The news industry faces a Herculean challenge. With resources and attention spans dwindling, media organizations find themselves in a war with tech titans who have billions of dollars to back their forays into media. What weapon in the journalist’s arsenal could stand up to that? Reclaiming the relationship with readers, says Michael Shane.
Shane is the global head of digital innovation for Bloomberg, where he oversees strategy for the news company’s editorial products and business. Before Bloomberg, he helped put The Verge on the map at Vox Media.
Shane shared his insights about how journalists can compete in the digital age during a panel at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers spring conference in Seattle today.
Continue reading for highlights from his talk, including tips for other news publishers as well as insights about Facebook, talent acquisition, and new media.
On ‘reclaiming your audience’: “Google and Facebook [are estimated to take] 89 cents of every new dollar in advertising, and others have put the number even higher up to 99 cents out of every new dollar of digital advertising. Really the only way to hedge against that is to reclaim our relationship with users. Because what’s happened is, Google and Facebook, they want to be the internet. The internet is actually everything, but for many people the internet is Facebook. Period. I think we all know people like that. For most of us, it’s probably not like that. We’re journalists. We work in the publishing industry. For us, the internet is a very big and diverse place, generally. But for most people, the internet is essentially some combination of Google and Facebook, probably with a little Amazon thrown in. They have, I think in many sectors, topic areas of publishing, usurped our relationship with the audience. That’s what we have to reclaim. Because that’s how you can build products, news products, that differentiate you from what Facebook and Google offer.”
On Bloomberg’s competition strategy: “You’re going to see us start to build products and introduce value for the parts of our audience that tell us that they care about us. So at a tactical level, reclaiming your audience means one thing. I’m usually not this clinical but it means data. It means first-party data. Who are they? Where do they work? How much money do they make? Where do they live? What are they interested in? What’s their role? But that’s special, valuable stuff. People’s information, even anonymized information, including what industry they’re in, their email address even, all that stuff, we have to treat it like the holy of holies. So you have to come from a point of humility if you want to get that stuff.”
On local media: “If you’re working at an organization that is focused on the Pacific Northwest, or Texas, or something that’s much more localized, to me that gives you an incredible advantage when you’re thinking about reclaiming that audience because … you have built-in scarcity. Your mission, from the get-go, is not to be all things to all people. Whether you’re in an industry-specific publication or it’s geographical, having those built-in limitations can keep you on the rails and keep you really disciplined and also because you don’t have to worry about being all things to all people — unlike Google and Facebook — you can build products or plan editorial strategies or editorial features, or sales strategies that are totally and completely tuned for your area and your audience.”
On Facebook: “What they’ve done, is they have allowed anyone to achieve a level of amplification that is maybe not commensurate with their expertise or the quality of what they’re offering. Here’s the thing: when you look at Facebook and the algorithm, it’s tuned for engagement. It’s looking for signals that mean engagement, and engagement is, at the end of the day, an emotional response from a person. And what is the strongest emotion a person can feel? It is not love. It is not dutiful consideration. It’s not critical thought. It’s outrage. Whether they meant to or not, Facebook has built one of the world’s most powerful algorithms that moves money and markets and shapes the opinions of vast swaths of people is built on outrage. Period.”
On hiring for the newsroom: “I think the best way to have a connection to your audience is to be your audience. And part of that means hiring your audience. If you are doing journalism and you’re selling advertising around journalism and that is happening around digital platforms, there are certain types of people you should look for — and you should be willing to make some non-traditional decisions or think outside the box a little bit … working on the web is a team sport and by definition it’s multidisciplinary.
On journalism’s new reality: “You need to look for people who are looking to do more than file a story. When I was at Bloomberg when I first got to the newsroom … I wouldn’t let anyone use the word ‘file.’ I wouldn’t because it doesn’t make any sense. Because that implies an end and on the internet, there is no end. Every story lives forever. And it was a small thing and maybe it was a stupid, persnickety thing but to me, it was important. From a cultural point of view, I really wanted people to think about their work. How it lived and from the point of view of a user.”