THE ALLURE OF ESTABLISHED AUDIENCES
Pulizzi of CMI believes that this is why media brands must find better methods for getting content shared on a network and, typically, that's through the writers. "It's all still about people-that's where writers have more value than they did before," he says. "You can't just do a ‘from the staff' article-readers want to affiliate with people. Media brands need to leverage their writers ... . This is still early in the game-who knows what happens to Flipboard and Facebook because consumer behavior is changing so much. What remains true is that consumers like storytelling."
Heide Brandes, a freelance writer who spent 15 years in the newspaper industry before going it on her own, is proof that self-branding and a pre-established audience brings publications knocking. "For me, it's about getting gigs and, by posting my work online, I create an instant resume. I'm also driving traffic to them, so there is some added value to me just being a writer-I'm also marketing them on my social feed."
Brian Stetler is another example of a sought-after journalist with a pre-established audience. Stetler started TV Newser in 2004, while in college, and it wasn't long before his television news blog became so compelling and widely circulated that The New York Times offered him a job. He's now one of the nation's top media experts with nearly 175,000 followers of his Twitter feed. "He's very active in social media and uses it both as a reporting tool and for building an audience for his work," Mutter says. "He also has loyal followers that may not even know he's with The New York Times."
The future may even call for a complete shift in focus, truly making the journalist the No. 1 source for information. A Dutch newspaper called De Pers revamped itself as a digital platform after closing the print publication in 2012. In February 2013, after an 8-month restructuring, the news source announced the launch of DNP, a news app that allows users to subscribe to specific journalists rather than publications. While the nearly 200 journalists currently signed up for inclusion on the app are in Holland, it begs this question: Is the way of the future a media pass that focuses on journalists rather than the publications they write for?
THE SOCIALIZATION OF THE MEDIA BRAND
While the world awaits other journalist-centric subscription apps to hit the market, media brands must continue to make a way for themselves. In order to remain relevant, media brands need writers with an established following, but they also need to focus social media.
"The New York Times, like all media companies, is facing disruption in the industry," says Danielle Rhoades Ha, director of communications for The New York Times Co. "However, we are positioning ourselves well for the future and embracing new ways of reaching readers and delivering news." Among them was the launch of NYT Everywhere in June 2012, a new strategy designed to expand reach to users on third-party platforms, including Flipboard. According to the press release, this move is the first time The Times has offered paid subscribers full access to its content off of a Times platform, including full articles, videos, photo slideshows, and blogs.
"We're excited to offer our subscribers the option of Flipboard's rich experience and also to bring our authoritative news, opinion, and superior multimedia to a new audience of Flipboard users who may not yet be Times subscribers," Denise Warren, general manager of NYTimes.com, says in the press release.
In a talk given at The London School of Economics and Political Science in November 2011, The New York Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger noted that Netprospex issued a comprehensive report on the use of social media by businesses and that The New York Times Co. was cited as the most social company in the United States. "We've put a priority on the utilization of social media," Sulzberger said during his speech. "We've had great success building up our readership that way ... . We have an incredibly enlightened, intelligent, and sophisticated group of users who are highly engaged with our products. Our efforts in social media are meant to tap into the knowledge from that readership."
The New York Times' famous paywall even allows readers following a link that has been shared in a social context to view that story regardless of whether or not he subscribes-a key component to the success of the media brand's digital presence. Visit its Facebook page, with nearly 3 million likes, and you're greeted by a polite message that reads, "Welcome to The New York Times on Facebook-a hub for conversation about news and ideas. Like our page and connect with Times journalists and readers." Its Twitter feed, "where the conversation begins," is boasting tweets of breaking news, special reports, NYTimes.com homepage links, and retweets of Times journalists. With more than 100,000 tweets and nearly 8 million followers, @nytimes maintains a viable social media presence, which helps funnel readers to its content and encourages engagement.
The Los Angeles Times also believes that adaptation is necessary in order to stay relevant as technology advances. "The LA Times is a brand that people trust and we believe the ‘media brand' is alive and very well," Nancy Sullivan, vice president of communications says in a provided statement. "We also believe that chance and innovation is crucial to continuing to earn that trust and the key to our future success. ... Data-driven accountability journalism and a focus on multimedia storytelling ... as well as our responsively designed mobile site, are all great examples of how the LA Times is now utilizing technology to deliver on its journalistic mission." Currently, the LA Times has a readership of 1.5 million daily and 2.6 million on Sunday, more than 23 million unique website visitors monthly, and a combined print and online local weekly audience of 4.1 million.
Even the smaller media brands can manage to establish their brands in the digital realm. Mutter has a client that owns a small weekly newspaper in Georgetown, S.C. "The number of followers on their Facebook page is equal to or near the subscriptions to the paper," he says. "They even post the lunch menu each day on Facebook-it's real information that real people care about, and publishers that pay attention to this will find it's a good way to build an audience."
In this kind of news ecosystem, only the content that stands out above the rest will get shared and ultimately read.
Even the most digital-savvy brands know the importance of distributing content how and where readers want it. HuffPost, launched in May 2005, is and always has been a news source only available online. Fast approaching 205,000 tweets, HuffPost has nearly 3 million followers on Twitter and is just shy of 1 million likes on its Facebook page. It relies, just like other sites, on users sharing, tweeting, and liking its content to increase its reach and rack up page views.
IS THE MEDIA BRAND DYING?
"If you look at the top 100 profiles in Twitter Counter or FanPageList.com, none of them are news media outlets-they are celebrities, musicians, athletes, etc. Right now, newsfeeds are very much celebrity driven," says Ottolenghi. Even if you aren't getting your news from Kim Kardashian, it is likely coming to you through the self-curated filter of social media and other tools. In this kind of news ecosystem, only the content that stands out above the rest will get shared and ultimately read.
Gaie Hellum asserts that, regardless of the source, success directly ties to the content. "In the end, it's about credibility and value," she says. "An independent journalist who doesn't add something unique to the conversation isn't going to thrive. But as we've seen, that goes for established media brands as well."
Media brands aren't dead yet, but savvy publishers are realizing that the cachet of the name on the masthead is no longer enough to drive success. Instead, they are realizing that, more than ever, "content is king," and big media brands still have an advantage over the little guys on that front. Big budgets and the best writers are still integral to producing the kind of content that gets shared and read in the age of the social web.