NY Daily News Innovation Lab Conversations Event: “Platforms as Publishers: Where Are We Now?”

Photo credit: NY Daily News

Photo credit: NY Daily News

On May 11, the New York Daily News Innovation Lab hosted “Platforms As Publishers: Where Are We Now?” as part of their Conversations event series. The panel discussion explored the relationship between social platforms and publishers, and its future implications, with specific focus on legal and business implications, and shifting resources in the newsroom, among other issues. 

Following an introduction by Cyna Alderman, managing director of the Innovation Lab, Tow Center Research Director Claire Wardle moderated the discussion featuring Samantha Barry, head of social media and senior director of strategy at CNN; Allison Lucas, general counsel at Buzzfeed; Choire Sicha, director of platform partners at Vox Media; and Carla Zanoni, executive emerging media editor for the Wall Street Journal.   

Starting off the discussion, Wardle asked Lucas from Buzzfeed: “Is there an argument now that [platforms] are moving into the publishing space?”

“They would argue ‘no,’” Lucas said, noting the associated legal liabilities that come with publishing. Barry added that “while they’re not necessarily going into the content making, they’re definitely becoming more and more the curators of editorial content.”

Both Barry and Zanoni acknowledged the need to meet audiences where they are, but since subscriptions are a part of the WSJ business model, Zanoni said, “I do think for us it is still important to get people back to the site.” Her approach is to build new relationships with readers on platforms and to educate them about the value that WSJ can bring. “To not be experimenting on those platforms would mean that we would be left behind,” she said. Barry added that if she focused on driving viewers back to CNN constantly, it would be “just fighting the last war.”

“I care that you have a CNN news habit,” she said, regardless of where that habit is formed.

Lucas said that this new relationship between platforms and publishers is not without risk, and there is a fear that “you’re ultimately giving your content up.” But she said the platform terms are generally not that onerous, and the best defense is newsroom education on terms and conditions. One important condition for publishers is to have the option to take down the content if necessary.

Wardle asked about the “walled garden” nature of platforms and how useful the data coming from platforms has been for the publishers. Sicha noted, across Vox sites, “One thing we see is platforms reinventing analytics over and over again.”

Zanoni said it wasn’t about the quantity of the data, but the quality, and that more work needed to be done on defining engagement and “somehow creating a common narrative around data so I don’t have to do magic on my side with an Excel file to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.”  

Overall, the panelists said, newsroom understanding of platform distribution–the implications and the possibilities–is increasing.

Sicha noted that Vox hired an engagement editor for Racked recently, and this person immediately wanted to know whether Racked would be on Instant Articles. And Lucas said that at BuzzFeed, “you do see an energy in the newsroom when new platforms are announced.”

Finally, Wardle asked, is this relationship sustainable for journalists?

Zanoni said that, for her, it comes down to storytelling. “At the end of the day, if we can remember that the journalism is the most important thing, and find the best home for that journalism, then it will remain sustainable.” Also, she said that publishers need to treat the relationship as “symbiotic,” and to take lessons learned from platforms and bring them back to the site.

Sicha said he is “extremely content agnostic” in his role to “ensure the longevity of journalism.” He looks from the outside in when devising strategies and plans. When an audience member asked how demographics play into content, Sicha said that engagement editors at Vox look “distinctly at who they are reaching, where, and what they want to do with them there.”

An audience member asked whether metrics from platforms ever factor into editorial considerations. Zanoni and Barry answered no, and Barry said, “At CNN we cover the light as well as the dark,” but that pandering to metrics would damage the brand.

Since its Journalism + Silicon Valley Conference in fall 2015, the Tow Center has been developing its research project on the evolving relationship between platforms and publishers. Preliminary results will be published soon.


Check out NY Daily New’s event recap and highlight video of the “Platforms as Publishers: Where Are We Now?” event.