No one can argue that publishing hasn’t gone through monumental changes, which is especially seen over the course of 2018 with the many print publications that shuttered this year, like Glamour, or at the very least drastically reduced their print schedules, like Seventeen. There was also the buying and selling of popular digital publications, like Mic, which was purchased by Bustle Digital Group, and Time Magazine’s sale from Meredith to the Benioffs. Unfortunately, with much of this reshuffling and reshaping of the landscape comes layoffs, such as the 200 employees laid off by Meredith when they first announced their structural changes in September.
We asked our Adweek Advisory Board—comprised of 24 leaders across marketing, media and technology—to weigh in with their thoughts on the future of publishing in a digital landscape, the struggle with fake news and preserving integrity in the face of so much upheaval.
Print isn’t dead or even dying
As we reflect back on the past year, it’s hard to ignore the turmoil and feel totally optimistic about the future. But in many ways, there is still much to look forward to. “Print is far from dead,” said Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Hypergiant. “In fact, it’s claiming a new space in this digital media economy. … Print will serve as the curated news that people are now looking for, limited in content but high in caliber.”
While the world is becoming more digital, the way we absorb our news and content will change. Colin Kinsella, CEO North America of Havas Media Group, makes the point that the reputable publications like The New York Times will remain for years to come, “only the way we experience the brand will change.”
The battle against fake news
Fake news—and claims of fake news against legitimate publications—has been a blight on the publishing industry for years now. It’s something that publications have had to build protections against on their own platforms while also bending over backward to legitimize their own fact checking measures.
“They must be totally transparent with their readers,” said David Sable, Global CEO at Y&R. “They need to be wary about sharing speculation, and if they do speculate, be clear to readers that they are speculating, be rigorous in their sourcing and, finally, stay away from the practice of using anonymous sources.”
This is a sentiment that Lamm agrees with. “While it’s not their fault, the onus is on the press to create trust and build credibility.” He continued, “There is no denying that technology used to create and promote fake stories will continue to evolve. Photos can be doctored, and now, so can videos, complete with sound.”
In order to preserve their editorial integrity, “editors need to challenge the story, confirm its authenticity and rise above breaking news to deliver actual news,” Kinsella said. “They must also remain true to their mission, their content and their voice.”
Utilizing emerging tech
Of course, in a digital world, there will be ever-changing opportunities for leveraging technology to find solutions to problems.
For example, Lamm notes blockchain technology that can be used to fight against the fake news uprising. “As these technologies become more commonplace, publications need to leverage technology that spots fake news and altered source materials, and they need to educate their readers about this technology so it itself is trusted.”
Andrew Keller, global creative director at Facebook Creative Shop, adds onto this, pointing to the importance in data and personalization. “AI and machine learning will power how their websites work for different users, when to show paywalls, who to monetize in what ways. This will help them know their audience better, be able to reach them in more effective ways and deepen the relationship they have with them.”
Content remains king
Ultimately, the most important lesson learned in publishing is that content is the most valued element to audiences. The clickbait titles, the alarmist fake news and the sites saturated with ads are not the ones that are going to reel in readers—rather, if you produce content that brings value and intrigue to readers’ days, then you’ll find true growth in readership.
“For any advertiser or publisher, creating value for people with your content should be the top priority,” Keller said. “People are creating, consuming and sharing content faster than ever before, so adopting an agile process for developing and monetizing content to match this behavior will help publishers learn what works well for their business but also provides value to the communities they serve.”
Lamm agrees, saying, “Publishers need to hold on stories whose value is not determined by the amount of traffic it receives.” He continued, “That being said, I don’t think it’s realistic to totally dismiss the need for popular articles. This content … can also provide publications with the means to support themselves and not get diluted by sponsored content.”
Going in a slightly different direction, Baiju Shah, chief strategy officer at Accenture Interactive, believes that focusing on the next emerging tech isn’t the best move for publishers. “Instead of looking to the next technology, publishers need to hire more and better writers to create content that touches people and creates meaning,” Shah said. “Like everything else happening in 2019, the publishing industry tracks back to consumers’ reassessment of the impact that digital technology is having in their lives and an emphasis on what really matters.”