Interview w/ Michael on the Future of News

Posted January 26, 2017
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Michael was recently interviewed by Gayle Moss for The Insider on the future of news.  As video becomes the dominant media on the Internet and more and more people are video literate, the way that we produce and consume news is constantly changing.

From The Insider:

Mainstream media has been an integral part of our lives since the dawn of the printing press. Sadly, it was never able to fully capitalize on digital and mobile. So what lies ahead for it in a video-dominated world that is just around the corner? In five years, 70% of mobile traffic with be video, forecasted to grow 50% in revenues, reaching US$25B globally by 2021.

Will the fourth estate be ready?

In a recent Reuters Institute survey, 79% digital leaders said they planned to invest more in online video this year.

Clearly the rush is on, but do publishers really understand what they are getting into? Do they know how to create quality video in a highly efficient way? Do they have a clue how to monetize it?

To help answer those questions and provide publishers some insights into the opportunities this brave new world offers, I reached out to someone who, for over 25 years, has been leading the charge in the digital videojournalist revolution and driving a complete rethinking of how television and online video is created, controlled and monetized — Michael Rosenblum.

Thanks so much for joining me, Michael. I understand you’ve helped transition some traditional media to the world of online video production by training and equipping their staff. Can you please share a bit more about that?

Many years ago, I sold one of my first companies to [Arthur Ochs]”Punch” Sulzberger, who was then the publisher of The New York Times, with the promise that I would create the video analog of The New York Times for television, long before the internet took it. I became the President of New York Times Television. That was in 1992, so Punch was way ahead of his time, but he could see what was coming.

Since then, we’ve consulted, trained and worked with many newspapers and magazines around the world, from The Daily Telegraph, to The Star-Ledger [Newark], to all the McGraw-Hill magazines, to many of the Condé Nast magazines, a publishing group in Belgium called Concentra, and some newspapers in Germany.

All newspapers and magazines today understand intrinsically that they have to be in the video business in some way. What they don’t understand is how to do it, or how to make money at it. Those are two areas that we think we can be helpful to them.

What they end up often doing is hiring a lot of washed-up network people who bring in very expensive, and to my mind, outmoded means of creating video, in a very cost-ineffective way. And they end up pouring a lot of money into things that nobody actually ends up looking at; they never see a dime.

Monetizing any kind of content, these days, is extremely difficult. What are some of the ways that these types of publications can actually make money from video content?

Actually, as it turns out, video content can be incredibly valuable in the right place. At the moment, the right place is cable TV. There are more than 40,000 television channels around the world, about 2,000 in the United States, but 40,000 globally. They all need content. If you have a linear television channel, you need to put content on it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That’s an enormous demand for video, and these people pay for it.

Newspapers are in the business of aggregating and creating content on a daily basis. They understand how to do this very well. There are two problems with this. First, they do it in print, which is fine, but not a great money maker. Second, they do it for themselves, which is a very old model in a world in which digital content can be spread across many, many platforms.

Newspapers need to get into the television business, not the video online business. And they can do it because it’s very inexpensive to create very good quality video content on a very regular basis, if you do it properly.

The market for this stuff is not pre-roll, and it’s not on their website. Nobody cares or is really going to go to newspaper websites to spend a great deal of time looking at video.

You have to remember that newspapers are in the business of not just doing news. They’re also in the business of doing music, sports, entertainment, theater, arts, culture, food and travel. There’s a global market for that kind of video on an ongoing basis all over the world.

Newspapers can become the providers of that content to television stations, cable stations, online feeds in the United States, internationally -- pretty much everywhere. Those people all pay for it, so there’s a machine here to make money if newspapers can get out of two parts -- one news, and two papers. If they can wrap their heads around becoming digital content creators and distributors, instead of newspaper printers, then they can make a fortune, but most of them can’t wrap their heads around that.

Recently, Pew Research Center reported that younger Americans prefer reading the news as opposed to watching it. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Like any poll, it depends on how you ask the question. If you begin with newspaper readers, or people who read news, or look for news, that may still be the case. I mean, I like to read, but I’m old.

But, if you look at the aggregate population of the United States, the average American spends five hours a day watching television, and nineteen minutes a day reading, so the preponderance here is for video-driven content. Now, once again, it’s this hang-up on news, per se, that is the knife in the chest of newspapers.

I get three or four papers delivered here every day, and the vast majority of what’s in the papers is not actually news. It’s opinion. It’s sports. It’s theater. It’s editorial. It’s the magazine. It’s fashion. That’s why people read or look at newspapers. That’s where the commercial value is.

It’s fine to do news, and that’s great; in fact, news can be a loss leader, in some ways, because you don’t

“They’re all going to die, not because they don’t make great content; they do make great content. They’re all going to die because they don’t understand how to sell it.” make any money at it because you can’t rerun it. You can’t sell it to anybody. The money here is in the other stuff that they should concentrate on making, and more importantly, on selling.

Loved your blog post about saving the BBC. Reminds me of John Oliver’s rant on the future of newspapers. What other networks and publishers do you feel are worth saving, given the growing opinion that many are going to go down the drain.
They’re all going to go, even my beloved New York Times is going to go down the drain. I’ll tell you a very interesting story about the Times, because I had such a good relationship with them.

If you look at their website, they make fantastic videos. They make some of the best video journalism that’s around today, but hardly anybody sees it because who goes below the fold, who clicks on the thing? Who wants to sit through the long video and even find the stuff.

As we said in the last question, the preponderance of people who go to the newspaper site basically just want to read the paper, so the video is dead before it gets started. I wrote to Arthur and I said, “Look, you have all this fantastic video. Let me aggregate the video that’s online and package by category – sports, music, travel… stuff like that. I’ll license it around the world. Even if you get $1,000 from Slovenia, and $500 from Poland, and $1,000 from Slovakia, what’s the difference? I’ll take 30% as a commission. I’ll give you the rest. You don’t have to do a thing.”

I think they agonized over it for a while, and finally the CEO, Mark Thompson, wrote back and said, “We appreciate your offer, but we’ve decided to keep it behind the pay wall.”

That is the height of stupidity! Let’s put it someplace where hardly anybody looks at it and let’s derive almost no value from it. There’s a global market of about three billion people, and let’s limit it to our subscribers. Dumb, dumb, dumb! That doesn’t answer your question, but it does allow me to express my frustration.
They’re all going to die. They’re all going to die, not because they don’t make great content; they do make great content. They’re all going to die because they don’t understand how to sell it. It’s a new world and they’re still in the business of, “It’s our newspaper. It’s our content. People will pay to come here.” That is very 20th century thinking.

At the 2015 Mobile Journalism Conference (Mojocon) you predicted that the most successful news organizations in the future will be those that have no journalists working for them at all. We’re already seeing some young entrepreneurs trying to do exactly that. Fresco News – a citizen-driven platform for breaking news content is just one example. The founder and CEO, John Meyer, is not a journalist, editor or publisher; he’s really the Uber, or Airbnb of publishing.

I think that’s absolutely true. There are two technological drivers here, working simultaneously to create a kind of a perfect storm. The first one, of course, is the internet, which allows the transmission or sharing of video for free, globally.
The other one is the advent of iPhones and smartphones which cannot only shoot video, but edit it and share it for no cost. Not that many years ago, if you wanted to get a camera crew out from a network, it was incredibly complicated. You had five guys. You had a crew. You had a truck. You had a helicopter. You had a plane.

Now, there are approximately 3 billion people in the world with smartphones that have video capacity. That means we’ve gone from a handful of television crews around the world to about 3 billion TV crews that can be put into effect at any moment. Other than guys like John Meyer, nobody wants to plug into this thing because it undercuts the notion of, “I am a journalist and you are not,” when in fact, I think in this world, we are all journalists.

If you look at the most successful pure online businesses, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other information businesses, they are all 100% user-generated. There’s not one professional writer who works for Facebook. There’s not one professional writer who is employed by Twitter.

And yet you see they generate billions and billions of views, and hundreds of millions of uploads every day. That’s where the future is, and that’s where the news business is. It’s not in the business of producing news; it’s in the place of being publishers. In other words, you have all these people contributing to this matrix of information. The best thing that the news industry can do is to tap into this giant wellspring of content, select the best people, and publish their content.
The analogy here, and I think it’s a fairly good one, is the impact of the invention of the printing press on the world of written literature. Before the printing press, only monks in monasteries could write Bibles. That’s all they wrote, and it was very expensive and difficult to do. The advent of the printing press liberated and democratized the medium, so anyone with an idea could publish. Of course, you had millions of people writing and publishing, most of it absolute garbage.
But what arose with that was a concurrent industry of editors, and publishing houses, and places like that. They found the most creative and dynamic and interesting people and, essentially, shaped them and owned them. Then they published their work, and worked with them to get their work out to the public. That’s where the television, media, news, online, iPhone industry have to get to.
It’s really interesting because I’ve asked this question to some of the industry pundits, and they typically respond by saying citizens can’t be journalists because they are not properly educated.

It’s terrible. I taught at both Columbia and NYU journalism schools. Believe me, they’re nice kids, but they’re completely incompetent. The great irony here is that all “journalists” claim to love a free press until they’re actually faced with one. They run away screaming, going, “No, you don’t understand. We have to have controls.” This is a free press. The world of television and video has never encountered a free press before, and now, thanks to technology, they’re encountering it for the first time, and professional journalists are terrified of the impact. They should learn to embrace it.

So if the most successful publishers in the future will employ no journalists, who do you think could be that publisher? This looks like a huge opportunity, that’s not being exploited right now.

That’s correct. Nobody had done this. The irony is that newspapers should do it. They understand what makes a good story. They have a good relationship and they have a fantastic brand. This is something they should tap into, but most newspapers run screaming from new technology.

You know, when Craig Newmark launched Craigslist in San Francisco, it was just him in a garage. He was three blocks away from the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle could have adapted Craigslist the next day, and the newspaper would be worth 30 billion dollars.

They didn’t do it because they’re terrified of new technology, despite all their protestations about how they want to become digital. They don’t really. What they really want to do is pretend that they’re digital, and continue to work in the same analog way that they’ve always worked. Yeah, the people who should tap into this are the existing newspapers, who are in such economic trouble. This could be the salvation of their business, but I don’t think they’ll do it.

So that begs the question…if you could give publishers one piece of advice, going into 2017, what would that be?

Burn it [their existing business] to the ground.

When new technologies come along, existing businesses tend to take the new technology and jam it into their old way of working. What they have to do instead is listen to the technology. The technology will tell you what to do, but you have to have an open enough mind to listen to what the technology is telling you. Three billion smartphones around the world making content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, companies like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram having valuations of billions of dollars, and are 100% driven by user-generated content, is saying something very clearly.

So it’s not a question of, “Oh, we’ll take our newspaper and put it online so people can see it, but we’ll still have one reporter in Vietnam, and one bureau in Japan.” This is insane! So when I say burn it to the ground, it’s not physically, but it’s psychologically.

Whether they have the ability to do that or not, it generally doesn’t happen. Lou Gerstner did it at IBM, but it’s very, very hard to do. It only takes one paper to do this, because there’s so much opportunity and so few people who are doing it. If one newspaper could really have the courage to step up to the plate, and move from producer to publisher, I think they could own the business.

What’s your focus, going into 2017, in your business? Anything new you want to share?

We’ve been running video bootcamps for our corporate clients for years. And very much in the model of, we’ve just launched an online video training, specifically oriented towards newspapers, magazines and journalists, called

We have attempted to capture what made, and continues to make, our in-person bootcamps so popular and effective. Over the years, we have created and distilled an entirely new way not just to teach video literacy, but to think about and work with this new medium. I invite every publisher out there to give it a try.


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