Live notes: morning of Newspaper Publishers Association Future Forum in Sydney


I am at the Newspaper Publishers Association Future Forum conference, where I am giving the closing keynote later today. I will endeavor to capture a few thoughts through the day.

The overall tone is of an industry that absolutely recognizes that it is in dramatic transition, and is by no means in denial of the scope of change that is required. This creates an appetite for learning and ideas, and hopefully a broader shift to what I think is a very real optimism from the presenters.

I have to say that I agree with almost everything that John Hartigan, CEO of News Limited, said in his opening presentation. The rhetoric was all about new platforms, the role of the iPad, the necessity of journalists becoming entrepreneurial, visual storytelling, and creating news in multiple formats relevant to different delivery platforms. John clearly is a believer; the issue is in making it happen.

Earl Wilkinson, CEO of INMA (International News Marketing Association) is a great speaker – hearing him gives me hope for the industry. He says that he doesn’t care about paper – news organizations need to put their attention where things are going rather than where they are. Journalism is at risk of having an audience like classical music – influential, discerning, and small. Rather than focus on audience numbers, the focus should be on building highly engaged, even addicted readers. News publishers are tending to treat their brands as wine in a bottle – they leave it on the side and expect it to appreciate in value.

Martim Avillez Figueredo of Portuguese publisher Impresa spoke about their youth newspaper “i”, which won 2009 Newspaper of the Year award less than a year after it’s launch. The design is beautiful, far more like a magazine, with plenty of space, and moving way beyond the traditional column-based layout. The newspaper has a standard daily format of five sections, going into depth into issues rather than providing news. The cover may look completely different from issue to issue, heavily based on images. Martim said that 22% of their readership did not read newspapers before. Very interestingly Impresa has launched, a new Portuguese search engine which positions itself as providing only trustworthy results. The business model is based on providing sponsored content to search results – different from Google in that content is provided, and that it is presented in a highly visual format.

Sandy MacLeod of Toronto Star talked about their current strategies, including some of their interesting new revenue sources. They have run an Africa trip, baseball fantasy camps, and similar events, and generate revenue from their email lists. A key focus is revenue diversification, including geographically, but also into verticals such as person finances.

Dissica Calderaro of A Critica in Brazil spoke of the many interesting format experiments that the Manaus-based newspaper is doing.

Kim Williams of Foxtel also seems to get it, not just because he accuses many old people (of which he counts himself) as not getting it. He got well into the topic of Twitter. pointing out that many of Oscar Wilde’s gems were under 140 characters, and he would likely have had an awesome Twitter following, as Stephen Fry has today. He considered how past events in Australian politics may have turned out differently if there had been Twitter, and wondered if George Orwell had been able to blog in the 1930s whether that could have helped to curtail the rise of fascism. He called for greater transparency in government, bringing visibility even deeper into the process, and recognizing that consumers and voters are in charge today. Personalization is what people want, and what they will get. Foxtel sells the Foxtel IQ PVR, which will shortly access Internet-based services. Many politicians and businesspeople live in the analogue era, while voters and consumers live in the digital era.