Five Ideas in Action at Successful Media Companies Around the World

From a story on by Damian Radcliffe headlined “Innovation in practice: 5 ideas in action at successful media companies around the world”:

Principle 1: The Value of Niche

There was a point where the mainstream media industry believed scale was taking marginally valuable audiences and trying to make them bigger. We’ve done the opposite,” Sean Griffey, CEO and co-founder of Industry Dive, told Axios recently.

“This is a company that has taken a ridiculously simple idea — that ‘the real value in business media is in niche, highly targeted audiences’ — and then replicated it profitably multiple times,” observes Rishad Patel, the co-founder of Splice Media in Singapore.

Patel highlighted how Industry Dive had identified a successful approach and replicated it (e.g. Retail Dive, Utility Dive, Food Dive, Supply Chain Dive, Payments Dive). As a result, profits are expected to grow to 30% this year.

As Griffey himself puts it:

“Basically, the true secret to scale for a media business is to do something *valuable* multiple times.”

Thomas Seymat, Editorial Projects and Development Manager at Euronews, and an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Paris’ Centre de Formation des Journalistes and Sciences Po Lyon, also cited the work of a niche publisher, The Fix.

An online trade publication for media professionals with a strong focus on Central and Eastern Europe, the site has innovated, Seymat says, “by occupying a (to my knowledge) unused space — topic and geography-wise, and in English.”

“They write a lot about media revenue experiments and I hope they too will find the right balance of revenue streams to be sustainable in the long term,” he adds.

Principle 2: Going Against the Grain

Both Patel and Seymat cited further examples of publishers and content creators who have bucked obvious trends.

“Our friends at The Ken in Bangalore realized that their strength lay not in throwing multiple stories at an audience to see which one would stick,” Patel recounted, “but in publishing one well-researched, deeply reported story a day.”

“If you’ll allow me to be corporate, I think my employer’s (Euronews) strategy to launch and grow an affiliates network in Southeast Europe and the Caucasus region is strategically innovative,” Seymat says.

“Finding local partners and investors to start whole new media organizations — facing a pandemic and other challenges — is a great example of innovation that makes sense for the business development side, for the brand, and for the audience too.

“These affiliates bring a new independent voice in their region,” he adds, “and they contribute to Euronews’ main news coverage, along with the rest of our language services.” “I know it’s a ton of work for everyone involved, so I have to give kudos to my colleagues.”

Launching new services in the midst of a pandemic was a bold idea reiterated by Patricia Torres-Burd, Managing Director, Media Services Advisory Services, MDIF (Media Development Investment Fund). Torres-Burd noted efforts led by Styli Charalambous of the Daily Maverick in South Africa, “a CEO focused on product and innovation.”

“He is not afraid to make changes,” Torres-Burd says, “and during the pandemic — this digital news portal — are you ready for it? … Launched a weekly print section. It is entirely counter-intuitive but in line with their goal to reach and inform as many people as possible in their country.”

Principle 3: Investing in — and Creating — Community

“Although news organizations, in general, remain reluctant to relinquish their role in deciding what constitutes news and how best to convey it, there are some creative experiments,” notes Dr. Jane Singer, Professor of Journalism Innovation at City University in London.

Focusing on what Singer refers to as “audience-driven news,” one such organization that has caught Singer’s eye, is Tortoise Media in the UK.

“Although the name stems from its ‘slow news’ approach, I think one of the more innovative things about Tortoise is the way it makes audiences integral to the news process, from deciding what to explore to engaging directly with newsmakers,” she says.

Singer also mentions The Ferret, an award-winning investigative journalism co-operative, based in Scotland. As they explain in their online FAQ, “when you subscribe to The Ferret you become more than just a passive supporter — people become part-owners of the project and can influence how it will develop.”

This community-centric model also resonates with Patricia Torres-Burd, who points to case studies from the Membership Puzzle which showcase innovative forms of content creation, distribution and engagement.

“I absolutely love and devoured these,” Torres-Burd says, “but the stand outs are KPCC and their community-driven efforts during the pandemic, and Black Ballad out of the UK and how they built a safe space online for Black women.

“This effort not only created a community, engaged and active participants but has now turned it into so much more with opportunities for revenue and brand alignment that fits their mission.”

Torres-Burd also highlights the Mexican media platform “Malvestida, which “is focusing on women’s issues beyond fashion and beauty … amplifying the voices and experiences of a new generation who can define their needs and identity on their own terms.”

“Most of what they have to say and discuss is region agnostic,” she adds, recommending people check out their Instagram page, and reminding us how in the digital age communities are no longer bound by geography.

Principle 4: Collaboration

Community building principles are not just embodied in the relationship organizations have with their audience, but increasingly with each other.

“As I write, the Pandora Papers has just dropped,” Jane Singer commented in an email. “They are the latest manifestation in a growing trend of journalists from different news organizations working together, rather than competing, to tell different parts of a major story.”

Other efforts shared by Singer include how “BureauLocal, (part of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK) has “brought local journalists from around the country together to collectively explore a national data set and develop local stories from it, ” and the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance database (created by the International Fact-Checking Network), “a compilation of debunks of coronavirus hoaxes by fact-checkers all around the world.”

“Innovation is not easy,” Patricia Torres-Burd reminds us. “It can be internally disruptive and expensive. Collaboration can provide an excellent opportunity to test and find the best ways to reach audiences with relevant content.”

By way of an example, she cites the work of Hashtag Our Stories (and their collaborations with Snapchat and NBC LX, a local news network targeted at younger cord-cutters), and two examples from India: Josh Talks and Sheroes a social network for women.

“While they are not traditional media outlets — both are utilizing social and content platforms to connect with and improve communities,” she says.

Principle 5: Transparency and an Open Innovation Culture

“I’ve spent a couple of intense years leading Euronews’ immersive journalism efforts,” says Thomas Seymat, Editorial Projects and Development Manager at Euronews, “so VR, AR, etc. are mediums I keep a (nostalgic) eye on.”

“However, the field evolves constantly and it’s easy to fall behind if you’re not paying close attention.” Because of this, Seymat says he was “happy to see that the New York Times’ R&D department published a guide teaching how journalists can create stories through photogrammetry using only their mobile devices.

This was “cutting-edge stuff made available to the greater public,” he notes.

“It’s one thing to lead innovative projects with cutting-edge technologies with the financial support of tech companies, it’s a whole different thing to do it openly (as Seymat’s company has previously done) so it benefits the rest of the industry.”

It’s a model others have also adopted, with Jane Singer underscoring how “growing numbers of large news orgs also now have dedicated ‘spaces’ for exploring new ideas.”

Found on Medium and elsewhere, efforts like BBC News Labs can help spark discussion and “explicitly seek to foster and encourage creativity.”

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