“The lock screen will become our new home base,” said Clifford J. Levy, Deputy Managing Editor of The New York Times, in reference to his locked iPhone. It is his first source of news every morning.
I think back to my own 6:45 AM push notifications of CNN’s latest stories, media updates from POLITICO’s morning newsletter, job postings from an automatic job site e-mail, headlines from The Skimm’s daily news recap, and text messages from my family and friends. I am in total agreement. Listening to Levy and the other media thought leaders assembled for the 21st NYU Media Talk, hosted by the NYU Center for Publishing, I was struck by how drastically the distribution of content has changed.
The panelists who assembled to discuss the topic “Influence and Influencers: the Changing Face of Content,” consisted of Levy; David Carey, President of Hearst Magazines; Janice Min, Media Strategist at Eldridge Industries and former Co-President and Chief Creative Officer of The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group; and Josh Tyrangiel, Executive Vice President of VICE News.
Sarah Ellison, Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair, did an excellent job moderating the discussion as NYU Summer Publishing Institute and M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students, alumni, and faculty listened attentively in the NYU Kimmel Center. Discussion topics ranged from digital media platforms, the role of influencers, and, of course, the political tension in the US and how the news media is addressing it. Early in the conversation, Ellison referenced key events such as the financial crisis that disrupted the media world; panelists were asked how these events changed the relationship between millennials and the news.
Tyrangiel argued that the problem faced today isn’t a disinterest in news from millennials, but rather a high standard and expectation for what is entertaining and worthy of their time. “As long as it’s good, it’ll grab your attention,” Tyrangiel said.
This statement led Min to comment on the power of brands, a topic that was a focus for much of the night. Even in an age where digital media is rapid, and attention spans for viewership are short, reputable brands have stood the test of time. “The biggest news stories are broken by big names who put in effort for their stories,” said Min.
The New York Times is universally recognized as one of these brands. Levy, however, acknowledged that despite its name and reputation, his paper must be flexible and recognize the need to adapt to a “subscriber-first” business model. “Our goal now is to figure out the digital expression of The New York Times,” Levy said. “We need to figure out what The New York Times sounds like on audio, and become native to audio.” For example, the paper’s The Daily podcast is a highly successful digital venture for Levy’s brand.
Claire Nist, a student at NYU’s 2017 Summer Publishing Institute, felt similarly about the impact of a well-known brand name. “I thought the most interesting part of the media talk was when the panelists talked about the staying power of the large magazine and newspaper brands and how they are going to stay around for the foreseeable future; they have so much authority and people trust them.”
In fact, with all the digital innovations in mind, the panelists agreed that the most important thing in media and news today is to stay true to the brand even while exploring new digital platforms. “You can’t be everything, so you need to embrace what you are,” Tyrangiel said, adding: “We’re the people in the field, taking chances.”
Knowledge of the brand, and that brand’s mission and purpose, is what can leverage a media group in the industry. Min suggested that a good way to find opportunities is to see if there are brands that have something that could be made bigger.
Ellison utilized this conversation about personal brands to invite the media leaders to discuss what is arguably the most influential part of a printed magazine: the cover. The panelists unanimously agreed that even in the rapidly expanding digital space, there is no content quite as impactful or influential as the printed cover. “People always pick the cover, rather than the homepage,” Carey said. Min noted that there is nothing as powerful online as a printed cover… yet.
Panelists, faculty, alumni, and NYU Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) students network at the annual Alumni Party following the NYU Media Talk.
Levy doesn’t discount the opportunity for something to take its place in the future. He believes that at some point, the cover and its influence will fade for our generation, though we can’t be sure what that means right now.
The discussion on the role of the cover sparked conversation over the presence of printed content in an increasingly digital world. “Something that’s permanent for our brand is a good thing,” said Carey.
Even with the rise of mobile-first strategies, and digital-only news sites, media companies continue to launch print publications. Hearst, for example, recently launched Airbnbmag and The Pioneer Woman as new print publications. At the same time, the company continues to expand its digital reach and revenue.
Sarah Ellison commented on the different ways media brands embrace digital content. She mentioned the rise of many new platforms, and how they have changed the way we read news and other content—particularly in reference to Snapchat. Carey agreed, noting the need to be nimble. “You can’t be afraid about changing your current business [model] for what comes next,” he said.
The 21st NYU Media Talk covered a plethora of topics, with many of them relating to the drastically changing media industry that presents new challenges every day. Yet among these challenges, in today’s media world there are prospects for new, original, and disruptively progressive ideas. “There’s never been a better time to be more informed,” said Tyrangiel. “I think this a fantastic time,” added Carey. “It’s a huge opportunity in every way, but you’ve got to be able to ride the rollercoaster.”
For many of the publishing and media students in the audience, though, that rollercoaster is exactly what makes their future career prospects so exhilarating.
by Claire O’Halloran