Experts examine how the media industry is adapting to the changing information landscape, from traditional news sources to social and digital platforms, and the effects of these changes on how the public receives their news and analyzes U.S. foreign policy.
MARTIN: (In progress)—as an independent advisor, news, tech, and brands at Weber Shandwick—(chuckles)—and the former head of news at Twitter. And she is the former CEO of NPR. And she was the chief digital officer at NBC, where we worked together.
So welcome to all of you, and thanks for being here.
So, Vivian, tell us a little bit about the audience in this changing spectrum. What are people—how are they consuming news?
SCHILLER: Yeah. Thanks, Betsy.
So I just wanted to just frame a little bit with some data so that we understand when we talk about, you know, the future of media, we sort of need to understand a little bit about the present of media, and that starts with where the audience is. And then I think we’re probably going to talk about what different news organizations are doing.
So the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford in the U.K. does a really terrific global report every year where they survey—they do very extensive surveys across 26 countries, and it’s a great snapshot of information. So not to—so I’m just going to give you a couple—it’s a very long report, but just a couple of key statistics that I think might help frame the conversation from their most recent report.
Of course, everything that we’re talking about, all changes in media are largely being driven by these guys, our mobile devices, and that’s really changing behavior of consumers across the world and really changing the news ecosystem. So a couple of pivotal pieces of information. Fifty-one percent of global respondents, again across these 26 countries, say they use social media as a source of news. And when you look at the younger end of the Millennials—so, in this case, 18- to 24-year-olds—the respondents, again across 26 countries, say it is their top source of news. So think about that, getting their news from social media. When we talk about social media, we are mostly—in every single of these 26 countries, with the exception of Japan, the number one social media platform is Facebook. In Japan, there’s LINE and Mixi and a couple of other platforms that are more popular.
Interestingly—so now, when you think about people consuming media—consuming news, excuse me, on social media, the question then is: When you see a news item on social media, do you recognize what news organization it’s from? And interestingly, if you look at the U.S. data, only about 50 percent—only about half of respondents, when they see a piece of news, they can tell you this news is from—what news organization it’s from. So, of course, it could be, you know, BuzzFeed, it could be CNN, but it also could be God-knows-what.com. (Laughter.) And in some countries, it’s even lower than 50 percent.
As you probably know, at least on Facebook, news is—and all content on Facebook—is sorted by an algorithm, so you don’t see every post by every one of your Facebook friends in your news feed. You see it’s filtered by an algorithm that is largely based around what your closest Facebook friends are engaging with—that’s like a like or heart or whatever it might be—a like or a comment or a share. So you do get sort of the same kinds of content. You would think that perhaps people would say, no, wait a minute, I want a greater diversity of content. But, in fact, again, from the same report, the top—when asked on the survey how do you want your news selected for you, the number one response was I’d like it selected based on what I’ve read before. So, again, think about that.
Another interesting piece of data from the same report: trust in media, it is at its lowest level since trust in media has been recorded. This isn’t just from Reuters, this is about every study. According to the Reuters report, only 25 percent of respondents in the U.S. say they trust their media. That data actually is a little over a year—is from surveys done a little over a year ago, so you imagine that might be lower still.
Just a couple of more interesting statistics and then I’ll wrap this part up.
When it comes to monetization, how are news organizations making money, as you know—as you probably know, advertising has been declining steadily; both, you know, print display advertising—television’s a different matter. We could talk about that a little bit later. Digital ads are declining and being blocked by ad blockers. In fact, especially among younger respondents, more than 50 percent of respondents to the survey say they do block ads on news organizations from their mobile devices. They have a bunch of different reasons for doing it, including it slows them down, it’s intrusive, they worry about privacy.
In terms of paying for news, not great news there. According to the survey, English speakers—among English speakers, only 9 percent are willing to pay for news. As you go into languages where there’s less variety, like Scandinavian languages, it’s a little bit higher.
So these are just a few data points that sort of inform a lot of the challenges and, I daresay, as an optimist, some opportunities around news going forward.
MARTIN: You mentioned that people trust themselves more and they trust what their friends are saying. Sam, can you talk about how you have seen people moving away from this mass social sharing into more kind of peer-to-peer or small groups, and kind of the messaging apps? And what does that tell us?
BARRY: So one of the things that we did last year at CNN was we launched on three messaging apps. We launched on LINE, which you mentioned as being in Asia, in particular Japan; we launched on Facebook Messenger; and we launched on Kik. Kik is a messaging app that is used by 13- to 17-year-olds in the U.S., which is probably not the audience that people associate with CNN. But for us at—what the social team at CNN, we’re trying to do, and everything that we’ve strived in particular over the last two-and-a-half years, was about creating new CNN news habits wherever people lived, on their mobile phone. And we found that more and more, as people’s social networks grow—in particular we’re talking about Facebook—people are less likely to share content with those 500 people that they are friends with. They’re more likely—and the habit has changed, where they will take a piece of content and either message it to a friend or have four friends that they’ll put it in a Facebook Messenger to. I have a group of eight Irish girls that I WhatsApp constantly different news stories that I may probably not publicly put on my Twitter and Facebook, but I know that these—this group of my friends will be interested in them.
So we’ve seen this rise in what we call dark social, or messaging. And last year we launched on these three platforms, one, to be able to really tap into an audience that are often super-users, right? So the Snapchat worlds, the WhatsApp worlds, the LINE worlds, a lot of people, if you take the average user in a place like—in Japan online, they spend an awful lot of their mobile time within one app, right? So they do a lot within that app. They message. They may—the commerce in LINE is pretty advanced compared to other messaging platforms. They will book a hotel room. They will get some news. They’ll do a lot within this one system. Super-users in Snapchat are the same, right? They talk to their friends and they consume a lot of information, and they’re constantly going back in and out of that app every day.
So we went—we wanted to expand into the world of messaging apps, one, for that. But also really one of the things that it did in our newsroom is it pushed the boundaries on where we were comfortable in new types of storytelling, in innovating and experimenting with an audience that—again, 13- to 17-year-olds aren’t necessarily the audience that people associate with CNN. On election night, we had millions of young teenagers in the U.S. getting news from us on Kik, but they weren’t getting the same—the story was the same. Election night 2016 was the same. But it was a different format. We used stickers and we used GIF trays and emojis, and we told the story of election night, and we pushed the boundaries, right? When I—
MARTIN: So you’re not repurposing other—CNN on television for—
BARRY: No, you had—you know, we had to go to the highest level at CNN and say we’re going to do a sticker set with Anderson and Wolf—(laughter)—
MARTIN: Say what? (Laughs.)
BARRY: —and explain what a sticker set was and why we wanted to use it. And I think one of the things that in the social and messaging world about legacy news organizations like CNN and newer digital pioneers like BuzzFeed is that it pushes what we consider storytelling and journalism into whole new levels of experimenting, whether it be, you know, BuzzFeed doing Facebook—or the Twitter stream on election night, or what a lot of newsrooms have been doing with Facebook Live, or again, back to messaging. Like, how do you tell a very dense story through choose-your-own-adventure messaging apps, basically.
And, Kate, how have you found, just in your experience at BuzzFeed, the audience and how they’re consuming your content?
NOCERA: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the things that I love the most about BuzzFeed is we’re always constantly trying to meet our audience where they are. We just actually launched a new slogan. Slogans are very “in” right now. (Laughter.) And our slogan is “reporting to you” because we—the nature of the media is so chaotic right now that the message that we want to get across is that we are doing—we are meeting our audience where they are, right, whether that be on Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram. And I think that—
MARTIN: Do people expect that now?
NOCERA: I think they do, yeah. I mean, and I think that something that we at BuzzFeed take really seriously is constantly trying to—I mean, we’re always trying to experiment to just see what works. And sometimes things don’t work, and we’re fine with that, but just being able to, like, play around in the mud and like see what sticks has been—has been really fun.
MARTIN: Vivian, I want to get your insight from your experience at Twitter. There was news this morning that Bloomberg News is now going to start a 24/7 video stream via Twitter. Do you see a marketplace for that? How do you see that playing out? And why do you think they decided to do something like that?
SCHILLER: Well, I think, to Kate’s point, you know, you’ve got to experiment, and you’ve got to be where your audience is, and you’ve got to try things. And, you know, I have no idea if it’s going to work. I mean, Twitter experimented with, you know, broadcasting NFL games with Twitter streams and it didn’t work out that—didn’t work out very well. But I give them a lot of credit for trying.
And so, you know, why not, you know, as news organizations, as publishers look where their audience is and try to figure out the best way to speak to those audiences on different platforms, I applaud them, you know, for doing it. There used to be this notion that would—floating around. I’m sure you’ve all heard about news organizations proudly saying we’re platform agnostic, you know, as if this was something to applaud. And certainly you want to be platform agnostic in the sense that you want to be on wherever your audience is, but this notion that you can create a piece of content and you don’t care where it lives, you’re going to push it out the same everywhere, is completely false. So, I mean, as, you know, Sam—as Sam was talking about before, you know, it may be a sticker set, you know, on one platform and quite straight on another platform. So I think it’s—you know, good for them for trying. I have no idea how it’ll work out. (Laughs.)
MARTIN: And, you know, we’ve seen—we’ve seen some old media like ESPN just having to go through massive layoffs because of the high prices on cable subscribers and people cutting cords and not really wanting to get their news that way. So it’s almost you have to adapt or else you do not succeed.
BARRY: I also think—I mean, this is the challenge that’s out there, and it’s a very—it’s not even the elephant in the room, it’s just the actual reality. You have a lot of news organizations—young, old—that are putting a lot of effort off their owned-and-operated platforms. Now, that is great in the experimental stage, but there needs to be—and this is working with the platforms, working with the sales teams—there needs to be a path to significant monetization on those platforms, and it’s not clear what that is yet. I think there is piecemeals and there’s definitely people that are gaming the system and actually monetizing off those platforms. But for a lot of news organizations, we’re in this experimental phase. And we are looking to the Facebooks and Twitters and Snapchats of the world to show—we are the content creators, and you hold yourself up as platforms and a tech company. Where is the path to monetization for the people that actually make the content? Because that’s the survival of experimenting on these platforms, is a clear path to monetization.
And, you know, to Vivian’s earlier point, there’s definitely—there’s definitely people that are not prepared to pay for news. But on the flipside, we’re also growing up with mobile consumers that are so used to paying for quality content. At the moment, that quality content is Spotify or Netflix or—I’m really interested in the world of what’s called micropayments, where—I’ll give you an example—where on the Kardashian app, if you want to get onto the red carpet, you pay 99 cents. Now, millions of people pay 99 cents to get onto the red carpet within the Kardashian app. News hasn’t adapted into that model, right? (Laughter.) I mean, it’s funny, but that’s a pretty—it’s a well-run business model, and they tap into younger audiences that know if they just put their thumb on their iPhone that they pay 99 cents for something. News hasn’t tapped into that model of either quality content or micropayments yet. And I think that, and working with platforms to really see where monetization goes, that’s kind of the struggle that a lot of people have with playing off their own platform.
MARTIN: Kate, do you see any willingness among consumers of BuzzFeed—and it’s much younger—to adapt to that concept of actually paying for—
NOCERA: No. (Laughter.)
MARTIN: Paying for a cooking video, paying for—no?
NOCERA: No, no. I don’t. I think that, from my purview on the editorial side, what we are really trying to do is to get the consumer, and then I leave it to people who get paid a lot more than me to figure out—(laughs)—how to monetize stuff.
SCHILLER: The issue with—I mean, I want to believe that micropayments will work because, you know, we all need some solutions here for—in terms of the future of quality content. I’m a little worried about that news—no matter how—that news has become commoditized to a certain degree. And, look, I’m the first one to say that there’s good news and then there’s schlocky news. And, you know, my—you know, colleagues here on the panel represent the highest-quality news. On the other hand, I’m just a little dubious that people in large numbers are going to pay even, you know, 99 cents. I mean, when you go on the red carpet with the Kardashians you really are getting something exclusive, you know, that has great appeal.
So I do worry about it. I mean, you know, there are a handful of news organizations that can charge and are doing OK with that, you know, particularly newspapers—you know, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. But even there, I mean, those are unique in many ways. And even there I’m skeptical about how—about the ceiling for that model. So, you know, there are other modernization possibilities though. I think that the answer at the end of the day is there’s not going to be any one or two models that, you know, replace the old model of, you know, circulation and advertising. It’s going to be a collection. But it’s troubling.
MARTIN: Yeah. Sam, I know in your career you have some great examples of embracing technology, even from the earliest points. Can you just tell us a story or two about how news organizations that you’ve worked for in the earliest times have actually been successful by erasing technology, even the things that we take for granted now back when were new and emerging?
BARRY: So one of the—one of the examples that sticks out for me is I worked at Papua New Guinea for about a year and a half when—in 2009. And I originally come from a broadcast journalism background. So radio was where I started. And I had gone to PNG in 2009 to work with 13 different radio stations on their editorial strategy, what that looked like. And at the time PNG, still is—Papua New Guinea is a country with 800 different languages, and radio was king there. Why? Because low literacy levels meant that a lot of people didn’t consume newspapers, and rarely did anybody have a TV.
And when I went in 2009, I was really excited to go to a country where radio was still the king medium there, especially coming from a radio background. But when I arrived—the same time I arrived, Digicel, Denis O’Brien’s company, flooded the market with cheap feature phones. And what was a country that—there are no roads between a lot of the cities in PNG. And they’re very disconnected. But mobile technology completely changed that country. And one day I was working up in the highlands in Enga, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and they—with their radio station. And a little girl came in and she handed in a letter to the station manager. And I asked what she was doing. And he said, oh, this is what the—what the local people do. They come in and they just hand us a piece of paper and we read out the requests or whatever it is.
And so that day I went to the local market and bought a SIM card for 20 kina, and I just put it in the studio. And I said: Anybody that’s on air has to put their SIM card in their phone and call out the number. And let’s see if people will text us. And that first night, we got, like, 200 text messages from villagers really excited. So what was originally like a radio program ended up being a text system for all the radio stations. And then we did—you know, the second they got on any type of internet, the first thing they wanted was to be on Facebook, because it was—even then, it was a very, very—it was the—it was the global brand that they associated with the internet. So we set up Facebook pages for all of the radio stations. So what was initially a radio project, because of—and it wasn’t even smartphones; these were feature phones—became something completely different.
Kate, I wanted to ask you about this notion of distributed content, where publishers are putting their own material, letting go of a little bit of control, to have it on other platforms—Facebook, Twitter—as opposed to living—you know, very rarely do people go to homepages anymore. So what is that risk and rewarding thinking that goes into losing a little bit of control, but having your material out to more broad audience?
NOCERA: Yeah. I think—so we talked a little bit about—touched on the election night partnership that we did on Twitter. And that lived on Twitter. That was—and we know that a huge portion of our audience is also living on Twitter on election night. And so we just wanted to meet them where they were. And I think that that benefits the audience. It benefits kind of our brand, in that, you know, people can associate, like, oh, BuzzFeed’s doing this really cool thing. And they’re reporting the news straight to us.
And so on Instagram we do a ton of live video on Instagram and on Facebook. And they all look a little bit different. But the benefit is, is that people know then about BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed’s doing this really cool thing, and then maybe I’ll go, you know, check out more BuzzFeed content. I think it’s mostly—
MARTIN: Yeah. And is most of your traffic now coming from your own app, or is it sharable?
NOCERA: I think most—we’re doing a lot with Apple News right now. A ton of traffic is coming in through Apple News, at least on the news side. I don’t know about, like, the—BuzzFeed is split into two parts. We have BuzzFeed Entertainment Group and BuzzFeed News. But a lot—most of our traffic comes from different platforms—so, Twitter, Facebook, dark social, as you were saying, is a huge chunk of it, and Apple News.
MARTIN: Vivian, do you want to weigh in on that? If you’re—if you’re a media company like The New York Times and you’re distributing your content on these other platforms do you lose a bit of that control and how do you monetize it?
SCHILLER: You certainly do lose control, but you really have no choice. I mean, I actually applaud BuzzFeed. Your CEO put out this graphic that showed sort of this hub and spoke model that I have used in countless presentations. So I need to update it at this point. I mean, the idea is you can’t force—you know, of course it’s in a news organization’s best interest to have the audience come to your owned and operated platform, whether it’s your television network or your website.
First of all, you can control the experience, you have the right context, you make sure your brand is there, it’s where you can make money. But the fact is, you can’t—you know, so much of the audience, you know, as we started this meeting with, are on other social platforms. And it is not necessarily a natural action to click out of Facebook or click out of another—a social platform to your website. I mean, first of all, nobody wants to wait for it to load. I mean, we’re all so impatient now that the seconds it takes for it to load, you know, you lose people. You’re worried about popup ads. And you just don’t want to get out of that stream.
So really, if you’re going to stay relevant as a news publisher, you’ve got to have a native experience on those platforms. Now, you do—as we saw, you lose—the risk is, you know, do people even recognize your brand? You know, we saw that 50 percent of people don’t. You know, how are you going to make money because a lot of times you can’t necessarily have an ad in those native experiences. I think Facebook and others are recognizing this is a problem. It’s in their interest to have news organizations continue to publish. And so they’re beginning to roll out some ways to mitigate those. But really, if you want to stay relevant, you’ve got to be—have a native experience on other platforms.
MARTIN: And what about this notion of automated journalism, where—I know the Post was employing this a little bit—where you have bots that go in and are actually writing bits and pieces of articles that are—drill down to a very small, micro level, so you don’t have to have 25 reporters covering different areas. You put in templates, and news is generated, and put out and shared?
NOCERA: We only have humans. (Laughter.)
MARTIN: Well, other people are not—I mean, other people are having bots going out and writing—
BARRY: So we have—on our messaging apps, and I’m in particular thinking about Facebook messenger, we have a combination of what is a bot experience and a human curation. So the editorial and human curation of here are the five stories you need to look at today comes from human. But the bot experience is—and it’s very rudimentary at the moment. Any type of anybody that presents their news bot experience is high level AI is just—it’s not—
MARTIN: But is that the future? Are we going to see more of that?
BARRY: I don’t think so. I think—you know, I think we use it, Facebook Messenger and other messaging apps, where the bot enables, if somebody queries something, that we will send back something that we think they’re looking for, right? So if there was the election, if they asked for either Clinton or Trump, we would send them back the latest story on that. Or if it was something to around, like, a weather—but it was—it had to get down to pretty—you know, you had to send one word, right?
So I don’t think it’s the future. I think human curation is so important, the human writing of news. And I think—I think it can be amplified and helped by bots, but I don’t think—it’s not the future of—
NOCERA: (Inaudible)—fake news. We did experiment a little bit with this during the campaign, during the debates and stuff, where we would have a bot that someone would opt into through the app, prompts, you know, how are you feeling about X or ask you questions about the debate that you could respond to in emoji. And so—(laughs)—I think it was, just, like—yeah, it was just trying to, you know, get our users more engaged. It’s—
MARTIN: That engagement mechanism.
NOCERA: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, so.
SCHILLER: I mean, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on with AI in news, but it’s not so much about report—news gathering and reporting, so much as it is—
SCHILLER: Yeah, engagement with audiences. I mean, aside from the bots that you have, you know, on messenger and elsewhere, and some news organizations are—their entire app experience is a bot-like experience. For instance, Quartz has done a very clever app. If you download the Quartz app, the whole experience is sort of question and answer, though there is human intervention there. But it also—bots also will get us into other territory. For instance, of anybody here has a Google Home or an Amazon Echo, you know, Alexa, you know, we’re just at the very beginning stages of all the opportunities around those voice-activated assistants in the home. But I think the application for news has got tremendous potential. I know you guys are both experimenting there.
MARTIN: Getting back to the human component of this, and the capital-J Journalism part of it, Kate, I wanted to ask you about—you know, you’re running a newsroom. And we are in this kind of 24/7 environment, where news is breaking constantly—
NOCERA: Very tired, Betsy, yeah. (Laughter.)
MARTIN: Reporters need to be bots themselves, because they can only—you can only be awake and writing and filing so many hours of the day.
MARTIN: How are you thinking through that process? And with your reporters, how do you kind of cope in that, you know, anything can happen 24/7, you have to be right on top of it?
NOCERA: Yeah, we have a pretty robust breaking news operation that extends from—we have, like, a reporter in Hawaii and then California and then it goes to the U.K. in the middle of the night. So there is really always a human there to handle breaking news. Obviously, if it’s something in my purview, which has to do with Washington, D.C., and it’s, you know, a level-10 emergency, I’m called in the middle of the night. (Laughter.)
MARTIN: Right. But there’s no such thing anymore as filing a story and being done with it.
NOCERA: There’s no such thing as, you know, a 6:00 deadline. There’s no such—you know, I worked at—I worked at the New York Daily News in 2008 and 2009, where I still had a paper deadline, but it didn’t really matter, and that was sort of the first, like, shift over into we’re just going to post and then, you know, what—by the paper deadline whatever’s there will end up in the paper.
NOCERA: Now, I mean, and I think that this is what we do if there’s a piece of breaking news that we need to get out very quickly, it’s a lot of putting something up and then backfilling with more information as it becomes available—but also, being transparent about that. I think that you do owe to your audience a certain level of, you know, accountability over this is what we’re doing and this is how we handle things. But, yeah, you’re right, it does not—it does not slow down. (Laughs.) Every time I think it slows down, it doesn’t.
MARTIN: Well, at this time I would like to invite our members to join the conversation with their questions. The meeting in on the record and, given the subject matter, is also, you will not be surprised to know, being livestreamed. So if you could please raise your hand, we’ll get a microphone to you, and—yeah, back there.
Q: Thanks. My name is—my name is Courtney Radsch. I’m with the Committee to Protect Journalists.
And so we’ve talked a lot about kind of the journalism and the media. But I’d like to hear a little bit more about the journalists behind the media, especially as we’re talking about bots. But, you know, we know that it takes money and time and resources to enable journalists to gather the news securely and not just in conflict zones, but even, for example, covering a sporting event in Russia or Belarus or Qatar.
And so can you talk a little bit about how you’re making decisions on, you know, supporting journalists and the type of training that they are needing in this new environment, and specifically with respect to digital securing and how that plays into. You mentioned Amazon and, you know, these sort of things. Journalists might have those in their homes. And right now we don’t know what the surveillance capabilities are, for example. So how are we dealing with on the, you know, kind of journalism side of things?
NOCERA: I can say that very early on we’ve had a—I mean, we do have reporters in conflict zones. We have reporters in, I think, 11 countries—maybe more at this point—where their personal security was obviously hugely important. And then, as things have taken a sort of turn in the last couple years against—I mean, on the campaign and in protests, giving that same training—we’ve given that same training to our reporters here in the United States. And there’s a huge digital security component that’s also kind of—I actually have the training tomorrow. Thank you for reminding me. (Laughter.)
But I think—(laughs)—yeah. I mean, it’s been—it’s been interesting to kind of watch how that all—that training was really only necessary for people who were abroad, and we’ve started really trying to train all of our reporters who are covering protests. I mean, even at, you know, Trump rallies, things were—could get a little, you know, tough there. So, yeah.
BARRY: Also, I think it’s really one of the things that I come up against with anchors and talent and reporters, not necessarily the people that are in conflict areas, but the people that are very much the face of a story, is the threat and attacks that they get across social media, in particular the women journalists and the female anchors. And it is—it is a sad part of my job, sometimes I have to deal with working with both the platforms and the journalists. In particular, if there’s a big story—and there have been occasions when I tell the reporters or the anchors, I want you to take—I want you to take all the social apps on your phone. I don’t want you to look at notifications for the next three days. And that is an interesting thing that I don’t think is talked enough about, in particular in the social digital world, the attacks on journalists personally is kind of distressing, and continues to grow.
MARTIN: Do you think that makes them less likely to want to engage on some of these platforms.
BARRY: One hundred percent. In particular, again I’m going to say, the women. Like, it is—it actually upsets me when I see in particular female reporters of women anchors, the actual things that get sent to them on some of these platforms is just not—it’s not OK.
NOCERA: Or, even just part of our digital security training is, you know, learning how to protect our private information online. I know that I can name many, many friends who’ve received things in the mail.
NOCERA: You know, in the last—in the last year, because their information, their home information, was published on the internet. You know, that’s—and that’s a scary new reality that we’re living with. And I’m really, really—I am—it sucks, but I’m very happy to see companies taking it super seriously.
MARTIN: Mmm hmm. Over here.
Q: Mariam Safi. I’m with the State Department.
My question is on diversity in the newsroom, not just in terms of content and platforms, but the actual journalist sand the storytellers themselves. On Saturday, you know, watching the White House Correspondents Dinner, it was amazing—you know, I think Hasan Minhaj did a great job—but when they zoomed the camera out to sort of look at the sea of people, there wasn’t a lot of ethnic and racial diversity. And that really struck me, and I have a pretty low bar when it comes to this. So what is the—this doesn’t reflect the demographic reality on the ground. And so how do you—how are newsrooms really bridging that gap in terms of recruiting more people of color as journalists, I mean, especially given, you know, all the types of stories and the lived realities, with Black Lives Matter and immigration issues. How do you sort of attract the talent that can also cover those stories?
BARRY: Well, for me, I’ve had this diversity conversation with a lot of people. It’s been quite—I moved over about two and a half years ago. And one of the things that I actually found helpful in building my team is that didn’t know anybody in America. I’d never worked with anybody. I think one of the problems with diversity is people often employ the people that they’ve worked with before, and before, and before. It was—it was a clean slate for me. And the social team is about—it’s up to 40 journalists globally now. And they’re all journalists. Again, I’ve said this at a couple of conferences before, it distresses me when the social team is put under either marketing or communications. It’s like having the head of marketing as your EP in the control room. That’s my—that’s how it feels to me. I feel like it’s the frontline of journalism.
And I think there’s—you know, I’ve got quite diverse team, but I think you have to make an effort. And I was very lucky coming to America and not knowing anybody. I didn’t have anybody that I would automatically employ in some of the roles. So I think that was helpful. And we—you know, we do a lot at CNN to try to bring in diverse candidates. But you’re right, you know, I think it was interesting—
SCHILLER: It’s a problem.
BARRY: It is a problem.
NOCERA: Yeah. And again, I think it takes, you know, sort of the—from the leadership level taking it really seriously. We just released our diversity numbers. We are more diverse than ever, and we are more female than ever. And we’re still not great, you know what I mean? Like, it’s a marked difference from the last two years, but there has been a consistent and sustained effort to really change that.
SCHILLER: And unfortunately, in most news organizations the higher up in the organization you get, the worse it is.
NOCERA: The whiter and maler. (Laughs.)
MARTIN: And it leads to the groupthink mentality that is so dangerous.
MARTIN: A question over here.
Q: Thanks. Hi. I’m Molly Elgin-Cossart. I’m from Omidyar Network.
My question is about filter bubbles, I suppose, but a bit of what you touched on. So how do you think about meeting folks where they are, right, and what they want, and yet if many times that’s what they want, what they already know, what they’ve already seen, how do you think about news as also exposing people to maybe uncomfortable truths or broader visions? And how do you balance that, especially given the monetization conversation that you had?
BARRY: I think about bubbles all the time. Like, I think—I think there is—like, filter bubbles and news bubbles have always existed, right, but in a very—probably a much smaller scale. So whatever the newspaper your parent’s bought, or whoever was talking around your dinner table was your bubble before. Now, your bubble is thousands of people online telling you the exact same thing that reinforces your belief. I think—I give a lecture at Yale every year. And I asked about this maybe about a year and a half ago. And a very smart group of post-grads at the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs.
And I asked them, did anything ever turn up in their newsfeed that they didn’t like on Facebook? And a lot of them up their hands and said, yes, like, somebody was talking about a candidate that I didn’t like or somebody said something bad about Bernie, or somebody said something bad about Trump. And I said, what did—what did you do with that? And everybody—this is smart group of people—said I defriended, or I just hid their post. (Laughter.) So then you’re just amplifying the filter bubble, which is kind of a little distressing.
I think there are things that newsrooms can do to break through filter bubbles. I think you’ve seen that of late with newsrooms taking the chance and pushing what they do, in particular when it comes to serious stories. Why most newsrooms chose to use the image of the boy on the beach in Turkey or the boy in the ambulance, or even from the latest gas attacks—I had a conversation with a lot of my younger journalists about why we would not show somebody on social media or any of our other platforms that—somebody that was necessarily a victim of the Westminster attacks, why we wouldn’t show a visible, identifiable person in that but we would for the latest Syrian story, because it was actually pushing the story forward and it was adding context. And you needed those horrific images to really, truly tell the story.
And I think sometimes on occasions like that, it bursts through the bubble, but I think it’s a problem. I’ve seen the Guardian have done something interesting, where they’re showing a newsletter where they send you a newsletter every week that shows the opposite of your view, and it gives the roundup—if you’re on the conservative side, it gives you a roundup of the best Democratic news. And if you’re Democratic, it gives you a roundup of what’s happening in conservative press.
NOCERA: And I think the Times has done something similar, and that we’ve done something similar, where on stories that are really taking off on social media, that a lot of people are talking about, we have a human curator who does something called outside your bubble, where they give you a list of, like, six things that people are saying about the story that may not come across your transom. So sort of like the diversity of views about what people are saying about the piece.
SCHILLER: And I think all these efforts are important and super necessary, but until Facebook does something about it—
SCHILLER: —I think we have a gigantic problem. This is all—I mean, to oversimplify it, this is all about Facebook. And Facebook—I mean, that’s where, you know, half of the world is getting their news, and the younger audience is getting almost, you know, if not exclusively then largely. And Facebook’s algorithms are designed to keep you happy, to keep you engaged. And to keep you engaged, they’re giving people what they want. And what people are saying they want is stuff that I—that makes me feel good about my own point of view, stuff that I like and that my closest Facebook friends like.
I think Facebook is beginning to wake up. Certainly they’ve been—they’ve come a long way since right after election when, you know, the CEO—when Mark Zuckerberg basically said, hey, we’re just a vessel. They’ve changed their tune considerable, thank goodness, since then. But there’s a long way to go. And I think this is one of the most important issues of our times.
MARTIN: Yeah, way in the back there.
Q: Hi. Jacob Harold with GuideStar.
I have a question about the emotional experience of consuming the news. I have many friends who’ve come to me in the last year and said: Social media used to be fun and it’s no fun anymore. (Laughter.) It’s simply unpleasant. And, you know, some of that is the content of what’s on the news. But I believe some of it is the form too. And, you know, some of it’s the 24-hour news cycle, polarization. But is there anything else about the pattern of the way that we’re consuming news about the world around us that’s actually making us unhappy? And I imagine there’s research about the neurochemical phenomena. There probably—you could ask a lot of Buddhist monks and they’d have a lot of great insight as well. But what do you think? I mean, is the emotional experience of consuming news going to have commercial and political, economic consequences?
BARRY: Well, so, it’s interesting because if you talk—go back to what we said earlier about news habits, you used to have to make a concerted effort to search out your news, right? And news isn’t generally fun, right? So you are going and you are making a conscious effort to watch the 6:00 news or buy that paper. So you’re making an effort. What’s now happening in a lot of these places is news is happening upon you, mixed amongst the engagement photos and the baby photos. So what does that mean? I mean, you’re not making a conscious effort in some of those cases to go out and look for news. So I think that that can sometimes be a little bit jarring for people, when it just kind of happens upon their feed, if they haven’t—they’re not bracing themselves for news.
NOCERA: I mean, I don’t know about the neural science. (Laughter.) I’m not a neuroscientist. But it is—people do feel it so much more profoundly, you know, just walking around feeling like I’m just overwhelmed by this constant strain. And I know for me personally, who spends, you know, basically 18 hours a day thinking about news, I need to shut it off. And, like, I have just made personal decisions—like, for the next six hours I’m not going to check Twitter or Facebook. I don’t know what the answer is, I’m sorry. (Laughs.)
SCHILLER: Snapchat and Instagram are still kind of fun, for the most part.
NOCERA: Yeah, yeah, Instagram.
BARRY: Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: Yes, Lloyd.
Q: Lloyd Hand with King & Spalding.
If I could shift the focus, I know it’s been understandably on social media’s platform for purveying news. But what would you advise be, or from your experience, for a small retailer that’s very much aware of the shift from brick and mortar to the internet? Would your experience lead you to believe that maybe for a retailer Facebook is the best platform, or would there be others? Incidentally, I think this is a terrific panel and very enlightening. Fascinating evolution.
SCHILLER: I work a lot—I work a lot with brands lately. And, you know, honestly the advice is the same, really. I mean, you have to—obviously, it’s a different purpose. For a brand, they’re—you know, depending on what they’re trying to do, they’re either trying to increase sales, or persuade someone, or increase their reputation, or what have you. But the rules around meeting people where they are, engaging, you know, your—whether it’s your audience or your customer or your consumer or whoever you’re trying to influence on the platforms where they’re already naturally gathering, in a way that of course is completely honest—you know, I don’t want to suggest it’s anything else.
But creating content and engaging on the right platforms, in the right form factor, at the right time of day, with the right kind of content—whether it’s, you know, a sticker book or a straight on, you know, article or what have you, the rules are shockingly the same. When I say the rules, I mean, the tactics and strategies are very, very similar.
MARTIN: And do people response better to a retailer having content to go along with sales? I mean, as opposed to just going out and saying: Buy my product? I notice that a lot of people are doing more: Here’s my blog, here’s my content. And it’s more—
SCHILLER: Right. Well, there’s still straight-on ads, but, yes, more and more brands are creating their own content. And the content that is most effective, first of all, is honest. It doesn’t pretend to be a news article that you’re—is trying to trick you into it. I mean, that’s the worst possible thing you can do. But it has to provide some kind of value or utility to the audience. It’s got to provide some information that adds value, or entertaining or what have you. It needs to be honest. It needs to be authentic. But, yes, creating your own content that meets the—you know, the values and your core messages of your brand on those right platforms is, you know, where in most cases yields the greatest success in whatever your business goals happen to be. You know, for a retailer it’s, you know, sales, or what have you.
BARRY: And it needs to be easy, right? Like, mobile consumers can be very lazy, right? So if you make it—and we see this in news as well. Like, if you make it three clicks till they have to do something to watch a video, they’re not going to watch that video. So if you’re trying to get somebody to buy something, make it as easy as you can for them to do that. I think that that’s some of the barriers that come up into place.
And I think—I’m trying to think of the retail social experience that I have. I do Rent the Runway Unlimited, this monthly thing, and I have the app, which is so easy to use. And then they send me—every couple of days, they send me, like, content blog. And I’m like, yeah, maybe I’ll get that. So they make it really easy for me to do anything within their system. And it—same with, like, the Amazon Prime’s of the world. Like, I know it’s so—everything is stored, I don’t have to put in my credit card again. It’s just easy. It’s easy. And I buy more if it’s easy.
NOCERA: Facebook knows me so well. It’s like—I just want to, like, yeah, no. I want that, for sure. (Laughter.)
Q: Hi. John Yochelson, a Council member.
Could you return to the idea of the loss of credibility of the media, and the forces that you feel have undermined it? It sounds, listening to this fascinating panel, as if—as if this undermining was inevitable, and that the more access is fragmented the less likely it is for a—for the mainstream media to maintain credibility. What’s going on?
NOCERA: Yeah, it’s really hard. I think some of it does come to a monetization point. I mean, I know that early on in the campaign last year we did a lot of work on debunking what was then known as fake news. Fake news has taken on a whole other monster meaning, I guess. But fake news originally was this idea that you could just make stuff up and post it on Facebook and get a lot of clicks and, therefore, make money off of it. And BuzzFeed spent a lot of time and effort trying to debunk a lot of these efforts, to show where this is coming from. I think that—
BARRY: And it’s distressing that those debunkings would have been seen by such a small percentage of the people who saw them originally, right?
NOCERA: Right, exactly.
SCHILLER: Here’s the thing. These guys have an extraordinary reporter named Ben Silverman, who’s amazing.
NOCERA: Craig. Craig, yeah.
SCHILLER: Craig Silverman, sorry. Not Ben Silverman. It’s a completely different—
MARTIN: Ben Smith and Craig Silverman.
NOCERA: Put them together.
SCHILLER: Yeah. But it is extraordinary. I mean, the number-one most engaged-with on Facebook news story in the six weeks leading up to the election—this is from Craig Silverman’s reporting—was the—a story from the Denver Guardian that the pope had endorsed Donald Trump. This is not the number-one most engaged fake story. It’s the number-one most engaged story period, according to BuzzFeed’s reporting.
MARTIN: And there’s no such thing as the Denver Guardian.
SCHILLER: And there’s no such thing as the Denver Guardian. And you know, people talk about how, well, how was the news media was so surprised about all of this? It’s because of the algorithms, because of they we’re—I’m sorry, I’m coming back to filter bubbles again. Depending on who you are, you never saw that story, because it’s not going to go into your feed. If you’re not—if you don’t have a habit or a ritual of clicking on similar stories, or your friends don’t, you never even saw it coming. But it was the most engaged-with story. And, you know, a lot of this feeds into distrust of the—
NOCERA: Yeah. It feeds into the distrust of the media. And I think what we have consistently tried to do is, you know, debunkings, getting those stories out there, putting a lot of effort into making sure people see that, and then, you know, in our—in our—in our news report—you know, the best you can do is report fairly and accurately and hope that people engaged with it. And it has been really hard. I mean, it is—it is a struggle. We go and we cover, you know, Trump rallies now and sort of “fake news, fake news.” I mean, like, people just yelling at our reporters.
I think that some of the messages from the administration trying to undermine the credibility of the news media have not helped, exactly. But I know that from our White House reporters working—we’re kind of all in this together at this point. You know, we’re trying really hard to push back on these notions, and make sure that people understand that we’re here, and we’re here to tell the truth, and we’re not—we’re not going away. That’s what I got, yeah. (Laughs.)
Q: Christian Paasch with the DOD.
Admittedly, I have no background in journalism at all, so hopefully this question doesn’t sound too naïve. But we’ve talked a lot—at the beginning we talked about looking at the source of a story or where it’s coming from, considering who’s publishing it, what their research says, you know, if they say, well, survey says X, Y, Z, and the survey is of three people that live down the street from that person, well, that’s not really a survey. So my question is, what sort of role can the media play, and specifically Vivian maybe to you, the Facebooks, the Twitters of the world, what role can those media play in educating, especially the youth of our country in responsible digestion of news? I certainly do that with my 10-year-old, but that’s just me, right? Again, sort of things can the Twitters and Facebooks of the world do towards that?
SCHILLER: Well, I would say the bright side of the whole fake news thing, and filter bubbles, and just all the distrust of media and all of that, is there’s a—if there’s a silver lining, among several there is growing awareness of the need for news literacy and media literacy, I think is growing. And the platforms in particular are starting to get behind it. Both Google—not aware of Twitter doing it—but Google and Facebook are supporting news literacy efforts. They’re doing it by supporting existing organizations. There’s one called the News Literacy Project that sends—that sends journalists into school, and has digital tools also for schools to help be part of the curriculum to teach kids what to look for when they see an article, just sort of their—you know, sort of the basic tips. Like, who are the sources? I mean, there’s, you know, a lot of it.
Facebook has even just last week or two weeks ago put out, you know, a document on Facebook—document on Facebook—a post for sharing, sort of 10 tips of what to look for to make sure that you’re not sharing fake news. They’ve done some other things for example, working with news organizations. If a story—Facebook so far, and I applaud this—they’re not going to pull things off Facebook that are fake news, because that gets to be a slippery slope whereby, you know, Facebook is determining truth, which none of us want. But they starting to work with news organizations. And if certain posts that have reached critical mass on Facebook have been disputed, before you click on that story, before you’re able to share it, you’re going to get a popup that says: These news organizations have disputed this story. Are you sure you want to share it?
So there’s more and more of this kind of thing. But it is a problem, because so many of our—you know, our kids are growing up on these platforms. And they don’t even understand the basics that just because something shows up in your Google search, or shows up as a Facebook post, they don’t necessarily know the hallmark because they’re not reading it in The New York Times or seeing it on CNN or BuzzFeed news to know whether it’s true or not.
BARRY: I also don’t think it’s just kids. I think I’ve had a lot of adults in my life—(laughter)—saying: I saw that on Facebook. And when you dig down and you ask them, well, where—like, who’s it from? Oh, I just saw in Facebook.
SCHILLER: Denver Guardian.
BARRY: Yeah, I just saw it on Facebook. So, yeah, it’s not just kids.
MARTIN: Yes, right here. Here comes the mic.
Q: Tom Petri. I’m a member of the Council.
Is there a difference in this accuracy problem with—between political, financial, and social news?
BARRY: I mean, I feel like there’s no—with fake news problem, is it—I think politically is probably where it’s most dangerous, right? I don’t know if there’s—and maybe somebody can correct me if I’m wrong—I’m not sure there’s a lot of financial fake news that is going around. So I think the problem where it is at the moment where it has a political leaning.
NOCERA: The social thing, I mean, I feel like that’s always kind of existed in something like tabloid where a story is, like, too good to be true. But that’s not—that’s not dangerous in the same way.
SCHILLER: Aliens and celebrities on tabloid newsstands have always been there.
NOCERA: Yeah. And in the same way that political news has been kind of less nice in that way.
MARTIN: Yes, right in front.
Q: Jim Hoagland, Washington Post.
I wanted to join Lloyd in thank you for an absolutely fascinating discussion. And I had a couple of questions to ask Sam and Kate to expand a little bit on something they’re said. Sam, when you talked about the storytelling by app, I guess I should start by asking what is a sticker set, but actually—(laughter)—my kids have told me. What compromises have you found you have to make to achieve storytelling by apps? How is it different? How does the story differ? And related to that is, you’ve talked about your social media team as being real journalists, but are they different kind of journalists? Where are they recruiting from? What’s their background? How do they compare? And for Kate, could you expand a little bit on what you’ve said about the training for digital security? Exactly what do you mean?
BARRY: So the second part to your question, so my team I’ve recruited from The Washington Post, and Mashable, BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post, and there’s definitely lots of print backgrounds, I think, but they’re all really good journalists. One of the things that kind of sets them apart is that they’re always ready to experiment with the next thing. So if we give them—we did a thing at the weekend where we did the biggest ever news Instagram story ever made. We did 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency told through Instagram stories. And that’s a lot of tapping. I don’t know who here uses Instagram stories. (Laughter.) But it was—you know, they took the challenge. And we did I think one of the biggest news Twitter moments as well around it.
I don’t think the story is compromised. I think the story is just told in different ways. And I think, you know, we told the story of—I’m just trying to think of an example—of a—so the Brooklyn debate with Bernie and Hillary we told across all of these different platforms, including on Facebook Messenger, where we took people down a choose your own adventure updates within the experience, right? The same—I’ve got a lot of election kind of focused ones. When we started out, CNN Politics wanted to do an Instagram portrait of every one of the candidates that was on the field last year. And so we did them, these beautiful moving portraits, which became the ubiquitous, iconic images that we used everywhere across CNN. But they started as an Instagram portrait. And why we did that was we wanted something unique for Instagram. And we were like, well, it’s got to be a visual thing that we’re telling.
I just think it kind of pushes your storytelling. And I think if you want to—you want to dig into—we do lots of longform digital pieces on actual, you know, CNN.com. But we’re trying different types of storytelling with GIFs and emojis and choose your own adventures and bots and, you know, Facebook Live. When we did—for election night, we did a Facebook Live, where we just streamed the Empire State Building and the faces that we were showing of people that had sent in their Instagram images using My Vote. And we just put it on the Empire State Building, and 25 million people watched that stream. Now, if you want to watch John King on the “Magic Wall,” you’re going turn on your TV for that. But within the Facebook Live experience, we want to give you something else on election night.
NOCERA: I think, just to—I’ll answer your question—but just to Sam’s point, like, we have a great news team too. I think it’s experimentation. But they also have really great news judgment. You know, you need—you need people on social who know what is going to hit, and how to tell the story. And that does require excellent news judgement of, you know, sort of more traditional journalists.
BARRY: And social, they’re seeing so—you know, the social teams and CNN are often by proxy assignment editors, because they’re seeing something bubbling. They’re seeing a conversation. They’re seeing an angle that, you know, somebody isn’t seeing. And they’re often the ones that are, you know, talking to our political correspondents and everybody in the 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. meeting and saying: This is the angle that people are talking about and we’re not covering. So they’ve got their finger on the pulse as well.
NOCERA: Yeah. Digital security, just in my mind, means—you know, we obviously saw, like, a lot of hacking over the election, and sort of how to protect your personal information, also how to handle threats on things like—on things like Twitter. I mean, I know that there was just a ton incoming over the election for all of our reporters, women and men, and how to—just basically how to protect yourself online, since so much of what we do—I mean, we live on the internet. That is where we are. We don’t have—like, we—I honestly don’t remember the last time someone’s, like, sent me something in the mail. (Laughter.) You know? There’s this thing called doxing, which is on certain sort of web forums if a group decides they want to attack a journalist for whatever reason, you know, put out, released your personal information, and learning about how to protect that. And there’s, like, a lot that our digital—you know, our security guys say, like, well, there’s, like, not much you can do about it, you know?
SCHILLER: And protecting your sources too.
NOCERA: And protecting your sources as well. Also, how not to get hacked, yeah. (Laughs.)
MARTIN: Well, on that note, I think we have to leave it there. We are out of time. But thank you all for coming, and thank you to our great panel today. (Applause.)