The News Industry Sees ‘Glimmers of Hope,’ Despite a Challenging 2020

BBC Global News, Vice Media and NPR execs discuss how Covid-19 changed them

four panels of people in a zoom call, two men and two women
(Clockwise from top left) Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood spoke with BBC Global News' Jim Egan, NPR's Nancy Barnes and Vice Media Group's Jesse Angelo about the state of news.
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One of the most compelling panels from Day 3 of the NewFronts featured news executives from BBC Global News, Vice Media and NPR talking about the state of the news industry in 2020. Despite everything that has transpired in recent months, the trio said they were confident about the future of news, though not overwhelmingly so.

“This is a moment in history like no other,” said NPR svp of news and editorial director Nancy Barnes. “It’s challenging on a lot of fronts because you’ve covered a pandemic, an economic meltdown, racial injustice, and we have a major election in the U.S., and all of our journalists are experiencing many of these storylines even as they’re having to go out and cover them.”

Barnes said that the demand for news is significant right now, but expenses are going up while revenues are declining, making life extremely challenging for news outlets.

Is the state of the news industry in good shape? “It’s too early to tell,” said BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan. “This year has been so epic in terms of events all around the world, and it’s very difficult to make any generalizations about what’s going on.”

Egan added, “The coronavirus pandemic, just like climate change and all of the other issues we’re facing, proves that globalization is here whether we like it or not” and that 2020 “is a year of mobilization in the U.S. and U.K. Young people are engaging with issues and news, and that’s likely to have profound consequences.”

Vice Media president of global news and entertainment Jesse Angelo said there are “glimmers of hope” around the news industry. “Digital media is a tough business … perhaps toughest in news,” but over the last couple months, “you’ve seen more industry leaders stand up and say, ‘Hey, we need to fix this problem,’ and we need to be able to figure out ways that we can support quality journalism because it’s vital to the future of the world and vital to democracy.”

Angelo reiterated the theme of Vice Media’s NewFronts presentation earlier in the afternoon, as the company urged marketers to reassess “antiquated” blocklists, saying, “the same week that one of the largest advertisers on Earth put out a statement on its website saying that Black Lives Matter, they passed us a blocklist for their programmatic that had Black Lives Matter and Black people on it.”

Covid-19 learnings

The conversation later moved to Covid-19 and how it has forced these news outlets to reevaluate their respective business models.

The pandemic changed how BBC Global News produces its programming, but Egan has taken some positives from this challenging time. “We’ve been getting to participate in conferences and sessions like this, and we’re all getting used to the idea of Zoom call interviews being broadcast quality,” he said.

Angelo remarked how companies constantly talk about doing things “faster, smarter, leaner,” but they feel that’s a plan for the future, not the present. However, the future arrived with Covid-19.

“In terms of monetization, you saw overall in digital media, a huge drop off in advertising due to the effects of Covid, and that hurt everybody,” said Angelo. “Smart advertisers have continued their spend and have learned and realized this section opportunity for them to gain market share.”

The pandemic is also prompting Vice to rethink its office space and “what production personnel, what journalists, what people actually need to be in any one of our 25 offices around the world,” said Angelo.

With NPR’s business model, “we have enormous shifts of habits underway,” said Barnes. “We don’t know how many of those habits are going to be permanent and how many we’ll drop back, but we probably will never have as many people at our offices as we had.”

Meanwhile, “listening consumption habits have changed dramatically, and some of those are probably permanently, so we’re looking at ways to serve the audience,” said Barnes. “It has always been meeting the audience where they are, and never more in this moment where people are at home, their schedules have shifted, their needs have shifted.”

For NPR, Covid-19 has also sparked ideas for new products. “We’ve created coronavirus newsletters, a coronavirus podcast almost immediately on a daily basis, we popped up an evening broadcast show. And we’re looking at all the platforms where the audience is consuming now in ways and more heavily now than they had been four months ago and trying to figure out how do we pivot in the moment to serve them where they are and bring our sponsors with us to meet the audience.”

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