New Media’s Movers & Shakers

Publicity Club of NY Panel on Contributed Content

Last week the Publicity Club of New York hosted a luncheon that featured a handful of editorial gatekeepers responsible for “contributed content” at their media organizations.

Our panel included (l. to r.): Jessica Liebman, managing editor, Business Insider; Frank Wilkinson, Editorial Board member, Bloomberg View; Lance Gould, Executive Impact editor, Huffington Post; Kathryn Minshew, CEO/founder, The Muse; Natalie Zmuda, CMO Strategy editor, Ad Age, and Richard Galant, Senior Editor, Opinion, CNN Digital.

No, this was not (another) discussion of “native advertising” or “sponsored content.” Rather, we explored the process through which op-eds, by-liners and non-staff submitted articles find their way into these varied media properties. In PR-speak, this was a hybrid mix of “owned” and “earned” media, i.e., no money needed. Their opening remarks are here (RT 30 mins+/-)

On attendee was my old friend Sam Whitmore who for years has kept tabs on the technology media spheres. His Media Survey newsletter is a must read for comms pros toiling in that tumultuous space. Following the luncheon, we waxed on the explosion in media-hosted events and conferences, and the vital role these play as an important revenue stream for content companies. I wrote about this back in November. 

Ken Lerer and Om Malik  

One such event, for those interested in the business of media, and the convergence of technology and journalism, happened to take place this week at the New York City headquarters of one of the most venerable (yet beleaguered) media companies: Time Inc.

It is here where GigaOM hosted a who’s who of media movers & shakers for its paidContent Live conference. Here’s a quick overview of some of the sessions I caught.

I enjoyed the conversation Om Malik had with Lerer ventures’ Ken Lerer (more below) in which Mr. Lerer said:

Long-form journalism has to find its place online. It hasn’t yet. Easier to read online than 3-4 years ago…You can’t have great content unless it’s partnered with great tech. But pendulum has swung back to content is king…Right now is a good time to disrupt broadcast and cable industry…It is the best time in the last 8 years to invest in digital content companies.”

On what companies attract Lerer the most: “We see 100 companies a month, 75% iterations of others…we don’t want copycats.”

Roth, Martin, Bankoff and Weisberg (l. to r.)

For the next session on the “new media barons” who may “change the media landscape,” we heard from Dan Roth, executive editor, LinkedIn; Erik Martin, GM, Reddit; Jim Bankoff, CEO, Vox Media and moderator Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor-in-chief, Slate Group.

From LinkedIn’s Roth:

“Every two hours we’re taking a pulse of everything being shared on LinkedIn…People respond to [Richard] Branson’s raw columns on our site…The lack of polish actually works really well…None of these people (the celebrity bloggers) are being paid by us…80% write their own…”

Spoon, Alt, Pontin and Roberts (l. to r.)

In the session “Are Apps or the Web the Future of Mobile Mobile Content,” GigaOM/paidContent’s Jeff Roberts explored the conundrum many mobile content creators face: an app or HTML 5 browser-based website for mobile content delivery?

MIT Technology Review‘s EIC & Publisher Jason Pontin clearly was no fan of native apps. Here he quipped:

“We have moved to the brighter pasture of HTML5 and have closed down our iOS and Android apps…Most publishers aren’t like the New York Times or ESPN with 120 developers. That’s why HTML is so attractive….I hated every moment of native apps…The native app experience was horrible.”

Why mince words, Jason?  Pontin was joined by Nick Alt, VP of Mobile for Vimeo, and Ryan Spoon, SVP, Product Development, for ESPN who countered: “Our goal across everything we do is lift engagement. If that means using native mobile apps, we’ll pursue it.”

David Karp and Mathew Ingram

Finally, I enjoyed Mathew Ingram’s chat with Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp in which Mr. Karp carped:

“[We] focus on time spent on page, not pageviews. It’s a tougher metric, but it makes sense…we have 100m blogs on Tumblr and their readers average 14 minutes per visit…We don’t want to say what great content is. We don’t want to say that these are our favorite blogs…We monetize with incredibly creative advertising that creates intent…Profitability is not a metric that is particularly important to us but it will happen…”

The next day, Mr. Ingram tweeted a link to the conference’s Flipboard page with some of the conference’s highlights.

If you want to catch up on some of the great panels at paidContent Live, we created a Flipboard magazine here:
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) April 18, 2013

As for me, I switched hats from digital communications/PR strategist to content creator and grabbed some video with Lerer Ventures’ principal Ken Lerer and The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. Lerer talked to me a bit about how young people today consume media differently, the skill sets new media journalists need, and the evolving land grab in the marketing communications space:


Rusbridger talked about quality journalism (in which The Guardian excels IMHO), where citizen journalists fit in the editorial mix, the challenges aspiring journalists face, and the ephemeral nature of news (my term, not his).


Finally, I was pleased to catch a session titled “How to Monetize Digital Content: Advertising or Paywall” in which Mr. Ingram probed as esteemed panel that featured Bob Bowman, President and CEO, MLB Advanced Media, Raju Narisetti, SVP and Deputy Head of Strategy, News Corp, Justin Smith, President, Atlantic Media and Dick Tofel, President, ProPublic, on what model makes the most sense. I knew all personally except for Mr. Bowman whose organization I included in a recent post pegged to MLBAM’s appearance at the New York Tech Meetup.

Tofel, Smith, Narisetti, Bowman and Ingram

I was especially interested in hearing what Mr. Smith had to say in light of The Atlantic’s business and editorial success under his stewardship. And then there was the recent debacle over questionable sponsored content in his publication. I also like the reference to Herb Schmertz of Mobil Oil and the New York Times op-ed page advertorials he singlehandedly ushered.  Here are some of his remarks:

“Traditional media needs to think about disrupting their own cost structures, while they’re looking for paywalls….this notion that this is the year of the paywall, has been a little bit overhyped in the market…People aren’t going to come back just because they paid for it…they will come back because the content is good…Where are the hot content startups that have a pay model?…Why is this such a legacy issue?…Advertorials have been going on for 100s of years…How is that different than sponsored content?…The Scientology ad imbroglio was a flat out mistake. It forced us to develop new guidelines.”

I expected to grab some video with Justin whom I knew from his days at The Week.  NPR’s “On the Media” producer Chris Neary was also hanging outside the green room for that very purpose.  Justin was cool. His PR person, a former network TV news personality, was less so.  She effectively thwarted the interviews from taking place, promising to come back to us to re-schedule.  (I’m still waiting for the call.)

I guess “just saying no” is how former journalists justify their PR value to their clients. Too bad. I’m a huge fan of Justin’s and would have given him considerable latitude to share the secrets of his success at The Atlantic Media Group. Also, at this stage, he’s clearly adept at handling any peccadilloes thrown his way.

Photos/Video: Peter Himler (Canon PowerShot X40 HS)

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