Many pandemic changes were helpful to the media industry, INMA
Conference Blog | 13 September 2022
It was one of those moments in time that you remember several years later.
INMA Executive Director/CEO Earl J. Wilkinson was just wrapping up from the INMA Subscriptions Summit in a small bar in midtown Manhattan in early 2020 when he pulled up his phone and read a couple of articles about the encroaching COVID pandemic.
Suddenly, conferences were cancelled across the world. Over the course of the evening, it became clear to him that major change was on the way.
It has been 1,084 days since INMA members last gathered. The Subscriptions Summit took place the last weekend of February 2020 in New York. This week in Copenhagen, 301 attendees from 36 countries — attendance not seen at the European Conference since 1978 — for INMA Media Innovation Week. The conference in Copenhagen is sponsored by Google News Initiative, Meta, Piano, ArcXP, and FT Strategies.
Before Wilkinson left that Manhattan bar, he jotted down the first questions on a napkin: “Go digital” and “investigate Zoom.” Also: He definitely needed to consult with a lot of people.
His gut feeling was right. Over the next two years, almost everything at INMA changed, but not for the worse.
“We launched master classes and free local conferences and doubled the amount of content on INMAs Web site. In a way, we became much more intimate with our members.”
INMA also launched and/or grew new communities around its initiatives: Smart Data, Advertising, Readers First, Newsroom, and Product. INMA opened a new office in Africa and strengthened the position in Pacific-Asia.
Everything changed — fast
The challenge Wilkinson faced was in many ways similar to the challenge that news companies around the world faced. Most importantly, everyone realised some changes can indeed happen overnight — and sometimes, it really is necessary.
“A major Latin-American publisher told me that the urgency meant that he was able to shove his entire 2023-24 development plan into a four-month period,” Wilkinson said.
Today, we understand that type of quick transformation. But two years ago, it was a surprise to everyone when both journalists and editors learned that everyone could actually work-from-home while still running a media company.
New routines and huge changes in people’s personal lives also changed the business as such.
“The digital agenda was of course high on everyone’s charts. But without physical meetings, it has become more obvious than ever that digital innovation is important,” Wilkinson said.
“Digital subscriptions became something that everyone finally paid full attention to. And although subscriptions may not solve all our financial problems, journalism did in fact become much more sustainable during the last two years. We now know that subscriptions work and there aren’t any excuses left.”
An abundance of challenges
Wilkinson pointed to automation, bundling of content, and data in business decisions as three major challenges media CEOs need to focus on in the coming years. The challenges are not new, but they are now more important that ever.
“Two challenges that are new are the sharp rise in news-avoidance and the expansion of ‘weaponised misinformation,’ which makes it much harder for readers to navigate news,” Wilkinson said.
Other headwinds may be caused by rising inflation and slow growth. But he expects the seemingly constant battle with Big Tech to come to a détente and is positive a new understanding of the value of data will help the industry transition to better position with more personalised content.
The challenges Wilkinson and INMA faced during the pandemic were in the end not only manageable — they also brought about a lot of positive change and improved INMA’s overall position.
“We managed to double the INMA membership. And this conference in Copenhagen — which is our first live conference — has been sold out,” Wilkinson said.
On a more personal level, the pandemic “gave” Wilkinson 130 days that he used to spend travelling the world. Now he spends more time with his family and found new found love for ’80s country music and Stetson hats.
Media Innovation Week continues this week with daily coverage here.