New Role for Publishers Emerges in the Digital World

The digital universe is creating a compelling new role for publishers, but they can’t take their rightful place without letting go of entrenched practices. It’s not easy to do, but nothing less than the future of their businesses – and their role in democratic society — is at stake.

That’s the message from Dietmar Schantin, Founder of the Institute for Media Strategies, which provides news media companies with insights, advice and training to help their digital transformation.

In a series of presentations over several weeks to a wide variety of conferences and audiences, Dietmar said today’s publishers can strengthen their rightful place in society as the antidote to the digital voices spewing false news, rumors and propaganda. But to do so, they have to change perceptions about their own credibility, engage in practical audience research and stop trying to be all things to all people.

That means stop thinking of themselves solely as a provider of news and information, but instead think of themselves as “a service to the community.”

“I think many publishers don’t know who they are anymore or why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he said. “They don’t have a clear mission or vision. They try everything in order to survive, do too many things for too many target groups. And because of financial pressure and reductions in staff, many go the easy route to get stories and have reduced critical thinking, investigative journalism and original reporting.”

Dietmar Schantin Speaking at the IEC General Meeting 2016 in Frankfurt (Quelle: DKE)
Dietmar Schantin speaking at the IEC General Meeting 2016 in Frankfurt (Source: DKE)

“Creating this vision is one of the most crucial things, but it is very difficult to do and sometimes people skip it,” he said. “They focus on ‘what we’re going to do’, not ‘why we’re doing it.’”

“Of course, this is easy to say from the outside,” he continued. “The financial pressure is huge. But I think they’re caught in a vicious circle: less trust, less relevance, less paying customers, less money, more pressure.”

Feedback from media consumers confirms it: research from both media companies and research institutions show that traditional media are too often seen to be a part of the very institutions and establishments they are supposed to cover, and are providing too broad an offering on digital platforms that dilutes their core values.

“Many publishing houses are again focusing on quality, in order to compete with all these free news and content sources,” Dietmar said. “They try to say, ‘look, if you come to us, we have the higher quality,’ and therefore they can also ask for money for it. So the trend for some media – not for all, it depends on the brand, of course – is more for quality, not so much for speed.”

The Institute for Media Strategies advocates a holistic approach to transforming media companies. The modern media company should be customer focused and digital-centric, Dietmar said. It should have an omni-platform publishing model (digital, print, events, e-commerce, out-of-home, video, audio – wherever the audiences are), invest in developing new revenue streams, and seek to “future proof” its operations. And it needs a modern and flexible organisation that is lean and efficient.

But too, often, tackling all those elements seems to be too daunting for publishers. “Many companies try to narrow it down to one aspect of transformation – the most common is to get a new system, or to get a new building or re-launch a website. This isolated thinking doesn’t really work because many pieces of the puzzle are old-fashioned and don’t work with the new ones.”

The Institute for Media Strategies (@media_institute), is an independent, international advisory and research organisation for the news media industry. The Institute advises publishers on the design and implementation of change programmes that encompass editorial and advertising content, product and platform strategy, organisation design, technology and tools, and more. It works in more than 20 countries.

For interview or presentation requests, or more about the IFMS approach, contact Dietmar (d.schantin [@] ifms-ltd.com) or Larry Kilman (l.kilman [@] ifms-ltd.com).

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