Media Innovation: A never-ending Story

Media must juggle technology with revenue streams

Digital disruption, a danger? No, embrace it, speakers urged at the GEN Summit.

It may fill your newsroom with strangely speaking techies but journalists will find them useful in the end according to Martin Baron, Executive Editor of the Washington Post.

Lucy Kueng, Senior Research Fellow at Reuters Institute, told delegates that the task at hand was to balance the digital journalistic imperative with a functional revenue model. “The way to get there is the incorporation of shiny new things, namely tech and data.” The clash of journalistic and engineering cultures should be appreciated as chance rather than an inevitable evil.

In fact, strategy has always been overthrown by innovation. Sabine Miesgang, Research Associate at Klosterneuburg Monastery, compared current developments to the invention of the book print and argued that Gutenberg would be considered a geek by today’s standards.

Martin Baron demands a tight relation between engineers and journalists

Martin Baron regarded his engineers as first class citizens within the company. “They drive our development with their creativity and there is a tight bond between them and our journalists.”

Early research results of the Reuters Institute presented at GEN Summit provided three possible explanations for the fact that certain news companies have adapted much better to the ongoing digital disruption: Leadership clarity, cultural acceptance within the staff and structural flexibility. The Washington Post and the BBC reported these structures are in place and they are profiting from them now.

But even they cannot afford to stand still. Dmitry Shishkin, Digital Development Editor at the BBC, estimated approximately one billion additional people will be online by 2020. Content needs to be diversified. He was not a fan of disruption, but admitted that there was value in a “mixture of new brains and old hands”.

Many speakers said that in this day and age, news leaders gradually have to become technology leaders. While some attending the GEN worried that journalistic standards might suffer at the hands of technology, they accepted the need to remain competitive. As Martin Baron put it: “We put a man on the moon before we put wheels on luggage. We do not always have to aim for the saving shot, but go for the things in front of us.”