What we learned from News Impact in 2017

At the beginning of 2017, we announced the continuation of our News Impact Series, powered by the Google News Lab. Since 2014, we have organised 23 News Impact Summits. They are free-to-join events for journalists to meet, network with, learn from and get inspired by other journalists from international media outlets. In parallel with our Summits, this year we also introduced an exciting new initiative: the News Impact Academy.

After touring all over Europe (and beyond) meeting dozens of talented digital pioneers and discover buzzing local media scenes, we saw the need to go one step further and create a platform to connect and support them. We wanted to provide a space for open knowledge sharing, where we could nurture leadership skills and enhance creativity.

Throughout this year’s five editions -which took place in Rome, Hamburg, Budapest, Manchester and Brussels- the Academy has connected 100 media professionals from 19 countries: digital innovators with very different backgrounds, coming from big and small news organisations, as well as start-up founders, researchers and entrepreneurs.

We wanted to bring together groups as diverse as possible in terms of background, roles, and nationalities — a goal that became both a challenge and an opportunity. We needed to conceive a programme that would be relevant and useful for a broad range of professionals at the same time, people with different needs and different goals. However, this diversity also gave us a valuable opportunity to be exposed to many more ideas and perspectives and, ultimately, we found out that our day-to-day challenges had a lot in common and united us.

On the verge of 2018, there’s no doubt that digital transformation is the only way forward for the industry. News organisations need to go through a transition that is everything but easy: from rethinking their core mission and business model, to reorganising their workplaces and learn how to listen to their audience.

This digital transformation has already started and it’s a relentless, ongoing process. If legacy media and new media projects want to survive and thrive in the time to come, we will need to work on long-term strategies that include a necessary organisational change where content, technology and data finally meet, and where innovation is thoroughly embraced as a powerful driving force.

What have we learned?

In each Academy edition, we spent a lot of time sharing challenges and best practices around how to push innovation and transformation in the media industry, and this is what we found out:

1. Culture is everything

Involving the whole organisation, and not only the leadership or the “web” or “tech” departments, is key to navigating and surviving in the digital era. Routines and assumptions from the past, however, can become a challenging wall that we have to finally overcome. Change and experimentation have to be understood across the different teams and departments, they all have to share the same mission and work together towards it.

2. The monologue era is over

Traditionally, journalists find and tell stories to their audience. They do ask questions and observe, but this has always been a one-directional process. Today, these dynamics are shifting and are fundamentally changing the way in which newsrooms report and engage with the public. By adopting a user-centered approach, by listening and opening a conversation with our audience, we can burst the newsroom bubble, empower communities and benefit from their knowledge to create products and content that better serve their needs,

3. People and processes

As part of the organisational change, new roles are being invented and internal workflows are being adopted. Innovation happens at the crossroad of different skillsets and points of view, therefore we need more diversity and collaboration in the newsroom. With new workflows to overcome boundaries between content and engineering, we can enable a powerful synergy to develop new products and have a more transversal knowledge-sharing flow within the organisation. Continuous learning and training for all the staff will be critical to retain talent and nurture new skills and expertise.

4. We need new revenue models

The ad-based model is broken and will not sustain journalism in the mid or long run. News organisations and media entrepreneurs need to find alternative revenue models and new ways to monetise their work. Membership models seem to be an interesting, sustainable path as they imply a stronger relationship with the audience based on trust and engagement. Many newsrooms are also starting to organising offline events, as these can be monetised and allow journalists to strengthen bonds with their public.

5. Listen to the metrics

We have many tools and data available, but newsrooms still struggle to find a strategy and a clear way to identify and measure their impact. When experimenting and embarking on new projects, most of the ideas will probably fail. It’s therefore important to pay attention to the right analytics, know what the goals are, and know how to efficiently assess success.

What’s next?

With the News Impact Academy we want to keep supporting and developing the drivers of change in the European media scene. We want to build bridges between them and also learn how other industries are scaling and innovating. We’ve seen that a human-centred approach can help us to better understand and engage with our audience’s needs and thus create new solutions.

Since we launched the Academy earlier this year, we’ve been in five different European countries to openly talk about change and innovation and in all the editions we’ve witnessed similar patterns. We’ve realised that we’re not alone with our challenges and that in the way forward we have the unparalleled chance of reinventing a more collaborative, resilient and responsible media industry.

In 2018, we are excited and committed to keep supporting and accelerating media innovation through the continuation and expansion of the News Impact Series and, as our Director Adam Thomas has underlined in his NiemanLab prediction, we strongly believe that “we need to invest in organizational change, personal growth, and the human connections that will get us there”.

Exciting times are ahead for all journalists willing to contribute to build an innovative and sustainable future for the media industry. Stay tuned.