Earlier this year, the Italian edition of Wired Magazine got in touch and asked me questions about the future of journalism. The Q&A by Philip Di Salvo was in preparation for the International Journalism Festival 2014 that is currently being hosted in Perugia, Italy. The magazine published the Q&A, but since it is in Italian, here is my English language Q&A prior to editing.
Wired – Interview with Om Malik
– Philanthropy, ads, paywalls: journalism is still looking for a sustainable online business model. In your opinion, which one will succeed in the future?
Om: It is difficult to see what model of journalism prevails, but when I look into the future, I think we will continue to see emergence of more specialized and paid for content models to emerge. From small publishing efforts like The Information to others like Gigaom Research or vertical market databases, we are going to spend a lot more time trying to develop these future models. Why? Because despite the ease of distribution today, it is hard to get scale and sustained attention. BuzzFeed is a good example of one that has been able to get scale and attention. Now if you start applying the same ease of distribution and ability to mine for micro-niche markets, you can start to develop healthy businesses around it. A lot of energy is spent on focusing on journalism done by “newspapers” but in reality there is a whole wide world of specialized publishing that is collapsing under the digital assault and to me that is an opportunity, especially for those willing to try the for-pay model.
– Print still pays back better in terms of advertising. On the other side, circulation of print newspapers is shrinking. How to balance between digital and paper?
Om: It is indeed the trillion-dollar question for the media business. It is time for print publishers to look at their business and think about becoming digital first and paper second. I look at a paper like The New York Times, and I see tremendous ability to create new products around their editorial. The same goes for regional publications as well. In order to do that, these companies have to be able to not only spend on digital (which most do), but actually challenge their own idea of media, content and how it can be packaged for today’s content consumption reality.
– What did publishers not understand about the digital revolution when the Internet appeared?
Om: Dismissing Internet as a technical curiosity and not embracing it was the first and perhaps that biggest mistake.
– Sometimes, major publishers seem to be less updated about digital trends and innovations than their journalists. Will start-ups re-invent journalism?
Om: Smart people, and not just start-ups will re-invent journalism. They are everywhere and they are trying. It was the New York Times that gave us The Fall, and not some start up. Whether it is Gigaom or The Skift (both startups) or ESPN-owned, Nate Silver project – these are examples of people who are willing to try something new, different and are in sync with what today’s readers want from their media outlets.
– Which is the best example of an online news outlet with a strong and valuable digital strategy you’d like to mention?
Om: I think this would surprise a lot of people but Daily Mail has done a good job of capturing their target market. I am enthused by publications like The Skift and The Information. Obviously, I am biased towards my own publication, Gigaom. I also love the Business of Fashion, a London-based publication that is challenging the traditional fashion trade press publishers. Narrative.ly is another idea I like. I could go on, but there are multiple examples of great efforts.
– In recent times, Rcs, one of the leading Italian publishers, acquired YouReporter, a videosharing citizen journalism platform. Is this hybrid – between professional journalism and citizen journalists – model going to work?
Om: Citizens are reporting on Twitter all day long. A fire in my neighbourhood was first reported with camera phone photos on Twitter, long before camera crews showed up. I think the boundaries between professional and citizen journalists are pretty porous. Those are ideas that are comfortably promoted by the establishment media.
– Do you think that Silicon Valley tycoons such as Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar will change the future of journalism? And how?
Om: How is this different from the turn of the last century with the tycoons of industrial generation decided that they needed to support the media, and in the process buy some influence Rich New York real estate moguls have owned magazines as baubles and didn’t really redefine the future of journalism, so why do we think Silicon Valley billionaires will do that! That said, I always go back to one simple reality – money doesn’t buy you readers – sure it can get you some attention, but in the end what matters is the story – one great story after another. The future of journalism is simply what it has always been – stories which people want to read, watch and talk about.