Insights from The Guardian, MIT and… I Can Has Cheezburger?

18 December 2014


Le Web was founded ten years ago and is one of Europe’s leading events on digital innovation. Held in Paris 9 - 11 December 2014, Le Web offered insights on every aspect of the digital landscape. Here are GEN’s take-aways for newsroom innovation.

Leweb Infography

Trend #1: Mobile is about to explode

The smartphone has become the central object for all of our needs. James McQuivey (Forrester Research) pointed out that Palm Pilots, iPods, point-and-shoot digital cameras have all ‘collapsed into the gravity of the mobile device’. His theory is that we’ve become so reliant on one single device that the trend will start to expand outward into different wearable connected objects. New devices will work with the ones we already use, enhancing — not replacing — smartphones.

Fitness wearables are gaining popularity and by now we’ve all heard of smart watches, but what do these new technologies mean for newsrooms? J.P. Gownder, also from Forrester, presented Australian mining and construction company Thiess and their use of real-time heath-tracking wearables for employees in dangerous areas. This same technology could be used for journalists working in high-risk locations, covering Ebola for example. Another useful wearable for the journalist on-the-go: screenless GPS-guided shoes. No more walking into things looking at GPS screens! The next couple of years will be separating the useful technologies from the gadgetry. Gounder predicts that 80% of new devices will fail, which he explains is normal for any burgeoning industry.

[See the Bootcamp: ‘Wearable News Beyond the Gadgets’ at the GEN Summit 2015. Read also: Cory Haik unveiled The Washington Post’s smartwatch app at the GEN Summit 2014]

Trend #2: Connected objects will be simple

Up until this point technology has been moving towards greater efficiency. How can we get one device to do as many things as possible? The pendulum is starting to swing back towards simplicity. The connected home will not be a cacophony of screens and notifications everywhere. Each object will have a specific functionality. David Rose (MIT Media Lab, Ditto, @davidrose) explained that the connected home will be seamless, not disruptive. One such device is the Ambient Umbrella: if it’s blinking blue, you should take it with you because you know rain is coming.

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Trend #3: Speed is Key

Tanya Cordrey (@tcordrey), Chief Digital Officer at The Guardian, spoke on how this traditional media group became digital leaders. In a ranking by Google’s Paul Kinlan, The Guardian’s website was rated the number one fastest news site, ahead of web ‘native’ brands like Buzzfeed, Tech Crunch and Mashable. ‘Shaving milliseconds off loading time works magic’, Cordrey says. A site’s speed must be fast and reliable across all platforms. The Guardian is adapting to emerging consumption patterns. They’ve found that people use their smartphones in the morning for headlines, while tablets are used at night for more in-depth content. A newsroom’s digital strategy should reflect these uses.

[Learn more about CNN's digital strategy with Meredith Artley, who is also a keynote speaker at the upcoming GEN Summit]

Trend #4: Look to pure digital players for new ideas

Your newsroom may not have a lot of content in common with cat pictures site ‘I Can Has Cheezburger’ but founder Ben Huh, who also co-founded Circa, an online journalism startup, has built an online media empire that is a force to be reckoned with. He did so with a simple goal: ‘Make the world happy for a few moments a day’. For instance, articles like 'How to Survive the Holidays with Your Cat' or 'Stay Single and Proud During this Hilday Season'. Pure digital players are strong when it comes to defining reachable goals and audiences, an important component when defining digital strategies: what do we want to be and for whom?

[Jim Roberts, CCO at Mashable, will be speaking on ‘Legacy Media: What to Learn From Pure Online Players’ at the GEN Summit 2015]

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Trend #5: Monetisation is relative

Frédéric Filloux (Head of Digital, Les Echos) pointed out that monetisation is relative to audience size and the number of unique visitors isn’t always accurate at determining profitability. Sites like Buzzfeed may have large audiences but a low yield on advertising. On the other hand, The New York Times may attract less unique visitors but through advertising and a ‘freemium’ subscription model, each visitor is worth more. Monetisation will become complicated as users switch to mobile for their news, less physical ad space will need to bring about new models, such as native advertising or branded content.

Photo: LeWeb