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Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Publishers, editors and advertisers identify responses to digital transition

From June 7-11, WAN-IFRA held its annual World Newspaper Congress, World Editors Forum and World Advertising Forum, in Turin, Italy. The events attracted 1,000 publishers, chief editors and other news executives from nearly 90 countries. Here’s WAN-IFRA’s summary of the key takeaways.

World Newspaper Congress

There were five key takeaways: constant innovation (‘think like a startup’); blending tech, content and development; collaboration (‘why go it alone?’); mobile; leveraging technology and data.

The five takeaways are all driven by one “simple” fact: the digital transition. Speaker after speaker “gave pleas, encouragement and warnings to their colleagues about the urgency of today’s publishing environment”.

As George Nimeh, Chief Digital Officer for Kurier in Austria, put it: “If you don’t start every day by thinking about your digital journey, you are in deep trouble.”

Constant innovation

“Innovation is day-to-day business,” said Thiago Madeiros Ribeiro, Digital Product Manager of Brazil’s RBS Media Group. Newspapers must break away from the assembly-line approach. Instead they need to make it possible for staff with different skills to come together to solve problems and get new products to market.

“The days of launching a product, letting it just sit there, and then moving on to another product are over. Everything needs to be tested, evaluated, developed and refined… constantly.”

Blending tech, content and development

Publishers need to blend tech, content and development. Tech isn’t an end in itself, it’s the means of telling a better story. Developers have to be at the same table as developers. Newspapers need to involve developers and designers in the news meetings and strategy discussions – “they are just as much storytellers as journalists are”.


To prosper, the media industry has to be as good at collaboration as it is at competition.

“Whether it be mobile, video, analytics, the upcoming onslaught of wearables, etc., it’s obvious that collaboration and partnerships are a key part of any publisher’s digital strategy, particularly when going up against goliaths and especially if you are a smaller publisher.” Collaborating enables publishers to access skills they don’t possess in-house, while at the same time saving costs.

“Although we often say that small and nimble is better, most of us are about as nimble as a big cargo ship.”


In the current environment, mobile is first, last and everything in between. Partnerships are essential if you’re to succeed in that format – news publishers aren’t mobile companies and app development talent can only be found in specialist companies. Focus on what you do best and collaborate to do the rest.

“If you want to figure out social, then you have to figure out mobile. If you want to figure out video, you have to figure out mobile.”

Leveraging data

Data ‘oils’ the digital news business. You need to collect and analyse as much relevant data as you can to get the best out of your products and services. But for most it still has only potential value. “The actual monetisation of data is a much more involved process even after the not-insignificant work of collecting it.”

World Editors Forum

Key themes of the editors’ meeting were: the ongoing transformation of the newsroom; the impact of Edward Snowden; press freedom; video; pushing the boundaries of globalised journalism and digital journalism.

Ongoing transformation of the newsroom

“Stories under 500 words do well. Stories longer than 800 words work well. And in the middle there’s a deadzone.” – Gabriel Kahn, Professor of Professional Practice; Co-Director, Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship; Director, Future of Journalism at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, USA

“We still get people saying ‘we should hold this for print’ and I say ‘why not just throw it in the trash?’ Convergence is the only way forward. You cannot keep print and digital separate. It won’t work, not even in developing contexts.” – David Callaway.

Press Freedom

“This Golden Pen [of Freedom award] …materializes the support and shows that he is not forgotten. That he is one of us. That an attack on one journalist is an attack on us all and that jailing a journalist is a crime against humanity.” – Swedish journalist Martin Schibbye, accepting the 2014 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), on behalf of imprisoned Ethiopian publisher, journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega.

National security, liberty, regulation and the role of a free press in the post-Snowden era

“It’s created a very real chilling effect among our sources. They’ve become nervous about talking with us. They don’t want their phone numbers associated with us. And government employees who previously routinely talked to us, now won’t.” – Gary Pruitt, President & CEO, The Associated Press, USA.

“Journalism may have to be moved ‘off shore” to avoid creeping surveillance” – Janine Gibson, Editor-in-Chief, and Deputy Editor of Guardian News and Media, UK.

Pushing the boundaries of global journalism and digital journalism

“I believe we are at the beginning of a major movement in cross-border, collaborative investigative journalism.” – Rosental Alves, Professor, Knight Chair of Journalism, University of Texas, Austin, USA.

“Geography in the newsroom is the most important: having coders, designers, product people in the same room.” – Aron Pilhofer.

“Consistent revenue comes from a combination of both short, sharp video and long, evergreen content.” – Marie-Noëlle Vallès, Head of Video, AFP, France.

“Younger generations are increasingly interested in news but increasingly cynical about sources of news.” – Jason Mojica, Editor-in-Chief, Vice News, USA.

World Advertising Forum

The trends that have been shaping the industry in recent years show no sign of slowing, though digital revenues from tables are encouraging. The key takeaways were: print is in decline, but still the main source of revenue; accountability, ROIROI (Return on Investment)Net profit divided by investment.

Print in decline, but still the main source of revenue

“The real money in newspapers is still in print – digital is our future, but it is a future not yet realised.” The situation isn’t helped by the fact that “advertising fatigue” is growing, with more people turning to ad blockers for browsers, mobile and TV.

Accountability, ROI becoming essential

Today’s advertisers expect return-on-investment (ROI) and a much higher level of accountability than in the past. Businesses are buying into ROI, and it is increasingly governing decisions.

New ways of measuring impact

The industry needs to look at new ways of measuring its impact. “We need to stop thinking in terms of how many people read us every day and focus on how many people we influence every day”.

Programmatic is saving digital advertising

Programmatic advertising isn’t a passing phase, “it’s very much a stable part of the digital ecosystem”. “It’s no longer a question of should publishers get involved with programmatic, but how do we get involved?”

Tablets offering very good yield

“Tablet advertising is giving a very, very good yield. That is something that is similar to print in giving good value for us,” with tablets showing responses of up to 40 times higher than online ads.

Article by Peter Whitehead

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