Features

Cambridge Analytica, #MeToo, Trump and terror: Editors reflect on the decade in news

As 2019 draws to a close, Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston reflects on some of the biggest stories from the last ten years with the leaders of the publications that reported on them.

Nicole Byers, editor in chief, The Australian Women’s Weekly

What’s been the one story that’s stayed with you from the decade?
Of course the horrific terror attacks that took place around the world are impossible to forget, but in terms of showcasing the best of the human spirit, the story that really stuck with me was the Thai cave rescue. The agonising wait, the miracle of the retrievals and, finally, the joy of the children and rescuers getting their happy ending. It’s a survival story for the ages.

What was the story people wouldn’t stop talking about in 2019?
He exploded into the headlines in July with his arrest on sex-trafficking charges, and as the year closes the Jeffery Epstein story is very much still an ongoing saga. His apparent suicide a in New York jail cell spawned a “Jeffery Epstein didn’t kill himself” conspiracy theory that resulted in memes, merchandise and, bizarrely, even a member of Aussie hip-hop band Hilltop Hoods shouting out the catch cry on stage at the Arias.

Of course, the whole sordid story was fuelled by the many powerful names caught in its web, from Donald Trump to Bill Clinton and, of course, Prince Andrew. As for the fallout from that Prince Andrew interview on his relationship Epstein, well that’s another story altogether.

What was something that happened to this industry in 2019 you didn’t expect?
One thing that was quite surprising, in a good way, was the launch of so many successful new print titles and books. From custom magazines to specialised publications on everything from vegan living to old Hollywood, royals and monthly versions of popular weekly magazines it proved there is still an appetite for the tactile experience of a printed product when done right.

What’s been the biggest change in the industry in the last decade?
The ongoing digital evolution has forced publishers to radically rethink the way they do business. Old content and revenue models no longer cut it. New and innovative ways to create and disseminate content, as well as the diversifying of revenue streams, became essential for success. Events, marketing services, merchandise, data products, mergers and new partnerships were explored, with varying degrees of success, as change became the new normal.

Of the socials, Instagram and the explosion of the ‘influencer’ culture was probably the biggest game-changer. New celebrities, brands and business were created, advertising dollars were drawn in yet another new direction and everyone wanted to see what they looked like with puppy dog ears.

What are your predictions for the media industry for the next decade?
As the streaming and podcast wars intensify and the driverless vehicles of the future change the way we are entertained in our cars, I expect big changes in the way people consume and sell TV and radio. And with the ongoing consumer concerns around data security and ‘fake news’, I think we’ll see an even greater importance being placed on authenticity and trusted brands.

But really, with the incredible pace of change currently driving the industry, I don’t think anyone can accurately predict where we will be in ten years. The best we can do is see each new development as an opportunity, hold on and enjoy the ride.

Dan Stinton, managing director, Guardian Australia

What’s been the one story that’s stayed with you from the decade?
It’s difficult to go past Cambridge Analytica, initially broken by the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr, as the most important story for our industry over the last decade. When it broke in early 2018 I had worked in media and marketing for two decades, but I was still taken aback to find out that a platform like Facebook could be used to effectively hack the democratic process.

I still think parts of our industry are in denial about this – privacy and the transparent collection and application of consumer data needs to be given top priority in the decade ahead.

What was the story people wouldn’t stop talking about in 2019?
The ACCC Inquiry into the digital platforms was very prominent throughout the year. I was encouraged by their final report in June – the ACCC did a very good job of understanding the complexity of our industry and we largely supported their recommendations. There’s a long way to go, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the government’s initial response.

What was something that happened to this industry in 2019 you didn’t expect?
The Right to Know coalition saw every major publisher in the country put aside their differences to work together to protect quality journalism. It was a fantastic and rare show of unity on an issue that is important for all of us.

We’re yet to see any meaningful action from the government, but I remain hopeful that we’ll see change that protects journalists and whistleblowers, promotes more government transparency and reforms Australia’s weighty defamation laws.

What’s been the biggest change in the industry in the last decade?
I worked in digital news for most of it, and to be honest I started the decade with grave fears about the viability of the industry – advertising rates were falling, the duopoly were taking an increasing share of ad spend and there was little propensity for people to pay for news.

Thankfully I’m finishing the decade with more optimism about the future than ever – the massive growth in reader revenue is the main driver of this, but I’m also sensing a shift back to contextual advertising and the importance of news mastheads in growing brands.

What are your predictions for the media industry for the next decade?
It’s a constant theme, but I think the biggest change to come is going to be regulation of how consumer data is collected and used for targeted advertising. We need to work with the ACCC and the government to strengthen consumer privacy and balance this with the many benefits that come with targeted and personalised online experiences.

At a macro level we’re also going to see a continuing reduction in the distinction between the various media channels – be it print, radio, linear TV, outdoor or digital. Obviously more and more content is going to be distributed and consumed via the internet, which will mean every media company is increasingly in the text, audio and video business, rather than focussing on one type of content and legacy distribution channel. This is likely to result in more consolidation – successful companies of the 20s will be those that produce the best of all types of content to reach the largest audiences, remaining nimble enough to take advantage of every distribution channel that emerges.

Tim Duggan, publisher, Junkee Media

What’s been the one story that’s stayed with you from the decade?
As much as I loathe to mention him, easily the biggest global story of the 2010s has been the rise of populism that’s allowed people like Donald Trump to rise all the way to the top of institutions. History will not be kind to Trump and the implicit permission he’s given to some of the darkest corners of society to move into the spotlight.

What was the story people wouldn’t stop talking about in 2019?
One of the biggest stories of the year on Junkee was when musician Flume was filmed having a bit too much fun at Burning Man. For a few weeks in September it dominated our traffic, with hundreds of thousands of people reading about it, reacting to it, following along as he apologised to his mum and more. It was a light-hearted and memorable story that’s hard to forget, and it will enter the annals of pop culture legends (all puns intended).

What was something that happened to this industry in 2019 you didn’t expect?
Just when we all thought that social media had levelled out into a relatively mature industry (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat et all), along came a refreshingly interesting new platform in TikTok. Our audience can’t get enough of watching and reading about TikTok this year, and despite the Chinese national security concerns, it was still able to catapult right into top spot as the most surprising new platform in 2019 that no one was really expecting.

What’s been the biggest change in the industry in the last decade?
The way our audience finds our content has shifted massively over this decade. We’ve been publishing content on the internet since before the social media giants even existed, and we’ve proudly surfed many waves over the years (the shift from desktop to mobile was the big story of the previous decade).

I firmly believe that good content will always find its audience, and we’ve embraced everything that Facebook and Google in particular have been able to bring. For all that’s publicly thrown at them, this big change has also brought with it opportunities for new voices like ours at Junkee to thrive and find large audiences.

What are your predictions for the media industry for the next decade?
Ten years is a long time, and technology is only speeding up the amount of things that can be achieved in that time, but some things remain pretty stubborn even as everything changes around us: humans have an innate need for news & information to help understand the world around us, and we want it to be entertaining or informative depending on our mood. So while the way we received that information might be unrecognisable by 2030, the desire will always stay the same.

Simon Wheeler, director of content, Verizon Media

What’s been the one story that’s stayed with you from the decade?
Deepwater Horizon, the Chilean miners rescue, Julian Assange, the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown, Lance Armstrong’s doping confessions, the passing of Nelson Mandela, the #MeToo movement, the disappearance of MH370 and shooting down of MH17, Brexit, the royal wedding(s), Trump’s election, the Thai cave rescue and the NZ mosque massacre. All historic events – some tragic, some uplifting – which have become part of the fabric of the past decade. Many others could be added to this list.

However, I remember exactly where I was on May 1, 2011, when President Barack Obama announced to the world that US special forces had killed Osama Bin Laden during a raid on a compound in Pakistan.

Not only was it the end of a chapter of a story that defined the previous decade, but the shadow of terrorism personified by Bin Laden relates to a lot of what came next. The Arab Spring, the rise and fall of ISIS, bloody terror attacks around the globe. All seismic events that will help define the next 10 years.

What was the story people wouldn’t stop talking about in 2019?
The one story we weren’t initially allowed to talk about eventually became the story we haven’t stopped talking about in 2019.

The conviction of Cardinal George Pell for multiple historical child sex offences stunned the nation when the court-imposed suppression orders were lifted in February. Pell’s appeal against his 6-year sentence means the sordid tale is sure to run into 2020.

And when it comes to being talked about, you can’t ignore Twitter’s most active user, Donald J. Trump. His every thought bubble and mood swing will continue to be shared instantly, especially as we gear up for the US election in November.

What was something that happened to this industry in 2019 you didn’t expect?
That our courts system would show once again how out of step with reality it is. In June, NSW Supreme Court Judge Justice Stephen Rothman decided that publishers should be held responsible for comments posted by readers on their verified Facebook pages. This is despite it not being possible to turn off comments on the social platform and the comments having nothing to do with the article itself.

 

The ruling was handed down in relation to alleged defamatory comments on Facebook pages of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian accompanying perfectly accurate articles about former Don Dale youth detainee Dylan Voller. The outlets – plus three others who were not sued – are appealing the ruling, saying it is ‘out of step’ with other English-speaking democracies. Not only are our defamation laws woefully out-dated, but yet again the tech giant was exonerated of any form of social responsibility.

Now I come to think of it, I should have expected this.

What’s been the biggest change in the industry in the last decade?
While Facebook, Google and Twitter all existed on January 1, 2010, the total domination and speed of growth of these and other digital platforms, including O&O sites and apps, has transformed the media industry. Traditional publishers around the world were slow to react, with many burying their heads in the sand until it was too late.

On the upside, the power is now very much in the hands of the consumer/ reader/ user, forcing publishers – the creators of the great content that informs and entertains us – to adapt and push the boundaries.

What are your predictions for the media industry for the next decade?
5G will revolutionise the way we consume content (not to mention most other industries). Voice, video, AR and VR technology will be unrecognisable from today. While content will still be core to our success, how it’s delivered and consumed will be very different on December 31, 2029.

Roadmaps for the next 12 months are often futile exercises these days so I’ll leave my 10-year predictions there.

Chris Harrison, editor, 10 Daily

What’s been the one story that’s stayed with you from the decade?
As an aviation buff it has to be MH370 because it defied the times. Air crash investigators can pinpoint a screw that wasn’t manufactured properly causing accidents decades later. That we still don’t know what caused the 777 to disappear is extraordinary. I hope the bereaved families get closure. I hope the aviation industry solves the mystery.

Beyond that – it’s got to be Trump. Not sure politics will ever be the same. In sport, #sandpapergate.

What was the story people wouldn’t stop talking about in 2019?
The drought. When I was growing up, droughts were cyclical things that happened to farmers far away. These days I think even urban Aussies are genuinely concerned.

And with the bushfire crisis on the back of it, I think Australians are looking for leadership on climate change as much as they are looking for rain.

What was something that happened to this industry in 2019 you didn’t expect?
I didn’t expect the Nine/Fairfax merger, but I did always expect HuffPost to try again in Australia and I hope 2.0 is a success. As a former HuffPoster I was very sad when they all-but turned the lights out Down Under, given all the work that AMAZING team put in.

What’s been the biggest change in the industry in the last decade?
At the start of this decade I was working in print.

What are your predictions for the media industry for the next decade?
It will become even easier for people to access news and information, whenever and wherever they want, on an ever-increasing number of platforms. That’s a great thing for consumers of news, as long as they know which sources they can trust and which ones to ignore. Thankfully, more people are spotting what’s fake and making their choices based on credible media names and brands.

Phil Goyen, executive producer, 7news.com.au

What’s been the one story that’s stayed with you from the decade?
The West African Ebola crisis. I spent time in Sierra Leone to document the epidemic. The fear, distress and suffering shown by those infected by the virus is something I think about most days. The medical volunteers who risked their lives to comfort the dying are angels on earth.

What was the story people wouldn’t stop talking about in 2019?
Israel Folau. Everyone has an opinion about him following his controversial social media post. A question I’m now asking – how do we cover Folau’s sermons moving forward? Do we cover them at all?

What was something that happened to this industry in 2019 you didn’t expect?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the support and kindness shown to me and the 7NEWS.com.au team by other digital news publishers. People have been very generous with learnings and advice. That big picture collaboration is something I didn’t expect.

One thing I learned while working for a VR start-up in Los Angeles is that healthy competition is important but so too is sharing knowledge – it’s good for the entire industry.

What’s been the biggest change in the industry in the last decade?
The way people consume news. Most of us now have our news served conveniently on digital platforms via mobile devices.

What are your predictions for the media industry for the next decade?
Digital platforms becoming the home for video-led in-depth journalism.

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