Native News, Native Now at NYU Media Talk

Andrew Fitzgerald of Twitter, Jim Roberts of Mashable, Shani Hilton of BuzzFeed, Dan Roth of LinkedIn, and moderator Jessi Hempel of Fortune before the NYU Media Talk.

“Fish where the fish are,” said Dan Roth, Executive Editor of LinkedIn, referring to how to best deliver digital news in a deep, roiling sea of online content. Roth was one of four panelists gathered for the latest in the NYU Media Talk Series, “Native News, Native Now: The Changing Face of Digital Content,” sponsored by the NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing.

Moderator Jessi Hempel, senior writer at Fortune, co-chair of the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, and adjunct professor in the M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program at the NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing, led a spirited conversation among four leading digital media executives: Andrew Fitzgerald, of Twitter’s News team; Shani Hilton, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed; Jim Roberts, Executive Editor and Chief Content Officer of Mashable; and Daniel Roth, Executive Editor of LinkedIn. “We have arrived at digital media’s adolescence,” she told the full house consisting of 250 NYU Summer Publishing Institute students, M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students, and media executives. Hempel deftly steered the conversation into some high-level topics.

All agreed that the rules are changing as digital media companies seek to give audiences what they want and increase brand visibility…and often compete with legacy news organizations like The New York Times. (In fact, Roberts was a top editor at the Times for many years, and Roth came to LinkedIn from Fortune magazine. Both Fitzgerald and Hilton also have strong news backgrounds.) The definition of “good” journalism, or news with smart content, has shifted to include engaging or entertaining journalism. Hilton said she considered BuzzFeed’s fact-heavy articles to have high journalistic quality… but so do those cat listicles. “It’s okay to have fun articles that are wildly shared and articles that are only read by the people who are supposed to read them,” she said. Roth agreed that every media company should find what works best for them. “Every piece of content has its own audience,” he said.

Digital media organizations need to find a way to better connect viral, shareable content and more substantive news, said the panelists. Roberts suggested that experimenting with the content itself may solve this disconnect. “How do you take the whimsical subjects and make them more topical?” he asked. “When it comes to making truly shareable content, I try to find ways to complete the spectrum: heavy and light.”

Once the content is perfected, companies must research how to best reach and engage audiences. Fitzgerald, a self-proclaimed “media guy in a tech company,” said metadata and analytics will help dictate what the best dissemination practices will be in the future. “You must be willing to rapidly experiment and learn what works best for your company,” he said. “Kill the things that don’t work and keep the ones that do.”

Roberts even went so far as to say that Twitter was a “lifeline” to Mashable. He constantly needs to rethink how to best serve content to his audience through each digital platform.

In this time of turbulent change, the panelists agreed that taking chances and listening to audience feedback will dictate the future of news and content. When asked what the next frontier is, Hilton offered up “messaging apps,” and there was general agreement that these could be the next best thing. (She also noted that BuzzFeed has two drones.)

“Some things work now, but they may not work tomorrow,” Roberts said. Taking things even further, Roth noted: “We are always training machines to take over part of our jobs. Get comfortable with that!”

No matter what’s to come, though, every person in publishing, from an NYU Summer Publishing Institute or graduate student to the editor-in-chief of a magazine brand or content/technology site, needs to be adaptable and innovative to foster the future of media.

by Cara Mannion

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