Full keynote: Creating the Future of News – INMA World Congress – New York

Below is a video of Ross Dawson’s opening keynote at International News & Media Association World Congress in New York on Creating the Future of News.

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We live in extraordinary times, and that’s being driven by the extraordinary acceleration of information over the last years. Now, in that world, the pace of change means that news is exceptionally important for the future of individuals, for the future of companies, for the future of humanity. News is the most important issue for all of us – the quality of news moving forward. So, it is our role and our responsibility to create an extraordinary future for the news industry. So, as I just heard and as many of you already know, I’m probably best known to you through the Newspaper Extinction Timeline, which I created five years ago. Now, I think this got a lot of attention, but it was also significantly misunderstood. I just want to make a few quick points about it.

First of all, this is one of the only predictions that I have made. As a futurist, in fact, I believe that predictions are often not worthwhile, because nobody knows the future. The future is unpredictable, yet the reason why I did make these predictions was to provoke, to be able to wake people up, hopefully, who are perhaps at the time not focusing on a timeline or the directions for print. And one of the potential responses to this thing is to say, “I disagree,” and that’s absolutely right. But if I provoke people to think why they disagree with these numbers, then I’ve served my purpose. And the intention of this is not to be right. Neither time I made what I thought were the best forecasts which I could make, not expecting them to be right, to be able to put them out there. This was made four-and-a-half years ago. Later this year, I’ll hope to revise them. In my travels around the world, I think the conclusions are as, “Yes, probably, 2017 is a little aggressive for US, 2019 for UK, but I wouldn’t put it much further than that,” because so many of the negative cycles around news on paper will build on themselves. Yet, where I’ve visited, countries like Russia and Indonesia and Colombia and so on, what I’m seeing is the vast acceleration where I think that news on paper disappearing will happen far faster. Now, the point as well, this is about news on paper, and I think the dynamics of that are not right, but the point is about the news overall. The future is extraordinarily bright, particularly when you recognize that.

Now, James Carse told us, “The finite players play within boundaries. Infinite players play with boundaries.” And that is what all of us must do, to be able to think beyond the boundaries of newspapers. Newspaper, in this legacy. News is more the domain, to be able to think beyond even digital – that is a box. Mobile is a box. Journalism is a box and these boundaries. What we need to do is to be able to think, what is the broadest possible scope beyond which we can explore? So, what I want to do quickly this morning is look, first of all, at the drivers which are shaping this world. Create just a snapshot of a vision of what we are moving towards. Look at value – where value resides in news. The flow of news and how that is created, distribution of news, revenue, a particularly important topic, of course, for the future of the industry. And finally the leadership that is required to be able to create an exceptional future for news.

So, I begin with drivers and I move through very rapidly, because I know that you are extremely familiar with this. First is explosion of information, more information than ever before growing at an extraordinary pace. But at the same time, we have discovered and we continue to discover that humans have an insatiable appetite for news and media, and now will continue to grow. This, in fact, shows 15.5 hours per day spent on media, because we have multiple channels. A decade ago, I predicted that we would be moving towards having more hours in a day spent on media. We are already getting to that. We have rising expectations, not least for the timeliness of news. News on paper, one of the flaws is that it is out of date by the time you get it. People expect news to be instantaneous, on the moment. We are participating in media. We’re not just recipients of media. And this shows some of the more recent trends where Argentina, those on social media spend 4.3 hours per day on social media, rather more than they spend reading, accessing news. Argentina, Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, UAE, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, all spending more time on social media than those in the United States. Of course, as we know, news is mobile. In the next five years, three billion more people will have access to smartphones and Internet in their pockets.

If we look at the vision of where this could go, because this is an important exercise for us as an industry, but also for organizations to be able to envision. What is possible? What could we see? What is it that is compelling that we want to move towards? One of the first frames is that this idea of the media economy. We have moved. A century ago, we had agricultural economies moving to manufacturing economies. We’re now seeing this virtualization of economies to where we’re seeing the value is in the ethereal. Values and services moving forward to where I believe where we’re seeing all of the growth in the economy as weightless. An essentially, we’re seeing a world where media in the broadest possible sense is where all of the growth in the economy globally is coming from. So, in this media economy, organizations, every organization is a media organization, whether it’s a mining company or a bank, they thrive on media, on the flow of news, on the flow of information. That is what these organizations do, and they in order to prosper as organizations, they need the skills and capabilities that you have. So, this is not just about what we print and sell on papers. These are the capabilities that you have are the ones that will drive the future of the economy globally. We have infinite news. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Isn’t it odd that all of the news that happens in the world each day just happens to fit in the newspaper?” And in fact, of course, that’s not true. That’s never been true. And now we have access, and we have infinite news. Everything that happens. What happened on the way, walking here from the hotel, that is news. All of these things around you, from the major to the mundane. We have an infinite amount of news, and that is there to be reported, and to be made available to people in ways that are useful to them.

There is, of course, and I think this is a critical aspect – and I don’t think anybody here neglects that – it’s the extraordinary social value of news. But associated with that is the industry value of news, and where the focus need to reside is, how does that social value feed to revenue sources, feed to industry value? And, of course, the prosperity of the industry is what flows through to the social value. So, in our vision, we are looking for a potential world in describing, seeing where we can see this extraordinary social value being provided by the news that is relevant to every individual, to every organization, being available to them, and the industry being able to prosper from that. And part of that vision, of course, is those that there are successful transitions from the organizations that have served us in the past in building with news, to the organizations of the future being able to create that. And there’s once we can understand and place that as a vision. That helps us to come back and to think, “Well, what is the path from here in order to be able to create that future?”

So, value, if we look at this, what I described as this post-channel media world, where we move beyond individual channels in media. I’ve created a framework after I created the Newspaper Extinction Timeline, I created a NewsScape which identified where some of these sources of value are. I’d like just to run quickly through this. Now this is actually a 3-D web visualization. One of my organizations are taking this and put this on a web browser. And in this solar system, you can see it, the center are the interfaces, and there are existing interfaces to be able to access this world of news including paper, including TV, as well as a number of new interfaces. We’ll come back and look at those little more later. So, in this system, there are eight domains. I’ll just say a couple of words around each of these eight spaces. In terms of timeliness, where the value of timeliness is becoming ever more important. And this requires being able to access, not just direct reporting but those from beyond, and be able to make sure that that is actionable data through indeed the validation and verification of that data. Now, news need to be not just the rehashing of things – which we’ve seen so much on the web – but being original, being able to uncover investigative sources of information. We have insight, and this is a classic journalistic capability, to be able to see, provide context, provide analysis, provide the synthesis of information, and be able to come together. So, these capabilities, extraordinarily valuable, will continue to be before.

What we’re seeing is the rising of design, of the aesthetics of news and information, where we can have the ease of use, being able to visualize that, indeed having tangibility, which is one of the values which we have from paper. Reputation is valuable because it provides a validation that this is a source of information that can be trusted. You don’t need to be able to go through and crosscheck and validate that, that is, it provides value and news information. Community is important, because it provides identity, it can actually help curate, and also brands us between reputation and community. There’s people who come together to be able to recognize the reputation of an organization. In extracting the information, we do need to be able to filter that, to what is relevant to an individual or organization, and part of that is providing the aggregation – being able to bring that information together to one source. And finally the relevance, be that in local, be that relevant to be individual, being able to have those happy accents where you can link those resources to where they can be applied.

So, just taking a quick skim through these eight domains of the NewsScape. These eight sources of value on this post-channel media world, and we’ll come back and reference some of these as we move a bit further forward.

But the critical thing I point to is that the value is no longer just created by organizations, it’s created across ecosystems. This is back from my work from 15 years ago, describing as well that in a connected world, value is no longer created by organizations, value is created across ecosystems, and then news take part of that value from yourself. And we’ve seen that. Just one example is a piano media in Slovakia, which has brought together competitors to be able to create value for the new system, to be able to single force of aggregation for that news across many countries. So, this where this ecosystem of news is brought together by creating value by the individual participants, and each of them takes inner part of that value beyond that. But it’s not just the news organizations going beyond that. What is this ecosystem in the broader space in which you are providing? Also, we’re seeing that brand and reputation, they are absolutely critical, and the brands that you represent in this room have phenomenal power. Now, one of the things we’re seeing the rise of new brands is becoming ever quicker. But also recognizing that brands of the past need to be made to be brands of the future. People are recognizing change, and what was relevant is not necessarily relevant moving forward. So, we’re seeing these faster shifts. Yes, this is an extraordinary asset. It’s extraordinarily valuable to have that brand, yet these are more and more volatile. They’re moving faster and faster as we move forward.

So, news, and I think we could’ve looked at this domain in terms of journalism. But I think journalism is a boundary which we need to transcend. There’s extraordinary value in journalism yet, but if we think within the domains of journalism, I think that restricts us. So, what I want to do is look at the flow of news and everything there. First point is that, everything, anywhere, whatever is happening, we can get access to that. And we’ve seen here in terms of some periscope movies which have been taken. We have the Walter Scott being killed by a police officer on the bottom left, so we’re getting the film of that taken by somebody who is on the scene. All news, everything, everywhere, because we have recording devices – and this is just the beginning of what we have – means that anything, anywhere, whatever happens, that can be recorded and is available to us.

This means that we need to bring together professionals and amateurs in creating news. The capabilities of the professionals in news organizations have been well-developed, extraordinarily powerful, yet that must be complemented by the people who, amongst other things, have been able to pick up the news on the way. It is not just in those domains that we see those coming together.

In my most recent book, Getting Results From Crowds, what I’ve described the application to news and media. And these are just 12 domains where we see that professionals and amateurs together can be creating value. And so, this is not just– certainly, one part of it is just people on the spot being able to gather some video which then becomes fodder for the news machine. Yet across every aspect of the news cycle, there is value from what can be done by crowds, value that can be created by amateurs complementing professionals. Reportedly, for example, what it does is to be able to take all of the social media streams, to be able to analyze, to filter, to verify, to validate, to be able to create great reporting of news, drawing on the people who are out there experiencing that, reporting on that, but with this layer of verification and validation.

I think there’s an interesting analogy with what’s happening to the news industry with what’s happening with the intelligence agencies. Where in the past intelligence agencies had spies basically, or people who were following information, now that is blown out, open-source intelligence or OSINT – as it’s known in the industry – is about saying “almost all the information that we need is actually available already”. From Google Earth, from people on the spot, on the Internet, on forums, and people reporting. So, our role is to be able to find, to distill, and to bring together that information to something which is valuable, an extraordinary parallel to what is happening in the news industry. So, in this domain, we’re seeing this role of crowds in one level, and now the beginnings of automated journalism, where machines are starting to play a role. Firstly in quite simple things, such as sport reporting, financial company reports, and so on, but we’re starting to see the boundaries of that to progress a little bit further and further.

So, where we have got to today is a preface to what we will see moving forward. When we’re looking at how do we create content, and how do we create extraordinary content efficiently, there are professionals involved, there are crowds involved, and there are algorithms involved. So, one of the unique possibilities for news organizations moving forward is to be able to say, “How will we bring these together? How will we combine them?” Yes, there will always be professionals involved. Yet, if we combined those with the ability to analyze data as it comes in, to be able to find talent in many people, and to be able to contribute to that, what a novel way to bring these together, where we can create extraordinary effective news highly efficiently. That’s obviously a critical component in comparing that with revenue sources.

Now, another domain is be able to, I think, move beyond the boundaries. Most people think, “Crowds, those are people who just do stuff, and we don’t pay them.” Well, what happens if you did pay them? Now, these are not professionals, you don’t need to pay them like journalists. But let’s imagine that we would say, “Well, we’re going to spend a certain amount of money in a pool which is divided among the people who have contributed to what we have – copy editing, or identification of news, or validation of things, or fact checking.” And maybe then to be able to say, “Well, actually a proportion of the profits or the revenue actually goes out to these stream people.” From all of the millions and millions of people or the talented people who are contributing, they are far more likely to go to you than those who are expecting that to be given to them for free. And that flow of news, as you well know, it’s all about being able to take any news in any format, to be able to go with that through multiple things in terms of text, in terms of if you’re going to paper, going to mobile, going to image formats, going to video, and being able to format that and provide the tags where that can flow out across whatever channels available to you and to others.

But I think a more important part of the thing is that lots of people are taking your content and repurposing that. You need to think beyond that in terms of how that flows out, so that you can provide those perspectives that embed your brand or provide the link backs in original ways. That flow of news and the format of news requires the platforms that enable you to create that.

We now have the ability, so again, if we’re looking at data as a source of decisions which people make, then we have the ability. And this is an example from the New York Times. It’s a lovely 3-D rendition of Historical Yield Curve in the United States. Now, this is a powerful way of being able to provide insight, and that’s just one of the ways in which massive amounts of data can be made valuable to the individual. Long-form writing, or even short-form writing is not going to convey the same thing. It is a complement to that. Yes, the traditional skills need to be complemented by these new skills and the capabilities. And there’s a whole array of different ways in which you can create not just infographics, but also more and more rich ways to be able to interact with information.

So, moving on to distribution, the flow of news and how that goes out moving forward, and coming back to the NewsScape and looking at some of the interfaces. So, we have now a proliferation of interfaces. We didn’t used to have very many interfaces to our news before, but now we have not just paper and television. We now have tablets and smartphones. We now have wearables, and we’re starting to see whole new ways in which we can access that. So, when we start to look at that multi-format creation of news, it is being able to see what are the different channels of which people are actually taking in this information moving forward.

So, it’s interesting, we’re just at the point now where we’re starting to see a whole new generation. Oculus Rift from Facebook is due out first quarter of next year. Microsoft HoloLens – showing up here – is coming up soon. Magic Leap, which is looking at being able to create essentially beaming things into our eyes, to be able to bring things to life around us. These are all ways in which people are beginning to access news, beginning to access things which are overlaid on their environment. New ways in which information news is made relevant to them in the moment.

Aggregation is absolutely critical. And again, if we particularly just relate this to revenue models, people are not going to buy a dozen subscriptions to news, but they might buy a single subscription to news, if that brings together the sources which they do need. Now, that aggregation, people are looking for a single source. It isn’t efficient to be able to scan and look across multiple devices. People are interested in global news. They’re also interested in national news. They’re also interested in city news, and hyperlocal news, and also news about themselves, arguably. The fact that my blood sugar levels have gone up, that is news. That is part of the array of information that I want. So, what we are seeing across many industries is because of this, the corollary of the infinite information that we have, whether we’re trying to buy something, or we’re trying to make a vote in a way that’s appropriate, we now have far more information than we can require. So, we’re seeing it all across the domains, this trusted adviser, who can bring together the relevant information to be able to help people to make decisions, including buying decisions. So, this role of trusted adviser requires trust. And again, the brands that you have are a great starting point for that. You need to look at who is it that could play that role, be that an individual, maybe you need to collaborate with others in your industry or broaden industries, to be able to provide this aggregation from it, and to be seen as a trusted adviser. But again, there is a link to revenue. If you are able to facilitate people in making effective buying decisions, you can be the source of that.

News, of course, needs to be personalized for the individual. And that’s not just their profile, but who they are, but indeed you have emotion senses now, where you can actually pick up and determine people’s moods, which may determine not just what news or information or media presents to them, but also the formats or the ways in which you present that information to them moving forward. Of course, we’re seeing content go beyond specific platforms, where we have, for example, Snapchat, Viber, and WhatsApp. And these are the channels where we’re seeing more and more people being able to go out and to find that that’s where people are spending their time. So, again, you need to be able to push the news out where people are spending their time. For a large proportion, particularly in many emerging economies, but also in terms of younger demographics, these are the platforms. So, distributed content is going beyond the ownership. You own the paper, you own your website, yet now again that channel needs to go far beyond that.

Platforms is an extraordinarily important way to be able to think about where business is going. From the top 31 brands in the world, all of these are platforms, and some of those are familiar to the news industry. So, a platform could be described as to facilitate multiparty interactions and creation of value. These platforms are part of what you use. You are using a platform when you’re using Facebook or Twitter, to be able to distribute news, or to be able to bring together a community. So, they need to have a platform strategy. You are already using existing others’ platforms, and part of it is to having a structured way to be able to think about that moving forward. In summary, the idea is to be able to say, “What are the platforms?” and understand how those platforms may develop relative to each other. Particularly using game theory, as one of the ways to understand in a multiplayer world how they’ll play out together. To make your bets around what platforms you will use, try looking at their costs and the tradeoffs of using them, but also contingencies as of how you may shift your platforms moving forward. Now, for the future of the news industry, you have to raise, saying, “Can we build our own platforms?” That is highly challenging, but within national or language boundaries, it’s absolutely possible to be able to do that, where we need you to be able to provide us, what is the compelling offer which will draw people in? How can you not just create value for the participants, but enable them to create value in their own ecosystem? We’ve seen that with Apple and iTunes, and their publishers and their users. We’ve seen that with Facebook, where Facebook essentially beat Myspace, because it’s developed the developer API, which provided the developers with the ability to pull in and to integrate Facebook with their websites, whereas Myspace stayed as a standalone platform.

Moving on to revenue. Another framework I created a little while ago was for the media revenue models, and just looking at the array of potential revenue models that we have. There are some ones which we know well already – content, advertising. Classifieds as a marketplace has generally gone out of places, but media organizations have still done a good job in being able to sometimes own those classified things, markets. But there are a whole array of other ways, even within that. For example, in content, we’re starting to see potential from micropayments rise. Lead generation, that’s something which organizations will pay an extraordinary amount for. Not just presenting advertising, but being able to generate a potential interest in buying something. That is worth couple of orders of magnitude, more amount of money. Events, partnerships, brands, platforms, again, there’s many ways to be able to do that. So, the merchandising and affiliates, selling things.

Because people use news, use media to inform their buying decisions, you earn, you own part of that value. But you need to build that in and integrate that into the way in which you are engaging with your customers. And just community – and we’ll come back to that in a moment – I think this is an extraordinarily important aspect of the future of news, because this enables you to be able to build connections, to be able to build membership subscriptions, to be able to provide a whole array of different ways to be able to do that, moving forward.

Now, quite some time ago, I described paywalls as the grand experiment, because we cannot know, and it is context-specific. It depends on the country. It depends on the particular masthead or news organization. It depends on the demographics of the individual. It depends on a whole array of how people are responding to other offers. That continues to be the experiment in terms of paywalls, it’s very interesting to see what [?] showed us in this reduction of the use of, or implementation of paywalls. But this starts to become this play, where there needs to be the experimentation, there needs to be the flow and be able to create that.

Now clearly branded content and native advertising is a fundamental part of where value is. This shows the Art of the Thrill created by Atlantic Magazine for Porsche, where they measure not just the movement of a car on the road, but also the emotional responses of people inside the car, to be able to find an extraordinary beautiful way to be able to represent that, to engage people. Now, this is classic media and news skills and capabilities being brought, and then applied to be able to create value for clients. Now we’ve seen, of course, the rise of Guardian Labs, which is now in the UK. We’ve seen Metro in the UK establish its story brand. These are essentially in-house agencies to be able to create content. Yet these are still mainly creating for distribution within their own company brands. Now, there’s no reason why this should not be done in competition with advertising agencies. You need to think through the dynamics of your relationships with that industry, but these are capabilities. You are better than anybody else on the planet, being able to communicate in a compelling way. So, that is something which brands, they are trying to find their own way. They say, “We don’t need publishers anymore. We can access those things by ourselves.” Except, they don’t have the skills. You do. And they can engage you, and this is an entirely different relationship. So, part of this is, what are your capabilities? How can you best use your capabilities moving forward in a different world? Now, in the world of branded content and native advertising, we are moving to world of full transparency. There are many issues around publishers’ involvement in branded content. But all of that, if there is full transparency that is acceptable. If you have full transparency, you can go that path.

In terms of revenues, we’re seeing crowdfunding journalism grow. And this still looks the correspondent in the Netherlands which raised 1.3 million Euro, and essentially provides a subscription base. Now, it’s interesting. Globally, there’s been around $30 million raised in crowdfunding for journalism. That is not bad, but not that much. However, if you add up the total crowdfunding for film, theater, and music, $2.7 billion – 100 times as much as it has been for journalism. There’s lots of reasons for that, and I think that there’re ways in which you can actually shape the way in which news and media crowdfunding can start to attract those kinds of degrees of attention.

Coming back to this point of community. I think, seeing for example, Guardian and other newspapers looking at memberships. Now, memberships is more than a subscription. It’s becoming part of a group. It’s becoming part of a community. And for people to understand, they have something in common. So, one of the revenue models, again, for Guardian is a dating site. Many newspapers have dating sites around the world. It’s a nice complement. In the case of The Guardian, because people who read The Guardian feel they have values aligned, so people have this sense of community. But more importantly, to truly create community, it is about creating connections between individuals. We’re seeing newspapers, again, do fun runs or bike rides and so on. But that connection is not just between individuals, it’s between businesses. There’s an extraordinary amount of value in being able to bring together those people who should be brought together, in providing services, in providing products, and be able to provide that link. That’s the potential for news organizations to be at the center of that flow of community is absolutely phenomenal, particularly in linking it to revenue potential.

Finally, looking at leadership, the law of requisite variety tells us that only those individuals and organizations that are as flexible as their environment, have the potential to control their destiny. Otherwise, they’re simply buffeted by the winds of change. Now, that’s pretty big to ask, if you look at how swiftly things are changing in your world, yet that is what is required. So, we all talk about transformation. You are in the process of transformation, which is absolutely necessary. And as you well understand, there is the upside of participating in this growth where media economy is one of the largest segments and the fastest growing sector of the economy, creating immense social and shareholder value, creating future relevant brands, and yes, there are risks. Probably the single biggest one is implementing the wrong strategy, but certainly not changing your strategy will not [?] there. But the risks of not transforming are the ones which will drive action. Transformation and governance for transformation means that the board level of the organizations, you’re required to be able to demonstrate the imperative for change and transformation.

So, I’d like to just pull together a few points in terms of a strategic agenda for organizations. At Future Exploration Network, my organization, we use ways not to be able to predict the future, or to tell organizations what to do, but to facilitate them in finding the answers or solutions for themselves. Scenario planning is a very valuable tool. The more the uncertainty, the greater the value of scenarios, to be able to look at different paths for them, and how they may go forward. So, one of the things that are required is to be able to develop a vision, for your organizations of future news. What is compelling? What would move you forward? And something which is truly distinctive in drawing on your capabilities and organizations, to understand that professionals alone are not enough. The crowds in many, many forms, and automation will complement professionals. And there are many unique ways to be able to design that as a space for experimentation.

Clearly, organizational capabilities are developed. There are some individuals who do not have the capabilities moving forward. And that is part of the management process you need to develop, to educate, continuous education, finding new people to bring those in. There are quite some of the elements of the past. We’ve talked before about the context analysis-synthesis. The same capabilities in the past as in the future, yet around those capabilities, there are so many more capabilities that you do need to develop as organizations. We do not know the answers with revenue models. I said that a moment ago. But you must experiment. And so, in this lean startup cycle, you need to learn. Not just over the space of a year, but over the space of a month, over the space of a day, to experiment, to try things, to try different things, to see the response to those. And so, as an industry, the more we can experiment, the more we can learn from each other, the more we can find, being able to establish a platform strategy. And I think that is something which is often not known as being some clarity around how you are playing with platforms. What is the role of platforms beyond what you own yourself, and how that plays forward? And absolutely, we need to be bold.

And I think the thing is to be able to build unique news organizations. Every organization is unique. You have exceptional capabilities, but drawing on your existing capabilities. You need to be able to create ones which are going to be relevant for the future. So, we’ve looked at the drivers, provide some snapshot of a vision, look at its value, the flow of news, distribution, source of revenue, and leadership. Joseph Campbell was a comparative mythologist, who looked at myths across every country in the world. He found that it was a common story in every culture. That’s of the individual who is called beyond their everyday life, challenged to be able to grow beyond, who encounters challenges and others who helped them, to be able to find something of value and bring that back to the journey. That’s the hero’s journey. I think we are all living the hero’s journey. But in the news industry, the future of news is so fundamental to the future of humanity, that the call to be able to do that, to be able to create a prosperous future of news is absolutely extraordinary. I think you’ll agree with me, that we are the dawning of a new era. And I invite you to create the future of news. Thank you.

Ross Dawson is also an expert at virtual keynotes and
virtual strategy facilitation