Newsmakers know they need to adapt to survive in a multiplatform world—but how can they do it, continue to remain profitable and relevant, and deliver to a new audience? Not easy.
In the second episode of season three of the Making the Media Podcast, host Craig Wilson discusses a new series of reports on the news business, called “Tomorrow’s News”, with the chief executive of the body which produced them, the DPP, Mark Harrison.
Listen to Hear:
- Is there an ideal workflow for news?
- Can newsmakers truly change while maintaining standards and output?
- Where is the money to fund news coming from in the future?
Our Guest This Episode
Dr Mark Harrison
Mark began his career as an historian at Cambridge University, before moving into the media industry. He spent many years as a director, producer, and executive producer, and won numerous awards for his filmmaking, including an International Emmy and a BAFTA nomination.
Mark has held senior roles within the independent production sector and the BBC. He was MD of an independent production company before being appointed to be BBC’s head of arts, and then head of multiplatform production. He was subsequently controller of production for BBC North and leader of the BBC’s End-to-End Digital program, before becoming director of transformation for BBC Design & Engineering.
In 2015, Mark became CEO of the DPP—the media industry’s international business network, which he founded. Today, the DPP has nearly 500 member companies from across the whole media supply chain—from global tech giants to start-ups.
They've become very adept at doing this and working out how to make credible and effective news content, particularly for a younger audience, and on platforms like TikTok. Trouble is, where the audience is isn't where the money is.
Mark Harrison, DPP, Chief Executive Officer
Mentioned in This Episode
Leaders From the BBC and ABC Discuss the Cloud
Craig Wilson: Welcome to the Making the Media podcast. I’m your host, Craig Wilson, and thank you so much for joining us for our latest episode.
This time around, we are delving deep into both the business and creative side of news production, exploring in detail the challenges and opportunities which the industry is facing.
To do that, I am joined by Mark Harrison, who is chief executive of the DPP. Mark started out as a historian before working as a filmmaker and has held many senior roles within the production sector, including a spell as head of arts at the BBC in the UK, and director of transformation for BBC Design and Engineering.
He was instrumental in the creation of the DPP—initially defining technical standards before it became the international business network it is today. His organization has just produced a series of detailed reports into the News Industry, called Tomorrow’s News, so Mark joined me to discuss the findings, but I began by asking him to initially outline the work of the DPP.
Mark Harrison: We really do two things for the industry. We generate and share strategic insight, which is very real because it comes from people in the industry. So it's not like some external consultancy coming and taking a look. It's actually generated by insiders. You know, you've been a part of this work yourself, Craig. And then in the process of doing that, we also network people. And although we have a very strict policy that, for instance, a vendor can't make a sales pitch in one of our workshops or one of our events or meetings, nonetheless, they will be in conversation with either their actual customers or people they would like to have as customers, and that's where they build relationships and they quite often then go on to, you know, to do business together.
CW: Obviously one of the things which the DPP does in terms of, you know, sharing that knowledge around is work on certain projects and produce reports. So there's obviously the tomorrow's news project that we've been involved in, you know, with yourselves. So tell us a little bit about really how that came about what, why do you think there's a need to have this kind of project or to have that kind of discussion about what the future is for news?
MH: Yeah. Actually, the genesis of that is a great example of how we try to work. You know our antennae are up and out the whole time. We're listening to what people are telling us that they really care about and we also observe what seemed to be core issues. And, you know, we were noticing that in many respects, there's some challenges around the modernization of production processes and the application of technology to production in a rapidly changing content environment. Sort of found this kind of apotheosis in news because, you know, on the one hand, it’s like a factory environment. It has to be because of the sheer volume of content that it receives and then puts back out. And in that sense, it makes it very susceptible to the application of technology, one would think. But also, a lot of news operations are historic. This is like, you know, the old world of broadcasting, really, and therefore almost inherently quite difficult to modernize. So you have this immediate tension, which is really interesting.
But beyond that, you know, what we observed was that for many broadcasters, particularly established broadcasters and national broadcasters, and particularly those that have public service readmits, news is almost like it's the core part of their being. You know, when the regulators have come in and stripped out everything else, or when the need for, you know, financial constraints have meant they've outsourced lots of other things, they'll still have news. When everything else is gone, there's still news. And so there's almost like this sort of… the identity of broadcasters almost gets tied up in news. And what we observed was that with this, it was almost both the strengths and challenges and tensions of culture within an organization, within a broadcast organization, would be kind of personified in what was happening around news.
So, it felt like a really great time to try and dig into it exactly where the world of news is right now. And I must confess, because it wasn't me that did the work here, it was my great colleagues ever at Qualtro and Rhonda Pomeroy, who actually did the work. But, you know, what I'd said to them was, “Oh, it's going to be great. One of the things we're going to take out from all this is we'll be able at the end of this project to describe a best practice workflow for a modern news organization.” Yeah, right.
CW: Yes. Yeah, news is a very interesting area. So, let's dig into a little bit of detail then around the project first. First of all, explain a little bit of the methodology of actually how you've done it because there's a series of reports and there's three reports that are coming out and how have they been done, how do you do the discussions, how does that kind of work together? And then maybe we'll get into the meat of what the reports themselves actually say.
MH: Yeah, sure. Well, two of the reports were done by an a classic DPP methodology, and then one was slightly different. We did one which was called the news business, as it suggests sort of, you know, where the potential now is and the relationship between making news content and trying to make money. Or, if you're in public service, to run an efficient operation. And then the other called Making the News was about the technology and workflow of modern news production.
And what we did for both of those was to identify experts within DPP membership, so from a huge range of both vendor companies and also news makers. Most of the most famous news content organizations from the agencies like Reuters and AP and PA, right through to the likes of CNN and BBC. But also abroad, your TV2 in Denmark, ZDF in Germany, RTF in Netherlands. Huge, huge range of news organizations. And we, you know, we reached out to the those experts and asked them to come together in workshops, and this is very much the way we work.
So we would bring into the workshop a whole series of what we regarded as being key questions, and then we would, you know, share those with our participants and get their feedback and their discussion and synthesize that discussion into reports. The other piece I mentioned, which was a scene setup that we did, is something slightly different, where actually, we wanted to… set the scene with a real-world picture of what it's like to be making news today. So we got four very senior editorial figures together for a roundtable conversation and, you know, we recorded that and then summarized that back out in a report and that was really great, because there were only four of them, so they could go quite deep on what it means to try and be a news organization today.
CW: One of the things that that came out particularly of that discussion was a bit of a discussion about what actually constitutes news. I think this is something that a lot of organizations themselves are struggling about because you mentioned earlier on that news is core to many organizations and a lot of organizations, particularly public service organizations, very much founded on news. It's absolutely the core of what they do.
So I'm interested in that looking at the business side of things and saying, “OK, so news is core to what we do, news is also quite expensive to make.” You know, you know, what were the discussions? What are the kind of findings, the report about how to make news, in a sense, pay its way?
MH: Huh! Well, you’ve gone straight into the big one there, huh Craig? Umm... What I found really interesting here was that if you listen to the editors in chief, what they say is nowadays, a news organization has to go to where its audience is. You can no longer expect the audience to come to you. There's very little appointment to view, certainly not from the younger audience. It's a mobile audience. Your competition isn't other news organizations. Your competition is anything else on a mobile phone. What they call adjacent content—which I think is a great phrase, actually. Who knows what that adjacent content might be? It might be a game, might be another piece of video, who knows?
And they've become very adept at doing this and working out how to make credible and effective news content, particularly for a younger audience, and on platforms like TikTok. Trouble is, where the audience is isn't where the money is. Where the money is, is actually still overwhelmingly in linear services. In longer form content.
So, we're in this place where the historic model is still paying the bills, but the new model is where relevance is maintained. And what's going to be so fascinating for the evolution of news is it's sort of for how long do you go on running with both of those horses? You know, is there going to be a point of crisis? Or are we actually speaking to something a little bit like, you know, we remember, those of us of a certain age, when video on the Internet first became a big thing and felt like nobody under the age of 30 was paying for anything. It seemed to be ripping off content everywhere, including, you know, all the big high-quality series. And a lot of people said at that time, “Well, this is the future, you see. Young people will never pay for content.” What it actually was was a phase. And now, young people do pay for content. And, you know, it could be that actually we find that news does manage to balance this out and we find that younger audiences actually do start to come to subscription services or to appointment to view services. You know, that's going to be fascinating.
CW: What are news organizations saying about how they try to balance this out? Because as you said, is that, linear television—or reach, I guess if you look at yourself as a public service broadcaster—is still the biggest driver. Yet that audience is aging with the best will in the world. I mean, Mark, you and I are not the youngest, but you know I get a lot of my news on my phone now, travelling a lot of times. That's just how things are.
So where they are having to balance, we have to deliver content for these other platforms along with we still have to do the core business. Is it really business efficiency is what they're really looking for now when it comes to the technology landscape to allow them to deliver across all these platforms?
MH: Well, one of the things that was said very clearly was that this is efficiency goes straight to the bottom line. You know if we can be more efficient, then we can make more content and get more content out there. Where exactly the “out there” should be, I don't think anybody really knows. One great quote from the work was this. “We've got loads of hooks in the water, and we're all going fishing. And, you know, exactly which ones will bring in the fish kind of remains to be seen.” But in the meantime, operational efficiency seems key. However, I think a lot of what I was getting back from the work was that a lot of news organizations are still finding that very, very hard to do. And actually, not so hard to do in the news gathering, where there has been a revolution in how news is actually collected out there in the field. And it's incredible what people achieve now with such lightweight and low-cost resources. But in the newsroom itself, and that's where I think many people involved in this world would say there has been far less change than they would have expected.
CW: To pick up on what you said there, remote working is not something that's new, in journalistic terms. You know, everyone has always gone out to gather the news. But what I think of change of course in the last few years has been the impact of COVID remote and distributed working across the whole broadcast industry—not just, you know, specifically in news. Do you get the sense that people think that has changed that dynamic forever, that we're not going to go back to being back based in newsrooms, people are going to rely a lot more on connected technologies to allow them to work effectively?
MH: Well, interestingly, one of the comments that was made was that perhaps actually the COVID effect is already wearing off, and the newsrooms are going slightly backwards. Which I found really interesting, you know, as we gradually return to more in-person working.
I think there's a distinction here between again between news gathering, where you just feel that reliance upon delivering back from the field has become stronger and stronger. Nobody’s going to wait for you to bring this up back home. It's going to be from, you know, you're going to be sending it back almost as you're making it, not even after you're finished making it, it's coming back while you're in the field. And that's why things like bonded, you know, solar cellular technology has been so important and 5G will be so important and so forth. That contribution model.
But when it comes to the news factory, if anything, it looks to me—and this does this does actually fit with other work the DPP's done in the last couple of years—it looks to me as if that hub model will become actually stronger than ever. The need to have people in close proximity actually becomes, if anything, even greater because you're trying to get always now a smaller and smaller number of people, because that's the way everything goes, is fewer people do more, you know, to collaborate more and more tightly around more and more different kinds of output. Always be more effective if you actually sat right side by side.
CW: Going back to what we said earlier on about news being core, is it then the case that change management is a fundamental if people really want to implement lasting, effective change to deliver. Do we change that mindset from thinking linear to thinking digital? Is that something that people are wrestling with, as well?
MH: Yeah, yeah, I do think this looks like just a huge change management challenge, and, you know, one bit of me wishes we could sort of put aside our day job at DPP and just sort of go somewhere and see whether or not we can help because it's almost painful to observe… you know, there are tired cliches about, you know, trying to sort of redesign the car whilst the wheels are turning and, you know, and all that kind of stuff. But that is so true about the world of news. It never stops, and you are measured as a news organization on being on it the whole time and being right, you know, being accurate and effective. To be maintaining that culture of speed and responsiveness and reliability at the same time trying to fundamentally change everything you do from a technological point of view, it is like the ultimate business change challenge. I think we can't underestimate how big an ask this is.
But one of the things that that got exposed to, that I think took us all back quite a lot that we didn't really count on was actually we saw more tension between the customer community and the vendor community around this business transformation question than in any other area of the media industry. Umm, which I found fascinating, and essentially, what it comes down to is that, you know, we've got broadcasters saying to their vendor partners, you know, how could we possibly create a fully integrated newsroom, unless you start giving us totally different kind of tools that really are built for the modern journalists? And meanwhile, the vendors are saying to the broadcasters, how can we possibly help you change your workflows when you are so resistant to change and you're still locked into kind of 1980s view of what The Newsroom should be? You know, in all these different silos? And both parties kind of want change, but are finding it really difficult to sort of identify a common language and a starting point perhaps because there is no room or appetite for an in between state, so everybody needs to just tip into something brand new. And that's so hard.
CW: Yeah. One thing you mentioned right at the start, again, Mark, was perhaps at the start you thought we’ll come out and there’ll be a unified workflow that we can suggest, and this might be how things work. Did the report really just emphasize how complex news is and how complex the workflows are?
MH: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, how complex they are, how incredibly challenging it is to unify them because they never stay still. I mean we know this to some extent around all content that, you know, even when a prerecorded long form film is delivered, and it could be delivered with all its production metadata. But things will still be done to that piece of content subsequently and that's always been a challenge, how you maintain that metadata you need and how you add in new metadata to help get that piece of content to your audience effectively—but that is nothing compared to news.
You know, constantly changing and being reshaped and being, you know, added to and subtracted from, being put out to, to different platforms and markets. It was actually you, Craig, in one of our sessions, that I think provided one of the best quotes of the work, which was that you said that metadata is the most important and the most boring word in news. And, you know, it's brilliantly put because you can see that from a journalist point of view, it's like, “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” You know, “Really, I might like previously under fire, and I've got to get this story in, and you're telling me that unless I tag everything from the very beginning, then, you know, it's going to inhibit the journey of that content subsequently. And yet those things are true. You know that you cannot possibly extract the value from that news content that is going to, in the end, enable news to remain profitable unless you got metadata.
CW: Yeah, it's very, very true. And what were people saying about the cloud and how they are looking to take advantage of that? Was that something that came up as part of the report?
MH: Yeah, it did. And I think the view was that that is the next journey that has to happen. Let's take note that use of IP has been spectacular in news and, you know, rapid and dramatic and important adoption. So it's another piece of revolutionary change that really has happened within news.
But whereas perhaps others have been focusing on cloud, IP I think has been more of the focus for the world of news. And it feels as if news is coming to the cloud a bit later. But everyone can see the potential for what somebody described as being a bureau in a MacBook. You know, that if you can, virtualize both where the content is and the tools to work on that content, then the potential is enormous because like all other forms of media, agility is king, and that's what the cloud is best at.
CW: Would you see it across the board that the challenges are universal? Or are they still specific to different geographies?
MH: That's a really great question. It doesn't feel as if they're specific to different geographies, except insofar as public service news production is very much a European thing. Certainly rather than a North American thing. But I would I would say it's more that you can see differences between, I guess, three groups. One is the kind of historic broadcaster, and then use operation, then there is the agency, which, in many respects, the news agencies better placed on all this. Because it's always lived or died by a story-centric view. Basically, you know, it gathers content and then it has to mine that content out to all sorts of customers. So it's in the DNA to do that and some of the greatest modernization is happening in companies like PA and AP and Reuters and so forth.
And then there's the new generation of news suppliers like VICE Media doing some incredible work and a really important player. But you have to say, of course, we would have been talking to them and many others only a few years ago, and BuzzFeed, Huffington Post would have been really important players, and you know, we're seeing with their story just how difficult purely digital native news is. We'll see whether the news movement, which is a new operation in that space can do better in that regard.
CW: It certainly is a very difficult industry to make money with. It’s a fantastic industry to be involved in. I've been lucky enough to be involved in for a very long time, Mark, and it's a great industry. The reports are very, very detailed, and I would encourage everyone who's listening to this to get the reports and to read through them. They contain a real wealth of information.
If there's one thing you think that comes out from them, what do you think the big takeaway was for you?
MH: Well, can I, can I cheat? That’s one annoying thing that people do to very good interviewers like you, which is to say two things because I want to say one thing which is about the editorial and content side and one that's about the tech side.
It was it was a bit of a penny drop moment for me when my colleague Rowan said “Have you noticed that generally in the media industry, production, it hasn't really changed very much, really. You know, for generations. But massive amount of change in how that content is handled and processed once it sort of arrives at its commissioning entity, at the broadcaster, or at the content platform. And yet news seems to be the inverse of that. News… massive change has happened in that production process, and in the creation process… but then remarkably stuck at the point at which that content comes into the commissioning entity. So I thought that was a really, really great insight. I hadn't thought of it that way before.
And then on the making content side, what somebody said in one of our sessions was you have to realize that the editorial community were the ones who want to go to the new platforms. And it's the business community that actually is wanting to stay more traditional. And again, that's actually an inverse of what you might expect, because you know, often it said that it's actually the editorial community that are very conservative, and it's the commercial teams that are trying to drive them towards some new markets. And that's simply because news people, you know, they want to get their news to the audience. And if that means TikTok, it means TikTok. The fact that TikTok doesn't earn them a bean, it's kind of neither here nor there, whereas their business colleagues are saying, “Hang on a second… we need our own app” or “We need our own platform” or “We need our own channel so that we can identify who we're giving content to.” We know whether or not we're engaging with them and we're also we can have advertising.
CW: Yeah, really, really interesting, Mark. So I think as you know, there is one final question I ask everyone in the podcast, so I will ask it to you. What is it, if anything, that keeps you up at night?
MH: What it is right now, Craig, is the huge amount of revision I’m having to do for my wine qualification course and exam that's coming up. I'm actually rushing back from IBC on the Saturday night because I'm spending all of Sunday in the second of three day-long courses that then will culminate in an exam. And this is for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust level 2 certification. So, at the moment I'm trying to work out how I can be doing grape work whilst also doing great work for the DPP.
CW: I'd also like to think there's a lot of practical work involved in that exam, as well?
MH: We’re promise that we're going to get to taste 43 different wines, which doesn't sound too bad.
CW: Sounds like my kind of exam. Thanks to Mark for joining the podcast, and I would really urge you to download the reports to find out more.
News is a critical industry for Avid, so check out the show notes for an article featuring key players from the BBC and ABC sharing their thoughts. And also check out the links to discover more about the story-centric capabilities of MediaCentral | Collaborate and how it is bringing news teams closer together to enable new, efficient ways of working in the newsroom.
Don’t forget to subscribe to Making the Media to make sure you get notified when new episodes are released and please share with your friends and colleagues to spread the word about our new season. You can always reach me on social—I am @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram. Or email us, we are MakingtheMedia@Avid.com.
That is all for now! Thanks to our producer Matt Diggs and the rest of the production team, but most of all thanks to you for listening. My name is Craig Wilson, join me next time for more Making the Media.