New Points of View: Cautious Optimism and a Transition in Progress

New Points of View: Cautious Optimism and a Transition in Progress

Douglas S. Griffen is a Consultant for INNOVATION and the primary facilitator of the INNOVATION MEDIA Computer Assisted Brainstorming Sessions (CABS). This article is a based on a survey conducted by Mr. Griffen in the Spring of 2014 to gain new insights and points of view from WAN-IFRA members on their outlook on the newspaper and media industry. The survey, consisting of 30 questions (mix of open ended responses and specific assessments) was conducted using the WIQ interactive platform ( and we are appreciative of their support of the WAN-IFRA Conference and the 2014 INNOVATION World Report. The survey is qualitative in nature and not ‘projectable’, but the style of the survey essentially yielded 50+ indepth interviews from a broad set of WAN-IFRA members.

This document is an analysis of the survey and includes the full survey responses as part of the document package. Highlights of the survey can be found in the 2014 Innovations in Newspapers World Report (pages 92-95) that was distributed in Torino on June 11.

Survey Snapshot: WAN-IFRA members from North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia/Pacific provided new insights and perspectives on the news and media industry today and where they see the industry headed in the next 5 years. There is a cautious optimism that the industry is regaining its balance and growth after a challenging recessionary period and a long transition to integrated media platforms. While many issues and challenges remain, the survey respondents indexed the optimism for the industry and its outlook in 2014 at 54 (1-100 index where a ‘1’ means completely pessimistic and a ‘100’ means completely optimistic) and that index climbs to 58 when assessing the industry and its outlook for 2019. While we might collectively want to see that rate of optimism increase, we are pleased to see the direction it is heading.

The Positives vs. The Negatives: Where Are We in 2014

We asked our survey participants to provide their points of view on where the industry is in 2014—the positive trends and aspects (what’s in our favor) as well as the negative trends and aspects (what’s in our way). This was a very balanced assessment and the following is a summary of some of the key themes:

The Positive Trends and Aspects—What’s in our Favor

  • That news and information still matter, everyone wants to be connected and informed; 
  • Common branding across platforms has been well received by readers. A sense that the various platforms each have their time and function; 
  • The sheer growth in demand for digital content and digital advertising. Digital reach is creating a new level of journalistic reach; 
  • The general recovery of the economy (though a very unbalanced recovery globally);
  • Consumers are getting more accustomed to pay for content models. The financial model creates accountability for high quality, relevant and customized content; 
  • New leadership is entering media organizations in terms of age, perspective and nonmedia backgrounds;  A trend in more serious journalism–in depth stories, analysis and investigation–that is reinforcing the credibility of mainstream media; 
  • The massive move by consumers to mobile technology and the significant increases in the quality of news apps that are available to the consumers; 
  • New innovative formats and methods for storytelling that carry us into a new level of reader engagement through video, visualizations and full multi-media; 
  • Printed copy seems (for many) to have stabilized and is a valid component of the platform mix. The ability for the platforms to reinforce each other creates a sum larger that the pieces.

“The most positive trend is that now that technology is becoming accessible to everyone, content and creativity are becoming more and more important. It’s excellent news for media companies. In most countries newspapers have leading online properties with their news sites. There’s more to come.”

“More people are reading newspapers than ever thanks to digital access and distribution. Quality journalism can have an immediate and wide-spread impact like was never possible in the past.”

The Negative Trends and Aspects—What’s in our Way

  • The continued loss of print advertising as a baseline revenue component; 
  • Many are still trying to find the right way to monetize digital media. We know the consumer is becoming more accustomed to pay for content, but where those boundaries are and what will incent the sustainable subscription model is still largely trial and error in each brand and market; 
  • While innovation is occurring there is still a resistance to change at the pace needed; 
  • A tendency still to sensationalize news which creates a negative impression among readers. Where’s the real news?  Increases in costs for printing and distribution of hardcopy paper. In a weak economic recovery this creates tremendous pressure on margins; 
  • While digital growth is encouraging it comes with the prospect of small digital attention spans. Optimizing digital content (and its associated advertising) is a constant effort; 
  • Because digital reach is so compelling and immediate, it draws in new and non-traditional competitors that simply play the game differently; 
  • Social media is the ‘great distracter’ to mainstream media and is a no-cost alternative to traditional print media; 
  • Newspapers still branded by many as a ‘declining industry’.

“Still need to combat perception, particularly among younger readers, that online content must by default be ‘free’. If digital paywalls succeed, it will not be immediate for most media.”

“Continued reliance on a deeply backward industry: advertising. Gallons of ink have been spilled lamenting the news industry’s inability to adapt to a digital reality, but it is in fact the advertising community that continues to be far to enamored with its existing business structures.”

Read the entire survey published in our last edition of Innovations in Newspapers 2014