Relaunching legacies
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - June 5, 2019 - 12:00am

GLASGOW – The most attended session at the 71st annual World News Media Congress and 26th World Editors Forum in this Scottish city was a half-hour onstage chat last Sunday with Mark Thompson, the British president and CEO of The New York Times Co.

Founded in 1851, the NYT is leading the global media industry in disproving doomsayers’ predictions about the demise of the printed newspaper. Because of its vast resources, the NYT can afford more trial-and-error innovation in reporting across multiple media platforms. Its successes are equally important for the survival of the industry, which must continue generating revenue.

Name changes alone indicate the rapidly evolving environment. The annual forum used to be called the World Newspaper Congress. But because most newspapers today can be accessed online and digitally, we now refer to “newsbrands” rather than newspapers. 

A line is even being drawn between desktop online and digital online (mainly smartphone) editions, with the former said to be swiftly being overtaken by the latter in terms of readership and revenue streams. This is according to industry monitoring conducted in the past year by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers or WAN-Ifra, organizer of the media congress.

That monitoring, conducted globally, does not sugarcoat bad news or provide false hopes to newspaper organizations. WAN-Ifra findings, no matter how dire for the industry, must be presented unvarnished to the players. The industry needs cold, hard facts to adapt, survive and endure. 

Years ago, WAN tracked and accurately predicted the impact of the internet and smartphones on reader consumption habits especially among the youth, the effect on advertising and its disastrous impact on many newspapers.

So when the same group reports that its global monitoring over the past year shows that the industry is in fact recovering and the newspaper’s demise has been greatly exaggerated, I believe it’s no self-serving assessment.

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We have the Apple iPhone (released Jan. 9, 2007) to thank for the decimation of several newspaper companies. 

Now we have social media – purveyor of fake news, with smartphones as the medium of choice – to thank for the recovery of newspapers.

The newsbrands or so-called legacy media are also the most effective for advertising, according to a large-scale global survey conducted this year on all types of mass media by Syno Global AdTrust. The effectiveness of each medium was assessed based on influence, context and return on ad investment.

The survey results showed that trust in advertisements is highest when they come out in a printed newspaper, with a rating of 25.85 percent. Following down the line in ad trustworthiness are local newspapers, commercial TV, commercial radio, printed magazine, newspaper-based website, cinema, search engine page and online video. At the bottom, with the only negative rating (–3.67), is social media.

Richard Bogie, managing director of News Scotland and News Ireland, said studies have shown that Londoners are increasingly relying more on newsbrands for information. He also cited a neurological study showing that long-term memory response for ads in newsbrands is 81 percent compared to 52 percent for those in social media and other open sources. The memory retention, he says, is directly linked to purchasing decisions.

Newspapers have been “on the defensive for far too long,” a session moderator observed. Another speaker noted that “social (media) has stopped being the gift that keeps giving.”

In a briefing on winning strategies for newsbrands, the giant screen screamed: “Print is profitable – at last!!!”

This was the presentation of Phillip Crawley, for the past 20 years the president and CEO of Canada’s biggest newspaper, the Globe and Mail.

Five years ago, the paper was losing 25 million pounds sterling a year, Crawley told the congress participants. Today revenue is up by around 20 percent, he said, and the newsbrand has added sections and doubled the opinion columns.

Revenue streams are shifting from advertising to other sources such as events and subscriptions – specifically, subscription to a combination of the print and digital editions of the newsbrand.

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Both Crawley and Thompson, however, stress that trust in legacy media can be sustained only with “seriously good” journalism – the type that adheres as much as possible to the ethics of the profession.

Sir Alan Moses, who gave the closing speech for the congress and editors’ forum, echoed a common theme throughout the gathering, which is the importance of a free press and freedom of expression to democracy.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the guest speaker at our opening session here and one of several candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister, said a ministerial summit would soon be held in London to protect media freedom and its role in strengthening democracy and fighting corruption.

Moses chairs the UK’s Independent Press Standards Organization, a unique body set up by the British press, whose signatories commit to voluntary self-regulation. Some 95 percent of British newsbrands have signed up with IPSO, which was set up amid criticism and public fears of press censorship following the phone hacking scandal. Signatories commit to abide by a 16-point code of conduct that covers journalistic issues such as accuracy, privacy, discrimination, news distortion, intrusion on private grief, dealing with suicide and similar subjects.

 Moses stressed that even with the self-policing, the British press has remained vibrant, unruly and pushing the boundaries of media freedom.

Every news report and opinion, Moses stressed, must go through an identifiable editor who will be held accountable for any violation of journalistic ethics.

That accountability is missing in the anonymity of the internet. Which is why, as one speaker at the congress put it, “only journalism will save journalism.”

Journalism is storytelling, but not all storytelling is journalism. 

You want news and stories you can trust, with the editorial staff accountable to the public, read a newspaper.

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