Reformatting business models is key for journalism to survive, news executives tell ISOJ crowd

Executives from a variety of media organizations spoke at the 16th International Symposium on Journalism (ISOJ) on Friday about the importance of reformatting business models to meet the constant changes journalism faces in the digital era.

Jennifer Preston, vice president of journalism at the Knight Foundation, opened the panel by stating that sustainability is a major issue in journalism. This established the direction of the discussion, which focused on business tactics an organization may take in order to survive.

The 2015 ISOJ on the University of Texas-Austin campus, Apr. 17, 2015. Mengwen Cao/Knight Center

Tim Griggs, publisher and COO of The Texas Tribune, discussed the ways revenue diversity keeps his online news operation focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.

He said it was important for organizations to achieve revenue diversity so that they have the ability to resist advertisers or donors who try to influence what they cover.

According to Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, newspapers are responsible for 50 percent or more of the coverage of city, county state government news and their demise is not good for democracy.

“That’s what gets me up every morning,” the upbeat Moroney told the ISOJ audience at the Blanton Museum of Art, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

Although newspapers face major obstacles, digital-only subscriptions do not appear to be a sufficient answer. Moroney cited a survey of newspapers that showed 84 percent of respondents, about 104 newspapers, reported that digital-only subscriptions accounted for only 15 percent or less of their total subscriber base.

Moroney also stressed the importance of establishing a process for “sustaining innovation,” which involves improving or extending current products or launching new products for creating incremental revenues, which keeps newspaper companies alive.

Jim Moroney
Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO, The Dallas Morning News, speaks at the 2015 ISOJ on the University of Texas-Austin campus, Apr. 17, 2015. Mengwen Cao/Knight Center

Crowdfunding, made possible through the Internet, can also help with sustainability, at least in the case of a new Spanish startup. Maria Ramírez, co-founder and deputy editor at El Español, discussed her online news outlet’s success in gaining monetary support from the public.

From Jan. 10 to March 1, El Español raised $3.1 million from 5,500 donors via crowdfunding.

“We were really surprised,” Ramírez said of the public’s support for the new enterprise.

She said the fundraising campaign was successful due to a strong push through social media, engagement in the community and the production of strong content with a powerful message.

Crowdfunding and a sustained social media campaign, Ramírez added, are not only part of a business model but they “discovered it can be a very, very powerful editorial tool” because of engagement with their audience.

Joy Robins, vice president of advertising at Quartz, discussed the promise of native advertising, sponsored content that she said is relevant to the user’s experience and feels similar to an editorial environment. It builds trust and engagement with potential customers of brands by relating to readers’ interests.

“Their audience isn’t going to them,” she said about brands. “The real trick is to get them to their audience.”

According to Robins, 91 percent of executives are likely to share work-related content with others if they find it valuable, which increases the overall reach exponentially. She was also quick to acknowledge that transparency is key, that Quartz readers can easily distinguish between paid content and impartial news coverage.

“Nobody wants to be fooled, especially a smart, intellectual audience,” she said.

Chia Ting Ting
Chia Ting Ting, head of advertising & digital marketing, MalaysiaKini, Kini Biz & Kini TV, Malaysia, speaks at the 2015 ISOJ on the University of Texas-Austin campus, Apr. 17, 2015. Mengwen Cao/Knight Center

Chia Ting Ting, head of advertising and digital marketing at MalaysiaKini, discussed how the business model has been reformatted in Malaysia, where a large part of the success is owed to native advertising and optimization for mobile and social media accessibility. Because content is now largely consumed through mobile, news organizations have had to find ways to adjust to readers’ lifestyle.

This 16th annual edition of ISOJ, which continues on Saturday, is being livestreamed in English here, and in Spanish here.

ISOJ 2015: Reformatting Business Q&A, from Knight Center on Vimeo.