News & Opinion

Guardian Changing Media Summit 2018

Held at the BFI Southbank, The Guardian's annual conference centred around 'responsibility' with discussions about trust in media, a return to quality and platforms' role high on the agenda.

Opening the day, chair of the event and author of Webs of Influence Nathalie Nahai outlined some of the key issues that have shaped the media industry over the past year, including: "Trust, fake news, filter bubbles, pseudo publishing platforms and their ability to shape public sentiment and political opinion."

So what followed? Here are our key take-outs:

"The message of quality and trust is beginning to land"

The Guardian's CRO Hamish Nicklin put it brilliantly when he said that news media has "moved from a crisis of trust to a battle for truth", adding that "the message of quality and trust is beginning to land". He cited the arrival of Trump as a development "which made people appreciate just how important media was in the world", while pointing out that trust in journalism is reportedly the highest it's been in six years.

With over 800,000 paying subscribers and recent investigations such as the Paradise Papers, the 2 Sisters chicken scandal and football child abuse revelations, The Guardian has witnessed readers not only coming back to trusted news sources, but also being "prepared to dig into their pockets and pay for it".

From an advertising perspective, quality has also become the watchword. According to Nicklin, three things happened last year to instigate change: Marc Pritchard "set the cat among the digital pigeons", The Times "blew the lid off brand safety" and The Guardian's investigation into the digital supply chain shone a light on "where the money was actually going".

Nicklin's view that trust and quality are regaining value was echoed throughout the day. Speaking on a panel chaired by Guardian columnist Jane Martinson, the editor of i Oly Duff said that there is a "huge opportunity for trusted newsbrands investing in content [as] people want to understand what's happening, digest and analyse". However, he added that while "news these days is more popular than ever", the "eco-system is broken... [the industry] needs to find a model for funding high quality journalism".

Bringing a magazine-focused view to proceedings, GQ's editor-in-chief Dylan Jones echoed Nicklin's view that political turmoil is putting increased emphasis on well-produced, well-edited content and said: "We are turning a corner on people realising if you want quality journalism, you have to pay for it". When it comes to advertising he pointed to relevant audiences and quality content as "a model everyone understands and it works". Meanwhile Cosmopolitan's editor-in-chief Farrah Storr added that "advertisers are understating the role that print plays in building trust".

"We need a new definition of what a social media platform is"

According to Damian Collins – MP and chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee – a new moniker is needed for social media companies, reflecting the fact that they are presenting and curating content and are therefore responsible for it.

In his view "news is a curated space and social media is a semi-curated space", so that if you "engage with extreme content, social media will give you more of it". When it comes to gathering data and targeting people with information, he believes "we need a legal right to check what [social media companies] are doing".

Also addressing the duopoly's status, WPP's CEO Martin Sorrell later told Jane Martinson that Google and Facebook are media companies rather than tech companies, making them "responsible for their content".

Meanwhile, journalist, film-maker and writer Paul Mason drew attention to the effects of social media. A self-confessed fan of social media's role in challenging elitism and sharing stories, he remains concerned about the loss of a social space for public conversations. As social media allows "individual people to create a narrative around themselves, that narrative can be more interesting than any piece of media that they’re consuming". As a result "public opinion as a concept disappears".

On what this means for journalists and content creators, Mason believes that the telling of facts is not enough: "What is going to change the world is not the telling of facts that are true but the telling of stories that are believed." He said that people will pay for content that is brave and true, adding: "It's very easy to write algorithms that direct people to these things. Please get on with it."

Addressing the ad industry's relationship with tech platforms, Cindy Gallop – former chairman of BBH New York and founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn/IfWeRanTheWorld – said that "our industry suffers from shiny new object syndrome" and called for a rebalancing of the power equation advertisers have with tech platforms. "Instead of going cap in hand to platforms, look at them and decide what you would like to do" she said, adding that the more magical and fantastical the idea, the better, as there will be the technology to realise it. 

"Brands will establish themselves"

So what's next? BBC Today presenter Nick Robinson said that "people will realise that they need to go to brands they can trust because you don't have the time or energy to assess for yourself what you can trust".

His fellow panellist, Sacha Berlik – managing director, EMEA, The Trade Desk – believes that "traditional media brands will be much stronger in the future", but that "we have to remind advertisers that they can vote with their money. Do they want to fund uncurated social media content or do they want to fund quality journalism?"

Nicklin, having referenced Newsworks and the AOP's study on the value of premium environments for advertisers, hailed the return of a "simpler paradigm": quality ads against quality media, in a trusted environment, reaching an engaged audience. While this set up embraces and is powered by technology, "technology is not the master".

Read more about the event here.

At Newsworks, we've been digging under the surface of what trust means and why newsbrands are so well placed to be trusted sources. Read more

by Jessie Sampson 08/03/18

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