and German Press Agency.

To complicate matters further, in countries such as the US and UK, which The 2017 Digital News Report shows have both polarized political and media climates, consumers are more likely to trust news sources that correspond to their own political leanings. This is true even though consumers in both countries show low trust levels in news outlets overall.

It is then questionable whether adding more context behind the creation of a Washington Post article would make it appear more credible to a right-wing conservative. Nevertheless, perhaps the widespread adoption of the Trust Indicators across diverse online publications could make audiences with different political views more open to reading articles from publishers they would normally avoid.

Uncertain future for tech partnerships

Tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Bing are already onboard with The Trust Project. In an article in The Atlantic published in May, Lehrman said:

“We’re already working with these four companies, all of which have said they want to use our indicators to prioritize honest, well-reported news over fakery and falsehood.”

How these collaborations will affect search engine results and social news feeds is not yet clear. Again, Owen notes that there have been no public promises from the platforms regarding whether their algorithms will give preference to publishers using the Trust Indicators.

As the small group of first wave of publishers roll them out, favoring The Trust Project collaborators could also be criticized as an unfair advantage. Small and independent publishers won’t be given the opportunity to join in the foreseeable future, which could significantly harm traffic flow from social media and search engines. However, this outcome rests on the assumption that technology platforms will, in fact, give preference to the Trust Indicators.

In the end, what’s most important about the project is the intent not only to create a standardized method to assess trustworthiness, but that this will eventually help raise the quality of online journalism overall.

Restoring public confidence in the media will be no simple task that one initiative will likely be able to tackle on its own. As The Trust Project launches and new reports and statistics on poor trust levels continue to emerge, the global media certainly has its work cut out for itself. It’s time, more than ever, to keenly monitor the impact of such strategies and keep dialogue open on how they can be improved, refined, and built upon.

A practical strategy framework to drive useful action and high performance


Last week I ran a three-day strategy workshop in Dubai for a group of senior executives who are marked as the next generation of leaders in a global professional services firm.

The heart of the workshop used scenario thinking to broaden their perspectives on change and strategic opportunity in their industry. We also wanted to provide a useful framework for the executives to develop and implement effective strategies for their respective country operations.

I was not able to find any strategy frameworks that were sufficiently relevant and pragmatic, so created a summary framework designed to be useful to any executives or entrepreneurs who need to develop practical, actionable strategies. I distilled the approaches and frames I have been successfully using for facilitating strategy development over the years with many executive groups, bringing it together into a succinct 6-step guide.

See below the diagram for a detailed explanation of the framework.

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Record-Low Trust Levels Show Global Media Needs to Win Back Audience Confidence


Public confidence in news media has steadily declined in recent years. In fact, according to a poll conducted by communications marketing firm Edelman, it’s hit an all-time low in 17 countries.

The media is not the only institution dealing with trust issues. The Edelman firm has dubbed 2017 the year of “Trust in Crisis,” as faith in business, government, and NGOs has also plummeted.

Trust in media

Survey findings show that the media is distrusted in 82% of the 28 countries polled. The study, conducted in the last quarter of 2016, surveyed more than 33,000 respondents.

In most countries, trust levels decreased from the previous year, with particularly dramatic drops in the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and Mexico. Trust levels in other countries also fell significantly, with decreases of 10% in Canada, Australia, Ireland, and Colombia.

The country that fared the worst was Turkey, where trust levels came in at a dismal 25%. Russia didn’t do much better, falling to 31%, but nor did the UK at 32%. For comparison, the US sat at 47%, unchanged from the previous year, while news outlets in China, India, and Indonesia maintained high levels of public confidence, despite an 8% drop for China.

Trust levels also varied by media source. People expressed more confidence in search engines and traditional media than in owned media or social media. In fact, 64% reported high trust levels in search engines. Since 2012, confidence in search engines has increased, while faith in both traditional media and social media has gradually declined.

The Edelman report identifies a more general fear that the system is failing as part of growing skepticism toward the media. Media echo chambers, which reinforce rather than challenge existing fears and opinions, exacerbate this distrust.


The paradox of social media

When we look at other polls, the picture becomes even more complex.

A lot has changed over the last decade, including the media landscape itself. One of the most obvious changes is how people access news. According to Pew Research Center, about nine out of ten Americans get some of their news online, most with mobile devices. This is a significant increase since 2007 when only two-thirds of respondents reported accessing online news.

As the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 shows, this is a global trend. The report highlights findings from a YouGov survey of more than 70,000 people across 36 countries. Results show that among 18- to 24-year-olds, 64% use online media as their main source of news. Older groups are less likely to do so, but numbers hover around the 50% mark for audiences between ages 25 and 44.

Another dramatic shakeup stems from the diversification of news sources. The Digital News Report also revealed that a third of those in 18 to 24 age bracket now rely on social media as their main news source, and 21% of those aged 25 to 34.

But although people are increasingly dependent on social media for news, they’re also extremely wary. The survey found that just one-quarter of respondents thought social media did a good job of separating fact from fiction. That’s even worse than trust rates in news media, polled at 40%.

This is what we might call the paradox of social media. It makes news pervasive and people depend on it more, but they also have low confidence in it. This is a curious fact. Shouldn’t traditional media look better in comparison and earn a higher trust level as a result? As the Digital News Report speculates, skepticism toward online sources may have spilled over into the public’s confidence in traditional media outlets.

If true, the news isn’t all bad. It means there’s hope for media outlets that promote a clear distinction between the jumble of real and fake news that appears on social media and traditional professional publications.

Political polarization

The Digital News Report also revealed a correlation between distrust and political polarization. Its findings differed from Edelman’s, showing South Korea rather than Turkey at the bottom of the confidence scale, with only 23% of respondents expressing trust in the media. The US also did worse, hitting only 38%, while Turkey received a marginally higher trust level at 40%.

But at the same time, over half of respondents in the US expressed trust in the sources they relied on for news. In other words, they had low confidence in the media in general, but relatively high trust in their preferred news sources.

This points to an interesting trend in the data. In countries with news outlets distributed across a broader, more extreme political spectrum, public confidence in the media is low. It’s higher in countries like Germany, where most news outlets huddle around the middle of the spectrum.

In polarized political climates, the media tends to become polarized as well, reinforcing the views of their main readership while pushing others to the margins. This can be exacerbated by media consolidation and worsened by the echo chamber of news on social media, which tends to show users news that confirms their existing opinions.

The only way to break this echo chamber is by including diverse political viewpoints and considering counterarguments in fair and accurate ways.

The good news

Is there hope that the relationship between the public and the media can be restored?

The good news is that there are bumps in the downward spiral of public confidence in news media. Although the general trend is negative, trust levels have sometimes shown marginal improvement year to year—indicating the situation can be turned around.

Without public trust, there is no news, just private opinions and political propaganda. In the babble of voices online, it’s difficult to walk the line between conforming to new trends and maintaining a distinct and professional identity. But now more than ever, in this extremely politically charged climate, it’s vital that media outlets improve how the public perceives them, and regain public confidence in the news.