September 16, 2014

A group of legacy media executives was told on Monday that it has a lot to learn from the likes of BuzzFeed. “You may not approve of their editorial content,” said Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group. “But you must learn from their digital strategy.”

During a presentation at the ASNE-APME 2014: Fast Forward conference in Chicago, Webb praised BuzzFeed’s use of data analysis to predict user behavior based on variables like time of day, which photos are used, and social networks.

She mentioned Vox, Vice and even TMZ as brands with strong voices succeeding across platforms by shifting from the product business to the platform business.

Citing Media Insight Project research, American Press Institute executive editor Tom Rosenstiel told attendees “You do not have a ‘mobile audience’ or a ‘print audience.’” They aren’t distinct audiences, he said, because most Americans are cross-platform news consumers. A majority of them use four devices or technologies to access news per week.

“Technology is a user behavior, not an audience,” he said.

The web rewards specialization, Rosenstiel said, so the old “general store” model is outmoded for newspapers. He said editors should ask themselves what it is that makes them indispensable.

Webb made a similar point, showing screenshots the Baltimore Sun website to illustrate how newspapers frequently fail to emphasize what makes them unique and instead opt to emphasize the stories — like the Oscar Pistorius trial — that readers could find anywhere. She challenged editors to take a critical look at what they do and determine how well they really know their audiences.

You can access Webb’s presentation here, and Rosenstiel’s here (Powerpoint).

The conference put together a Storify from day one, which includes tweets from the first lively panel:

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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