Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Weber Shandwick: Not Much Future In Spirited 'Future Of Media' Discussion

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 14, 2015

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Weber Shandwick had a great turnout for its Future of Media event moving it to FAME on Broadway, a larger location in the heart of North Beach. And we had a rare all-woman panel after the lone male dropped out.

The moderator said it was a pleasure to be part of an all woman panel especially when the subject has nothing to do with women. 

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The moderator was Vivian Schiller Executive Editor-in-Residence at Weber Shandwick and the former Global Chair of News at Twitter, and a former CEO of NPR, did a good job including everyone in the conversation even if some panelists were way behind the times in their advice. For example: This is not a good time for journalists to strike out on their own, those days have come and long gone! Teams win.]

Also on the panel: Connie Guglielmo, Editor in Chief at CNET News; MC Walloons, SF Bureau Chief for CNBC; Ann Grimes, Professor at Stanford University and a former Wall Street Journal SF Bureau Chief; Caroline Fairchild, New Economy Editor at LinkedIn.

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What struck me about the panelists was that they clearly love their work as journalists and love telling stories.  Connie Guglielmo at CNET News (above) had the best insights into the future of media especially when talking about the tools and technologies journalists could be using.

She told a story about the delight she experienced when she tried out Twitter's Periscope live streaming app at an Apple event and soon had more than 1,000 people watching.

Her pleasure at this discovery was wonderful to hear and it conveyed the fact that all journalists share traits of curiosity and wanting to tell stories to the largest audiences possible. Which is exactly why paywalls are not a business solution because journalists are cut off from the Internet's greatest virtue: virtually unlimited free distribution!

If Connie were experimenting with Periscope behind a firewall she might be discouraged with just a dozen viewers versus more than 1,000.

Paywalls aren't a solution for the future of media but nor is advertising. Advertising cannot support journalism. It no longer carries the value it once did thanks to Google, Facebook, and other large media companies that have drained its value.

These tech-enabled media companies are the competitors to all other media organizations and they have a business model that scales tremendously well. It's not a level playing field yet all traditional media companies have to use Google, Facebook, LinkedIn as distribution platforms. It's not a choice.  

I enjoyed the panel but it was mostly a discussion about new ways of telling stories, such as CNET's quarterly print magazine. An observer listening to the panelists might assume that media disruption is due to a lack of original story telling.  

As a journalist I was taught to follow the money and there you'll find a story and a reason. Follow the money in the media industry and you see media companies backed up against a wall with a shrinking workforce.

Shrinking jobs and diversity

The panel was asked about the lack of diversity in the media industry and lamented the need for diversity in the leadership of newsrooms. Diversity would be easier to achieve if there was a growing number of media jobs, because of a healthy industry, where news media orgs were competing and thriving. We are far from that scenario.

And there is absolutely nothing on the horizon,  there is sign of a solution to this hugely important problem: how does society support quality media such as serious journalism versus that what's not?

How is journalism rewarded if it's not a popularity contest for clicks? Clicks are a poor micro-currency for an online world that lauds content as king yet has no mechanism for distinguishing between and then recovering the value of quality media.

CNET's Guglielmo spoke about the danger of letting popularity be your editorial guide and then, "What are you trying to say?" Newsrooms are forced to chase popularity over establishing an editorial voice because that is the bleak economic reality of their business.

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Follow the money. The Future of Media is chasing ever more traffic and clicks while expending ever smaller editorial resources. 

Or is it? What's the world of corporate media up to? Weber Shandwick has a business division called "Mediaco - We Help Every Company Become A Media Company". Luca Penati (above) is MediaCo's West Coast lead.  [I worked with Mediaco last year on a client project.]

Is the Future of Media in the hands of the PR industry? Can PR firms become both the promotors of clients and the press?

Will we need to rediscover the answers to questions we already knew the answers to? Yes. But we have no choice. Journalism has to be reborn and reinvented within an always-on  digital realm of unconstrained distribution. We will find new answers to questions that were once not possible. And that's the fun and innovative work in building the Future of Media.

New ways to tell journalistic stories will emerge in a creative flood but what we need first is innovation in media business models.

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You can read more about my take on the Future of Media here: Weber Shandwick And The Future Of Journalism -SVW

It was great to see some familiar faces at Weber and also Ken Kaplan from Intel, Dave Needle, Chris Preimesberger and Jason Lopez. 

Some more photos from last night's event:

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