“The sky is changing colors,” claimed Bill Brink, Media Editor at The New York Times. This intriguing comment was more metaphoric than meteorological, referring to the current shifts in media. It was delivered during a panel discussion entitled “Meet the Publishing Press: How Media Editors and Reporters Cover an Industry in Transition,” the latest in the NYU Media Talk series sponsored by the NYU Center for Publishing. The panel, which was directed at an audience composed of NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute Class of 2015, featured a diverse and highly experienced group of media professionals from multiple platforms. The moderator was Brian Stelter, Senior Media Correspondent for CNN Worldwide and host of Reliable Sources. On the panel, in addition to Bill Brink, were Michael Calderone, Senior Media Reporter at The Huffington Post; Sarah Ellison, Contributing Editor, Media, at Vanity Fair; and Sarah Weinman, News Editor at Publishers Marketplace where she reports for Publishers Lunch.
Stelter led a wide-ranging conversation, starting with the dilemmas reporters face when reporting on their colleagues and friends. Calderone called this grey area “a rolling media ethics class, where there are so many entanglements.” Ellison told the audience that “it is not possible for a company to write about itself all of the time.” Stelter then countered by saying that he has learned “to embrace the conflict of interest” that is sometimes present in the media world. Referring to the media as a whole, Weinman explained that the industry “places high expectations on how things ought to be covered. And we want others to have high expectations as well.”
The conversation then shifted to the recent development of media companies planning to host content inside Facebook, rather than directing users to tap a link to go to an external site. The New York Times itself has agreed to do so, and Brink commented that no matter what the format or location of the news, it’s important “to be involved deeply with the media, and not just technology.” Calderone claimed that this new Facebook connection may be used as an advantage, as “news organizations can show interest and engagement through social media.”
Moving right along, Stelter then addressed the issue of transparency and how various media organizations are perceived by the reading public. Ellison claimed that nowadays: “People are so much more comfortable about everyone writing about everything.” But what does this mean? Media outlets like Buzzfeed are used by the consumer as a source for all kinds of news, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are seen as go-to sources for information on multiple topics. This makes the individual voice more important. That said, the panel members seemed confident that curated content from a reliable source is still the most valued component of the media business. This then brought the discussion to the now-iconic image of Caitlyn Jenner recently revealed on the July cover of Vanity Fair. Ellison explained: “What the Caitlyn Jenner issue showed is that there can [still] be these breakthrough [magazine] events that get everyone talking. By combining this cultural moment with a star photographer and a great reporter, Vanity Fair was able to bring something very particular to it.” Can you imagine a strictly digital entity being awarded a story as huge as this one?
Stelter segued into the next topic with a chuckle, saying, “I’ve been scared recently because I’ve been buying a great deal of magazines that I will probably never read.” So is print dying? There was no clear-cut conclusion on the topic. Brink noted that “we live in an era of deep consumer choice,” claiming that media has adapted by “going where the readers are.” On the book-publishing end of the spectrum, it was interesting to hear from Weinman: “There has been a plateau of ebook sales, while print remains a fairly healthy business.” She mentioned the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, highlighting the fact that it is still in hardback and won’t be in paperback until next year. As Weinman noted, print still can be very lucrative.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to the topic of “What makes a media company?” Companies like Snapchat and Apple are functioning as true multimedia organizations, as Snapchat is already planning its upcoming coverage of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and Apple is breaking more fully into the arena with the creation of a News app. Calderone told the crowd: “Every media company is trying to think of how they can engage with the consumer.”
As the panel came to a close and the sun set, Stelter glanced out the huge floor-to-ceiling windows of NYU’s Kimmel Center and repeated Brink’s earlier quip: “The color of the sky is changing.” As the students headed happily to a cocktail reception, they were busy contemplating how media is evolving and adapting itself to the fast-paced, diverse world in which we live.
by Alexander Rigby