Digital innovation, disruption and revolution in news media

“We have to be confident about the strong future of news,” asserted CBC director of news content David Walmsely during a special industry panel discussion on May 3.

Walmsely, who left his post as managing editor of The Globe and Mail in 2012, was one of four panelists discussing the Future of News during a special opening presentation on the second day of the INK+BEYOND newspaper conference in Ottawa.

Walmsely was joined by three additional news media industry representatives: Global News’ David Skok, Metroland East’s Mike Mount and Kim Fox from Newsana who moderated the discussion.

The conversation revolved around what impact the digital revolution has had on news media, how it has caused journalists to reevaluate their skills and strategies and what these changes mean for the days, years and decades ahead in the world of news making and storytelling.

One of the challenges that dominated the topic of conversation was digital innovation, or disruption. For the panelists, this disruption came in various forms depending on the medium and scale they represented.

As the digital director for Global TV News, David Skok said that news agencies need to consider how to tailor their digital content to compete with the faster and cheaper disruptors. The ones he named were Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, as he explained their ability to enter the market from the bottom and provide content that fills a specific need has succeeded while newspapers overshoot the needs of the contemporary consumer by bundling content in a way quickly becoming undesirable.

Coming from a community paper platform, Mike Mount explained that in an environment where audiences are accessing a similar realm of local news information via social networks, or through a Google search, the challenge is deciding how to make his newspapers’ content the best option for readers.

This brought the discussion to the influence and importance of metrics as a way to engage audiences. It is a powerful tool, but Skok and Walmsley both mentioned that what is trending does not always correlate to what is meaningful and it is part of a news organization’s responsibility to focus on the job of storytelling.

Fox, as the moderator then built on this and directed the conversation to how journalists can take into consideration how disruptions contribute to reassessing the way their jobs are done.

“When you merge the priorities and principles of online with linear models of storytelling, you can come up with an additional number of stories and they receive an additional treatment and the audience gets a much more holistic approach,” said Walmsley.“Using digital allows you to punctuate a story throughout the day and build a greater sense of authority on whatever the story may be.”

The panelists shared that the keys to creating a successful future for the news is through perpetual motion, individual engagement and a desire to amplify messages while being platform agnostic.

And not forgetting to look out the window.

“In terms of the definition of the future of news is it’s all of you, what confidence you bring to your jobs is going to define what the audience gets,” said Walmsley. “What is defined as news by the audience is evolving and will probably never end. The great disruption of digital changed the mechanics of what an audience is.”

“Regardless of whether traditional news organizations survive, I know that journalism will survive,” said Skok. “Of that I have no doubt.”