Insights on the Future of Media By Steve Rubel, EVP, Edelman Volume I - January 2012

It’s easy to forget but back in 2008 a lot of people were declaring that the media as we know it was dead - or dying. In fact, one enterprising Twitter user, Paul Armstrong, set up a special account (@themediaisdying) to chronicle the press’ alleged death spiral. Today it has nearly 25,000 followers. Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. The media, faced with the threat of extinction, used sheer will and innovation to turn things around. Today the fourth estate is arguably stronger than ever. This even as the global economy sputters. Consider TV. The networks have all aggressively deployed an armada of “second screen” experiences for tablets and smart phones. These apps, which curate Twitter and Facebook streams in a single place, are encouraging live tune in by essentially creating a social show around the show. They’re not alone. Stalwart newspapers like The Guardian and The Washington Post have created immersive news experiences inside Facebook. They’re even syndicating full text stories inside the social juggernaut. The bet as paid off. In just two months since these social news platforms were unveiled The Guardian said it saw site traffic increase by more than a million page views a month. The Post, not to be outdone, has seen a sharp uptick in news readers under 35. And Yahoo is expanding their Facebook integration to many more properties.

@themediaisdying on Twitter (top), Get Glue social badges for TV shows (bottom)


Finally, blog-based upstarts like the Huffington Post, Politico and Engadget, all of which pioneered the use of short-form, rapid fire posts, are now expanding into long form content. This includes ebooks and tablet magazines. There are countless other examples. The media is back in a big way. And this is having a significant impact on how businesses synchronize and prioritize where, when and how they tell their stories. This process, to borrow a term from Hollywood, is often called "transmedia storytelling." Curious about the media’s reincarnation, in 2011 I set out on a journey to learn more. I visited media executives and reporters, technology vendors and social networks - all in a quest to identify some common best practices. Five new "rules" emerged. In this scrapbook I share what I learned. ###


I - Curate to Dominate
My journey to dissect a re-invigorated media began with Jim Bankoff - CEO of Vox Media. When we met for coffee last spring Vox was operating one site: the highly successful Sports Blog Nation (SBN). Since then it has expanded into tech with a new sister site, The Verge. I didn't know what to expect that warm April day. But what I discovered is that vertical curators like SBN may soon play a larger role in how we consume content than many of us may realize. This has ramifications for both journalists and communicators. Sports is one of the largest and oldest online interest verticals. The category is dominated by large brands - sites like and Yahoo Sports, which rose to prominence during the 1990s. Suddenly, however, the edges are fraying. First, athletes and teams are becoming their own media channels. Beyond that, new curators are moving in and disrupting the business. SBN, for example, rolls up the best independent blog voices covering individual teams into a carefully curated network. The Bleacher Report, meanwhile, takes a more open, crowdsourced approach. Today it's the 12th largest sports site, according to comScore. Both SBN and Bleacher Report are demonstrating that there's a huge opportunity for new media brands to emerge that focus on separating art from junk. This is all a result of too much content and not enough time.

Jim Ban koff, Vox M


Sports media, however, is filled with analysis - an editorial asset that is always in high demand. But what about breaking news, which is more of a commodity these days? Can a curator win in news too? According to the 3.3 million people who follow the MSNBCowned @breakingnews account on Twitter - the sub-140character answer is "yes." That's where we pick up the story. To learn more, I sought out fellow Hofstra University alum Lauren McCullough. She recently joined @breakingnews from AP as a Senior Editor. I was surprised to hear from Lauren just how much MSNBC has bolstered the Breaking News brand, which it acquired from an enterprising Twitter user a couple of years back. MSNBC has turned it into a 24/7 news operation that curates links faster than anyone else. In addition to its substantial Twitter footprint, MSNBC has pushed the brand aggressively into Facebook, Google+ and via its own web site ( and mobile apps. The @breakingnews team aims to find and credit the original source of a story. This can be difficult. So the team has set up a way for other reporters to tip them when they have a scoop via a simple hashtag. This also gives the source additional exposure for their stories.
Lauren M cC

ullough, M

Curation, I learned, doesn't need to be a business. It can be a feature too.

One of the notable trends to emerge in the last couple of years is that journalists are finding meaningful content roles beyond the media. In 2010, the BBC's Richard Sambrook, for example, joined Edelman (my employer) as our Chief Content Officer. He's not alone. Facebook hired Columbia Journalism School grad and wunderkind reporter Vadim Lavrusik to help journalists use the platform to engage their audiences. Tumblr earlier had hired Mark Coatney from Newsweek for the same purpose. Another individual in a similar role is Daniel Roth, who last year joined LinkedIn as its Executive Editor. But what makes Roth unique, as I discovered when we met for coffee last November at New York's Ace Hotel, is that he is a curator. LinkedIn Today - the network's news platform and Roth's focus - is quickly becoming a go-to source for business news across many of key verticals. Need proof ? Consider that LinkedIn is routinely one of the top sources of traffic to biz news sites.

Curation is a buzzword these days - so it's murky still what its true potential may be. On the one hand, an emerging group of curators like Flipboard, MediaGazer and TechMeme are successfully mixing human and social algorithmic editors. Former Time Inc. journalist Josh Quittner joined Flipboard as its editor. Techmeme and MediaGazer too have editors. On the other hand, Staci Kramer, editor of, helped me see that there's a difference between curation (editorializing) and aggregation (compiling) - which is what some of these sites do. Still, what's clear is that a new layer is emerging where humans, specifically editors, help us separate art from junk in the vast sea of digital content. And this will be a recurring trend in the years ahead. ###

LinkedIn's Roth (L), Tumblr's Coatney (M) and Facebook's Lavrusik (R).


II - Data Mine and Time
Math: I don't know about you, but for me it's a four-letter word. I had always suspected the same truism held throughout the journalism world. After all, the field is filled with liberal arts graduates. However, that's not what I discovered. It turns out that quite a lot of what we see in the media today is at least shaped by data mining and timing. Lurking behind the scenes at many media companies is an emerging field of data journalists. This group not only knows how to mine the numbers, but also how to turn them into data-driven insights that influence (but don't dictate) editorial decisions. Drake Martinet, Associate Editor at Dow Jones' All Things D tech site, is basically a real-life version of the Robert Redford character in The Horse Whisperer - except with data. He pours over mountains of information and provides actionable insights to colleagues. The key, Martinet says, is to speak in verbs, not nouns. Timing, meanwhile, is the name of the game at the Huffington Post - now part of AOL. The site has a traffic and trends team, I learned during my visit there, that spots topics that are hot on social networks and search engines and then writes stories about those it deems newsworthy. This not only leads to solid reporting, but also a pretty good way to capture relevant inbound traffic too.


The HuffPo is not alone in using data to inform their timing. Several media brands, including the Economist, are working with SocialFlow to more effectively optimize when their headlines are seeded into Twitter. The Business Insider, meanwhile, uses Newsbeat to dig through their data and make much of it public via their Engage-o-Meter. Although I haven't polled media companies directly, I suspect most prefer to keep these strategies close to the vest. However, the above examples show that increasingly editorial decisions are being at least guided by data, even as news still rules. It's also worth noting that there are other startups emerging that are arming the media with technology that enables it to unearth such insights. One such company is Storyful, which is stacked with refugees from the news business and advisors like Joe Webster, who like McCullough, also worked at the AP. Storyful (not to be confused with Storify) filters through thousands of tweets to find primary sources who are close to big, newsy topics. This includes on-the-ground sources in inhospitable places and also third party experts closer to home. Storyful, Webster shared with me when we met in October, saves journalists time by rolling up sources into private Twitter lists. The end result is that the start-up's media customers are not only more informed about they news they cover, but they are faster at it too.

All of this may soon become more automated. Already technology is becoming mature enough where machines can actually write more formulaic stories with little or no human involvement. This includes filing post-game wrap-ups and earnings reports. According to The New York Times, a startup called Narrative Science has partnered with The Big Ten Network to do just that. Machines will never replace humans. However, journalism is being increasingly shaped by machines ###

Storyful (above) and its evangelist, Joe Webster (below)

III - Keep Stories Alive
One of the notable ways that the media has evolved in the last several years is in how it has been forced to adjust to the new economics of attention. It has arguably adapted more quickly than some corporations. The universal truth is that quality content is no longer scarce. It's abundant. The public's time and appetite for information, however, remains somewhat finite. Therefore every media brand is facing increased competition for the same eyeballs. This has spawned a massive and escalating war for page views. Scoble (L) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. This is where we pickup the story. What I discovered last year is that attention warfare weapons today go way beyond obvious devices like information graphics, slideshows and "listicles." Some media brands, it seems, are going to great lengths to keep their stories alive longer than others. Seeking answers, in October I hit up one of the wisest people I know: Robert Scoble - a leading tech influencer and Rackspace's corporate storyteller. His advice to me was to keep an eye on "verbs." A few days prior to our breakfast Facebook had unveiled a new way for major media companies to build social news experiences on their platform. What's notable is that these send a cascade of social actions to the newsfeed - verbs that go beyond "like" to include "read," "watch" and "listen." Scoble's view, which I questioned then, was that this move would dramatically re-shape how we discover content.

Scoble shoots 50% from the tech pundit free-throw line. This time he maybe right. Facebook late last year revealed that the media companies that jumped into create social news experiences actually saw a dramatic increase in readers... to their web sites. The Guardian is recording an additional one million page views per month. The Washington Post, meanwhile, has seen an influx in coveted under-35 readers. And Yahoo is getting so much new traffic from Facebook that they expanded their relationship to dozens more sites. Social networks are a media engagement elixir. This is true for once-static magazines too. A few weeks later at Mashable Media Conference I learned how TV Guide has turned its tablet apps into a personalized, live social water cooler for more than 5 million people. These apps are sometimes called "second screen" experiences. They are meant to be used while watching TV. At the same conference, Michael Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, revealed how the media companies that add a simple sharing option to common interactions on their web sites (like completing a poll) will cascade "verbs" into Facebook. This directly leads to a 12.98% increase in site traffic. Lazerow has done the math! Add this all up and what I learned is that the media is leveraging the power of social networking to help keep their stories alive longer. They've gone beyond just pumping out links to creating fully integrated experiences that are personalized through the lens of your friends. ###

Buddy Media CEO M ichael

Lazerow (above).

IV - Roll in the Deep
Los Angeles is not widely viewed as the pantheon of deep thought. However, it is where the future of media is increasingly being defined. That's where we pick up my quest for knowledge - at USC Annenberg, which I visited twice last year. The future of media is not just about short-attention fare like tweets, but also a renaissance in long-form, vertical content too. To quote pop star Adele, the press is "rolling in the deep." This realization started with Geoff Boucher from the LA Times, who I met at a USC event last spring. Boucher is a 20plus-year veteran of the paper who once covered a string of gang murders that rocked the city in the early 1990s. Today he is a journalistic hero of sorts; a pioneer. Boucher always had a geek streak running through his veins. In 2008 he channeled his love for words and wookies to convince the LA Times to launch Hero Complex - a blog covering the worlds of comic books, graphical novels and science fiction. The site has been a huge hit. There are examples of a resurgence in long-form content everywhere - and not just in places where you would expect. Boucher (L) with Steven Spielberg (R) Let's start with the rule-breakers that have transformed journalism over the last five years. The Huffington Post and Politico have both launched successful ebooks. Engadget, meanwhile, is taking this a step further with the launch of its own tablet magazine. The old guard too is keeping up. After the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs both Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Fortune repackaged articles from their archives and made them available as paid ebooks on Amazon's Kindle platform.

What's more, as people spend more time reading on tablets, sites that help users consume longer fare, such as Instapaper, ReadItLater and Scribd, have all blossomed. These discoveries led me back to school. Specifically, I sought out USC's Dr. Henry Jenkins, who many consider the founding father of "transmedia storytelling." (He first identified the trend back in 2003 while at MIT.) Dr. Jenkins, now an advisor at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, shared how there are now two kinds of content that we engage with in our day. First, there's "spreadable media" - short-attention span content that we snack on. This includes tweets, headlines, status updates and more. Then there's "drill-able media." This is longer form content that provides analysis, depth and context. This format, once the domain of professional content creators, are now more democratic and open to all to create. Dr. Jenkins cites fancreated wikis chronicling the Lost series as an example. Dr. Jenkins believes that the latter group offers what he calls "adaptive comprehension" around what we see spreading across our screens. Most of his research is focused on how pop culture is evolving along these two planes. However, the above examples illustrate, how deep content is undergoing a renaissance. ### USC Annenberg (above) is now home to Dr. Henry Jenkins, who first coined the phrase "transmedia storytelling."

V - Covet thy Superstars
The media business has more in common with professional team sports than many realize. Media brands are like teams. We are loyal to certain ones and, sometimes, despise others that conflict with our worldview. I haven't met anyone who loves both MSNBC and Fox News equally or for that matter the Yankees and the Red Sox. You can't. They're polar opposites. Columnists and commentators have long resembled franchise players who perform well at their craft, help the team win and "fill the seats." They are names like Friedman, O'Dowd, Kurtz, Lupica, King and Stern. They pre-date the digital era and are all associated with the teams they play for, just like icons from the sports world - Magic, Jordan, Kobe, Jeter, Montana, Beckham, Rooney, Brady and Gretzky. Where once only a few journalists could become true personal brands (a phrase some despise), what I found in spending time with the media is that in the digital age things are different. Many young reporters come into the business either with a personal brand or the intent to create one. They know that it will not only help them in their careers, but also can create massive value for their employers - as measured in traffic. This emerging group, I found, is fearless. They break all the unwritten rules. Yet, they always remain respectful of who pays their bills. In exchange, they are increasingly being rewarded with room to innovate.

Boucher's work at the LA Times with Hero Complex is one example but there are many others. ESPN, for example, last year created Grantland - a platform for Bill Simmons and a group of writers to further expand their passion for sports and movies. The New York Times, meanwhile, has allowed writers like Brian Stelter to flourish as "beat hubs" who can span platforms. Stelter, acknowledged at the Mashable Media Conference that having a personal brand lets him "punch above his weight." He also showed us a thing or two in how to use Tumblr for reporting, which he did in the wake of the Joplin, Missouri tornadoes. The sporting parallels don't end there. For every company loyalist like Stelter and Simmons there are countless of others who turn to free agency. This includes the likes of Michael Arrington (formerly with TechCrunch) and Jim Romensko (formerly with Poynter) who left and launched new sites. The drama over star journalists at times resembles the hoopla that preceded ESPN's 2010 airing of "The Decision" - where NBA superstar Lebron James revealed he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. The world of tech journalism, in particular, has been rocked by similar drama. A number of personal brands have ventured out on their own. While others have jumped to new outlets like The Verge. This isn't necessarily a new trend. However, what I discovered over the course of my conversations with different journalists is that everyone now - even the die-hard ink-stained crowd - recognizes they are part of the war for page views. They must adapt to be heard.

They have lots of help. Many national and even local media companies are now hiring cross-trained reporters who can do it all - report, live blog, tweet and even create video themselves. Some, like New York Times business reporter Tanzina Vega, bring these skills to their day-to-day beat coverage. Vega last fall shared with me at a small gathering of journalists that she often files video with her stories. Others, like Anjali Mullany at the New York Daily News, remain behind the scenes. She helps reporters at the News incorporate live blogging and tweeting into their workflow. Scribes also are getting help from the social networks too. Tumblr and Facebook, as I wrote earlier, both have dedicated ex-journalists on staff. They are equipping individual reporters and entire media organizations to engage audiences directly on these sites. In the digital age, journalism remains true to its core. However, above it all, hangs the almighty pressure to increase page views. And this is creating more pressure on journalists to become personal brands. ###
Brian Stelter’s Tu mblr on Joplin



Steve Rubel is EVP, Global Strategy and Insights for Edelman - the world's largest independent PR firm. In his role, he helps teams and clients understand the future of media and develop integrated strategies. Rubel shares links and insights on the future of media on Twitter (@steverubel) and via The Clip Report on Tumblr at He can be reached at (The opinions expressed within this ebook are his and do not necessarily reflect those of Edelman or its clients.) Photo credits: lenahan, jdlasica, theredproject, scobleizer, trainman, mashable, r80o, sambrook, popculturegeek, joi. Icons by graphicnode.

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