We attended WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress in Zaragoza last week, and - armed with pen and paper, like any good newshound - I took notes during some of the most thought-provoking keynotes. I think the ideas contained within those presentations are going to have a significant effect on the media industry - so I’m sharing them now, and I’d love to know what you think, too.

David Higgerson, Chief Digital Publisher at Reach, (UK)

"In today's digital landscape it’s not about ‘what do we have to tell?’ but rather ‘what can we tell at various moments of the day?’"

What Higgerson is signalling here is that it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the audience is telling the newsroom how they should commission their storytelling.

When we talk about user needs (which we have done a lot recently), this is what we mean: writing about what your audience cares about, instead of writing about what you (or the newsroom) believes is relevant.

Think about Tom Rosenstiel’s 2013 TedTalk. There he said that there was a shift going on in the digital landscape, and in his opinion the audience needed - and wanted - to be convinced that they should visit you to satisfy their news-related needs.. It is not true the other way around where newsrooms determine what the audience needs to know. We’ve moved way beyond that dynamic. Times have changed. Have you? It’s an uncomfortable question, but it’s one we should all be asking ourselves.

Jo Holdaway, Chief Data & Marketing Officer at The Independent (UK)

"It’s now engagement over scale."

Holdaway was in the same keynote as Higgerson and they discussed the importance of creating engaging content in order to help the audience proceed through the funnel from ‘fly bys’ towards being engaged, subscribed and logged-in members. And, the solution here is magic, but it’s not complicated: it’s simply to create engaging content: stuff that your audience actually cares about. Holdaway continued by stating that publishers should make the online experience easier, better and more rewarding in order to ‘create’ returning visitors.

It’s important to understand that a lot of these quotes came from the overall feeling that after the enormous peaks in reach (during the pandemic) many publishers now see a decline in exposure or have reached a plateau in traffic. In order to get a stronger relationship with their audience they need to build trust. And that’s something publishers believe they can realise with creating more engaging content.

During the keynote ‘resetting newsroom priorities’ Adriaan Basson, editor-in-chief of South Africa's News24 started with explaining how his brand strategically shifted from a breaking news organisation to a trusted news organisation. This was a brilliant and concrete example of the need for building trust. Just look at this: even the focus changed from Breaking News first to Towards Trusted News.

What was fascinating is that he created two editorial teams. A fast team and a slow team.
News24 added talent and news skills to the (slow) team in order to make more outstanding content. Skills like podcast producers, investigative journalism, data journalism or examples of that. This all helped them create more of the kind of content that their audience truly values.

It’s important to understand that a lot of these quotes came from the overall feeling that after the enormous peaks in reach (during the pandemic) many publishers now see a decline in exposure or have reached a plateau in traffic.

Rutger Verhoeven, CMO @ smartocto

Rutger Verhoeven CMO @ smartocto

Phil Chetwynd, Global News Director at AFP (France)

"Storytelling needs to be visual in order to be relevant for digital."

In the same keynote Phil Chetwynd addressed the importance of fact checking and focusing on delivering trustworthy news. It’s important for a news agency like AFP to be aware of that in everything they do, especially because In the new media landscape, AFP faces many challenges. They see the essence for creating content that can be used in multiple ways on various channels and they’re focusing more and more on social media publishing. This in turn forces them to create various social media formats. A great example of that is that they need to make vertical images and video footage - something that their journalists aren’t used to.

Lisa MacLeod, Principal at FT Strategies (UK)

"The chinese wall between journalism and commerce is important for trust, but makes digital transformation and data in the newsroom more difficult."

The Financial Times has put a lot of work in digital transformation and this has been a success. It’s also why they’ve made a separate division: FT strategies, which helps other newsrooms with similar processes. They got the backing of Google to finance that great mission even further.

MacLeod is obviously very experienced and showed a lot of insights about the dirty daily practice of the transformation process. She knows data is vital to survival: “Once we know the mission and the ultimate success metric of the media organisation, we help with finding some simple proxy metric in their analytics.”

My sense is that digital transformation is no longer a nice think-topic for conferences, but primarily a necessary do-topic for all newsrooms. The urgency is there, the methods become more clear.

So my final take away from this congress is that next to building trust and creating more engaging content that fits the user needs discussion there’s a big cultural change going on in newsrooms. This can be on the way they work (focus on the needs of your audience) to the way they create content (vertical images and short form).