News & Views

Check out this thought-provoking piece (http://fus.in/1GfPbhS) from fellow Reuters alumni Felix Salmon, now with Fusion, on careers (or the lack thereof) in ‘digital’ journalism — loosely defined as the morass of ‘platforms’ and media startups that are replacing radio and newspapers as the budding newsperson’s employer of choice. Leaving aside the irony of someone who’s carved out a career at as a digital journalist at a millennial-minded media outlet writing about how it’s impossible to do exactly that, the article makes a couple of very salient points.

First, the (US)  journalism salary scale — where pay apparently tops out at around $60,000 — is exactly why we have head-scratching situations like these (http://slate.me/1K0CWH3), where Pulitzer winners are forced to leave the industry to make ends meet. It’s also true the rapid proliferation of new media ‘platforms’ is likely to not only prove disruptive to traditional forms of media, but to these platforms themselves, and the young digital natives that power them. Even the newest industries are subject to the laws of economic gravity — increased supply leads to lower prices, for subscriptions and advertising and journalists alike. And if technology is the only differentiator, it’s the only thing that’s truly irreplaceable, and where the only substantial investments will be made.

So does that leave journalism best pursued as a hobby? As Salmon seems to conclude, probably not. Most people don’t get into it for the money in the first place, and there will always be journalists who manage to thrive; it’s just going to be a lot more competitive. We also agree that cultivating craft and expertise in something specific, whether it’s the offshore bond markets or scripting for video, is probably the best form of job insurance there is. A specialisation can always prove valuable in another field, if, as is the case with our Pulitzer winners these days, journalism doesn’t allow you to pay the rent.


It’s not a daily event, but every once in a while, the worlds of journalism, publishing and marketing converge to create content that shines. Thanks to the clever folks at Contently for tipping us off (http://bit.ly/1CBB8Tv) to an exceptional example from Marriott Hotels, which has just launched a travel magazine that’s (so far at least) beautifully designed, well-written and genuinely informative. It also barely mentions the company or its plush properties throughout (though the website of course makes booking a stay very easy if one is so inclined). Check out the inaugural issue, on New Orleans, here: http://traveler.marriott.com/new-orleans/

Rather than badgering an audience to make a purchase, this approach positions Marriott as an authoritative (and entertaining) source of intelligence on a perennially interesting topic — a much better way to keep people coming back. Also interesting is that the project has the potential to generate revenue in its own right. A tip of the n/n hat to Marriott for challenging some common, if usually unspoken, beliefs about marketing — that it’s typically a cost centre, should stick to formulas and is no place for quality journalism, or the truth. We know where we’ll be booking our next vacation.

 

 


The sudden demise of widely respected technology news website Gigaom (RIP) has sent a chill through media circles. If an outlet with a monthly readership in the millions, an authoritative roster of journalists and a diverse business model that extends into research and events can’t make it — even after several successful funding rounds  — what hope can there possibly be for the rest of us?

It’ll be a while before the post-mortems are concluded. But one of the reigning — and more disheartening — theories so far is that Gigaom was in essence punished for doing everything right. Its determination to avoid the sensationalism and ‘clickbait’ that litters much of the Internet media landscape was well known, as was its doggedly independent editorial stance, which didn’t endear it to many potential customers and advertisers. Slate‘s Will Oremus (http://slate.me/1Byz4d6) and Jason Bloomberg in Forbes (http://onforb.es/1D8vGZJ) have both produced riveting reads on this theme.

Another possibility is that Gigaom simply took on more money than it could handle — see this piece by Danny Sullivan in Medium (http://bit.ly/1C5kgGn). While this obviously leaves Gigaom looking slightly less heroic, Sullivan’s point that venture capital isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for media companies, is spot on. We don’t discount the idea entirely, but our experiences suggest Gigaom wasn’t killed off for refusing to play ball with big technology vendors. It’s not only readers who respect and value journalistic independence — the best advertisers do too, because they’re confident enough to not only withstand a little scrutiny, but welcome it.

 


As far as we know, it’s not too often that a star literary agent opens up on the state of the industry, so this candid interview with rainmaker Chris Parris-Lamb in the always-illuminating Guernica magazine is well worth a read: http://bit.ly/1AyPEWk.

Despite the changes sweeping the publishing world Parris-Lamb remains defiantly traditional in some of his beliefs – not least that writers deserve to earn a respectable living and that good editors are still very much a necessity in the days of self-publishing. Full agreement from the n/n bunker on both counts.


There’s been a very interesting conversation unfolding on Twitter over the last couple of days under the #AdviceForYoungJournalists hashtag. Recommendations for budding hacks has come fast and furious, and has ranged from the depressing (from @joemfbrown, “learn to weld”) to the practical (“always carry toilet paper with you,” @melissakchan advises those working overseas) and the sublime (“go into the world humbly,” @JulieMcCarthyJM). As with all worthy insights, a lot of these would fall into the #AdviceForYoungAnyone category (if it existed). Full disclosure: we chimed in as well, with a recommendation to study and absorb William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style (really. It’s that good.).

And then, an actual young journalist came along with some input that pretty much blew everything else away. For anyone contemplating (or still in) the industry, this fine piece by Will Butler in Medium should be required reading: http://bit.ly/1zYRDpW. Besides, what kind of self-respecting journalist listens to their elders anyway?

 


It’ll require some fancy mouse-work, but do check out the lead story in the latest edition of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong’s magazine, in which a member of the n/n team (among others) weighs in on how the digital environment is changing the news business. The entire publication can be viewed via the following link, with the cover story starting on page 12:

http://www.fcchk.org/article/correspondent-january-february-2015

For those who find it a click too far, the key takeaways: The Internet and mobile platforms represent both an opportunity and a threat to the traditional titans of the industry — news agencies like Reuters, AP and Bloomberg. Helped by their considerable resources and talent, most are already adjusting their strategies to match. And they may find themselves going head-to-head with some of their own customers in the process.


Stories about the state of the print media industry are almost relentlessly grim, so it’s nice to see a couple about signs of life in one segment — magazines. The New York Post notes that last year was a banner one for magazine launches (http://bit.ly/13KnDlJ) while NPR has published an uplifting piece on the lasting appeal of literary journals (http://n.pr/1vBWpFG).

On the flipside, both the Atlantic (http://theatln.tc/1zuXlSM) and Bloomberg Businessweek (http://buswk.co/1BW72cw) seem skeptical about the prospects for newly cashed-up Next Issue Media, which offers a Netflix-like app for the magazine world, allowing consumers to access multiple titles with a single monthly subscription. Now granted, these venerable titles may be home to more than a few die-hard print traditionalists, but their core arguments ring true. Glossy pages just don’t look or feel the same on an iPad, and most magazines have perfectly good, responsive websites that make a paid-for app somewhat redundant. Just because a new medium exists doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to use it.


Some compelling thoughts from global consulting giant Deloitte in their annual list of telecommunications, technology and media (TMT) predictions:

http://deloi.tt/1DF7BcD

The key (and perhaps most encouraging) takeaways from our perspective — first, that a lot of the hype about how the ‘Internet of Things,’ or connected ‘smart’ devices, is going to to revolutionise the way the average consumer goes about their business may be just that. As long as it’s associated with $99 lightbulbs (http://bit.ly/1BXXPhv), the IoT will remain more aspiration than reality. As Deloitte points out however, it may be a different story for enterprises, which have bigger pocketbooks and are already well-established users of smart gadgets. And the data some of those devices generate will open new marketing and content possibilities.

Also nice to hear that e-readers are a long way from displacing physical books completely, even among the younger crowd. Many are reportedly still attached to print books because they appreciate their smell and the sight of full bookshelves. We couldn’t agree more — is there anything quite like a leisurely browse in a crammed bookshop on a rainy day? Which is why we were disheartened by the news of the demise of yet another bookstore chain in our hometown (http://bit.ly/1C5CmDm). Show the love by splashing out on some real page-turners today, folks!

Finally, Deloitte’s less than sold on the financial prospects for short-form (under 20 minutes) video, hailed by many as the future of television. It seems it’s easy enough for short-form video to get eyeballs, but not repeat viewings or commitment — which should be far more important for content creators. For all the talk about shorter attention spans, audiences will still make time for a longer story — as long as it’s engaging, and well-told.

 

 

 


Happy New Year, everyone. In line with our prediction that data (compellingly delivered) will be used to build audiences and tell more stories this year, here’s a gem of an outfit that gets data visualisation right – Information is Beautiful (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/). It’s created some arresting presentations on everything from air safety to diversity in the technology industry, but us being who we are, these two on must-read books are probably our favourites:

http://bit.ly/12E1CEy

http://bit.ly/1vTUBu4

IIB’s also produced a very handy cocktail recipe guide for those who aren’t inclined to let the holiday celebrations end just yet. Enjoy (ahem, responsibly): http://bit.ly/1Jw2Q6G


2014 was a big year, for New Narrative and our hometown of Hong Kong. We’re looking forward to a brief holiday break before we plunge in to a new year that’s likely to be no less eventful. Our thanks and warmest holiday wishes to our clients, friends and industry peers. May your 2015 be crammed with great content, and new beginnings.