Newsology and PressPage on Digital Newsrooms, Brand Journalism and Poop Emojis

April 9, 2018

A Social Media Week conversation

It’s already been a month since Social Media Week rolled through Austin and it’s a little hard to remember key takeaways since the froth of SXSW over-subscribed people’s brains, but here’s a conversation on digital newsrooms (and a picture) to sum it all up.

In this shot, taken by Jessica Santiesteban from Ideology Photography,* you’re seeing Bart Verhulst, Co-Founder of PressPage in the middle, Gabe Martinez, a former TV reporter and now a digital content strategist for Newsology on the right, and me, the founding partner of Newsology, a digital newsroom consulting service. Gabe was our interrogator; Bart and I took the hot seats.


Q1: How has the media landscape changed? What are some trends you’re seeing evolve over time?

“Here’s what hasn’t changed: The first press release was written by Ivy Lee in 1906. He represented the Pennsylvania Railroad when one of their trains derailed off a bridge in Atlantic City causing more than 50 deaths. That was 112 years ago and guess what? In this digital age, many, many brands are still using press releases to connect their stories to media outlets. Some just use press releases as website content. It’s hard to believe.”

“Our friend Dan Lyons, working at Hubspot at the time, found this stat: In 1980, the ratio of PR professionals to journalists in the U.S. was 1.2 to 1. By 2010, three decades later, there were four PR professionals for every journalist in the U.S.

“It’s just a fact of life. Fewer reporters are employed by fewer media outlets with far more audience fragmentation than ever. The world has changed.”


Q2: The world really has changed, even since my days, not that long ago, as a TV reporter. Are we seeing the demise of the traditional newsroom in favor of some other idea?

“Demise is probably a little too strong. News reporting is going to be around for a long time. It serves an important social need, and legacy media, like the Washington Post is doing today,  are showing that really good journalism can make a publication viable even in today’s fragmented market. The print edition of the New York Times alone reaches more people than the Huffington Post, so great newsrooms can still live in this digital environment.”

“I’m good with demise, and I blame the Associated Press. AP was an early, and substantial, investor in natural language programming, a precursor technology now being perfected via Artificial Intelligence in the form of robot reporters.

“Services like WordSmith, Wibbitz, News Tracer, Buzzbot and Heliograf are the names of those robot reporters – and they’re hastening the death of legacy media. Here’s a scary stat I read in Wired magazine regarding national election reporting: In November 2012, it took four employees at the Washington Post, 25 hours to compile and post a fraction of the election results. In 2016, Heliograf created more than 500 articles in the same time frame. Can we really expect news organizations to compete?”


Q3: What are the effects on brands, and what brands are going to rise and fall in this new landscape?

“Bet on the ones who view reporters as customers, that is, who have digital newsrooms that make a reporters’ life much easier by helping them do their research much faster. Reporters are going to naturally gravitate to brands who are serving up content they can get and use quickly.

“Also, bet on the brands who understand this:  The audience now decides what “news” is. The audience now assesses how much news depth it wants. The audience determines when it will take news in, the format in which it will accept it and with whom they’ll share it.

“Brands who understand these two sides of the same storytelling coin are going to prosper. Those still intent on faxing out press releases are going to turn into poop emojis.”

“Bet on the ones that learn how to create content robot reporters will eat, then re-publish.”


Q4: How can brands take a stand and stop their over reliance on pitching media via traditional PR efforts?

“It’s pretty clear – brands have to make their own news. That’s how they can reach an audience that cares about them, and to borrow a phrase from the scientist Stuart Kauffman, reach an adjacent possible audience that can be recruited in as a customer or interested stakeholder.”

“The whole idea of media relations is becoming an anachronism. How do build relations with a robot reporter? They don’t go lunch, they don’t even use a pen! I get exasperated when – and this happens in pitches especially – prospective clients ask, ‘Do you know X or Y or Z reporter?’ I want to slap myself on the forehead when that question comes my way. Have they not been paying attention? No! I don’t know reporters anymore. They’ve been fired and replaced by freakin’ robots! Brands have to come to grips with what’s happening. The financial models of legacy media are going to push the editorial game toward greater and greater AI-based reporting. Take a stand by owning and controlling the creation of your own content.”


Q5: How does a digital newsroom differ from content marketing?

“Content remains king but a digital newsroom is its queen. Through a digital newsroom, you’re displaying your own content and you’re using an integrated set of distribution tools, like email and social, to push a message to your subscribers. The content itself is rich enough to also pull in interested eyeballs, so the two-way transaction, along with the fact that the content is served up to reporters in a very friendly way, distinguishes a digital news room from simple content-push marketing.”

“Content marketing isn’t much different from advertising – it’s always rainbows and unicorns – nothing but happy stuff. Brand journalism is the key to a killer digital newsroom. When a brand tells stories about itself, even ones that may be about difficult topics, they’re embracing a whole new level of authenticity. This is very hard for brands to do – they’re too protective, too insulated – but authenticity is the key to relevant content people want to read vs. easily delete-able content that’s nothing but advertising in a different package.”


Q6: What should brands start or stop doing when it comes to garnering news coverage?

“Well, one START is diving deep into your audiences to find out what they care about. What interests do they have in your brand? Why should they read your stuff? With a good understanding of that, you’ll be able to create an editorial point-of-view against which you can develop content. If you don’t have this, then you’re as good as a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear you. Brands who embrace a brand journalism culture can do very well in this environment.”

“I think brands, especially those who often find themselves inside of sensitive topics like labor practices, sustainability issues or even the ethical treatment of puppies and kitties, have to STOP putting themselves in front of reporter microphones where they’re exposed to knuckleball questions that have the potential to make them look stupid. Why create that kind of exposure? Take control of your news by making it, and breaking it yourself.”


Q7: Who’s doing digital newsrooms right today?

“Those that are measuring their results. What I mean by this is that those brands who are redefining the value of their marketing and communication functions, away from, for example, ad equivalents to real ROI metrics like unique visitors, downloads and shared content are demonstrating what it means to win in today’s environment. I really like what Red Bull is doing, the Pampered Chef has a great one, but even places like Governors State University are flexing their muscles now in this space. It shows that you don’t have to be a big organization to be very smart in the news making space. I’ve seen great digital newsrooms operations run by two people.”

“This isn’t a digital newsroom, per se, but brands can draw inspiration from the Dude Perfect website. It’s addictive content, very smart and fun to watch. They’re close to reaching 5 billion views on their site, and who wouldn’t want that? I’m also digging Axios these days. Very smart adaption to readers’ short attention span. Both of these are in my R&D file, meaning rip off and duplicate.”


Thanks to Bart and Gabe and all our pals at Social Media Week for letting us come and think out loud with them. This conversation reminds me to tip our collective hat to Peter Drucker who once famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

More to come…


*Facebook: @ideologyphotography
*Instagram: @ideology_photography


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