Transforming Journalism: When Media Companies Redefine and Reinvent the Rules
For 150-plus years, The Atlantic primarily served readers through print.
Today, the company has broken out of that box and is growing by leaps and bounds in other directions.
“[We’re] lucky to have a brand that our audience and staff understand,” said Bob Cohn, president of The Atlantic. “At the same time, we can’t be constrained by our past. The Atlantic was print only for a long time because it was the dominant way to reach people.”
Cohn spoke months back, during Social Media Week New York. There, he talked about the transformation of The Atlantic, from a 160-year-old magazine to a multi-platform brand.
Incredibly, the company went through its biggest changes in the last decade.
And it’s not alone.
Many media companies that would’ve formerly described themselves as traditional have undergone big changes, taking on new projects and partnerships, and moving down decidedly untraditional paths.
What’s more – it seems to be working.
The Atlantic Case Study: Then and Now
The founders of The Atlantic sat down for dinner in March 1857.
That dinner had two goals: The group wanted to end slavery, and they wanted to create a magazine so the founders could publish their work.
Fast forward to today, and to call the company’s transformation great would be an understatement.
Over the last five years, The Atlantic staff has tripled. The agency quadrupled its monthly unique visitors to its website, from 33.5 million to 34 million monthly unique visitors in February, which at the time was a record.
Cohn said that most noteworthy was how digital transformed the business, its revenue, and the audience.
In 2006, 86 percent of The Atlantic’s revenue came from print through a combination of ads and circulation. By 2017, those sources accounted for 19 percent. Yet, The Atlantic grew revenue four times in that period. In fact, actual print dollars are about the same from 2006 to 2017.
The difference was what happened to fill out the pie: Digital advertising, opening up a powerful live events business, and taking on the “unlikely but fantastic business” of consulting.
Atlantic Media Strategies has become the fastest-growing division of The Atlantic, and it was launched just five years ago.
“This captures our modern story,” Cohn said. “We’re entirely a new company transformed and reimagined over a 12-year period.”
Media Companies Doing More
The Atlantic isn’t alone in its decision to change things up.
Lately, it seems like more media agencies are coming up with creative offerings and joining forces with other news agencies to serve larger audiences.
In April, Digiday reported about a new digital venture between National Geographic, Mashable, theSkimm, and others.
Nat Geo partnered with these publishers to create a “digital network focused on science, adventure and culture content.”
“For us, [partnering with theSkimm, Atlas Obscura and Mashable] is to kickoff our ability to tap into niche communities, whether it’s female millennials, people who love travel and discovery, or those that are interested in technology and culture,” said Rachel Webber, evp of digital products for National Geographic Partners, in the story.
Also early this year, Dow Jones launched a millennial-focused finance site called Moneyish.
Where sites like Vice Money or Time Inc.’s Coinage might focus on unpacking “economic news, or telling people where to park their cash, Moneyish is more about the conversations and feelings that surround money.”
“It’s personality finance,” said Raakhee Mirchandani, senior content development editor at Dow Jones Media Group, in the Digiday piece.
When Social Media Steers the Ship
Forbes.com this spring launched a mobile site inspired by Snapchat.
Says MediaPost: “The format, called Cards, takes after Snapchat Stories in that readers swipe through stories, which display a large image and headline, as well as video, infographics or quizzes. When readers want to look at the full story, they swipe up to access the article.”
“We’ve completely overhauled our approach to product innovation so that we can better respond to the way our readers are consuming content and address the rapid changes in the marketplace,” said Salah Zalatimo, senior VP of product and technology at Forbes Media, in the MediaPost story.
And just last month, Facebook signed BuzzFeed, Vox, others for original video shows, reports Reuters.
According to sources familiar with the deal, “Facebook is planning two tiers of video entertainment: scripted shows with episodes lasting 20 to 30 minutes, which it will own; and shorter scripted and unscripted shows with episodes lasting about 5 to 10 minutes, which Facebook will not own,” says Reuters.
While we’re on the topic of video, short-form news video company NowThis recently announced plans to get into new content, specifically long-form programming, original shows and investigative journalism.
Virtual Reality and Brand Licensing – Oh My!
Virtual and augmented reality have grown within newsrooms in recent years.
From The Wall Street Journal to The Associated Press, news agencies are incorporating this form of storytelling into news coverage.
“Put yourself at the center of our stories in an immersive virtual-reality experience,” says The New York Times about NYT VR.
“Embed with Iraqi forces during a battle with ISIS. Take a meditation journey to the California coast. Climb to the top of One World Trade Center. Set foot on a planet three billion miles from the sun. Experience stories in an immersive, 360-degree video experience, reported by our award-winning journalists,” NYT says.
And while news organizations keep audiences at the center of all new ventures, revenue isn’t far behind in its reasoning.
One newish avenue: Brand licensing.
Digiday covered this in a recent piece: Why Time, Conde Nast and other magazine publishers are charging into brand licensing.
“After years of treating brand licensing as an afterthought, magazine publishers have embraced it as they look to replace their print advertising revenues, which are in a systemic decline and can’t be made up quickly enough by digital ad revenue,” Digiday writes.
The biggest publisher in this space? “Meredith, parent of Better Homes and Gardens, which accounted for over $22 billion, up from $17 billion two years ago and second only to the $57 billion generated by Disney, according to License Global,” Digiday reports.
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Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube.