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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Magazine summit no crystal ball on media future

Journalism and marketing will continue to move ever closer, with the wall once separating them being steadily dismantled. By publishers. And that's a good thing. Read on.
Seeking to answer questions around magazine strategy in the information age, publishers from across the country gathered at the Cape Town International Convention Centre for the first annual SAPPI MPASA (Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa) Media Summit. A prelude to the day's main draw, the PICA awards (the magazine publishing industry's annual award show), the summit was meant to explore what the magazine landscape will look like five years from now. There seemed to be few answers.

Keynote interview

James R Gaines (@JamesRGaines), former managing editor of People, Time and Life magazine before he become editor-in-chief of [ FLYP]], a now defunct biweekly multimedia magazine published online, and later CEO of StoryRiver Media, was the keynote interview at the summit.

Tim Modise was tasked with interviewing Gaines in what turned into a fairly broad conversation on Gains' work and his views on the future of magazines and journalism. The audience received many familiar sound bites, such as "storytelling can be done in multiple mediums," "the sound of inauthenticity is loud," "media has become social," that media should embrace loss of control over flow of information and that the Internet is a new medium not suited for repurposed content.

The interview never quite came together to allow a proper narrative on the digital future of magazines to emerge, though. What was interesting was Gaines' take on the future of content, in that he advocated a closer relationship between publishers and advertisers to generate more revenue, and for the breaking down of walls that separates newsrooms from marketing departments.

Storytelling, not journalism

Gaines is selling storytelling, not journalism in its more traditional sense, to anybody with a story to tell. It's not a sell that goes down well with journalists, and Gaines freely admits that he has given up trying to sell his particular angle on storytelling to the editorial side of media. He simply no longer engages with them, out of frustration he says; instead he's pitching to the people controlling the purse strings. They seem to be buying and his sentiment on the closer association between journalism and advertising would be echoed several times during the course of the day.

Modise didn't seem interested in pursuing this particular debate on the value of independent journalism in magazine publishing (think cellulite creams and FairLady) which meant Gaines never had an opportunity to fully contextualise his comments - if, in fact, there were any contextualising on offer.

Gaines supported the separation of digital and offline divisions within media organisations. His reasoning, that digital people gets eaten by print, illustrates his frustration with media organisations trying to repurpose old models on a new medium rather than inventing new ones. Gaines believes the iPad changes the 'Net from a utility to something you can relax with - in short, it changes customers' expectations, and this, he believes, constitutes a bright light for magazine publishers at the end of the tunnel.

"Broadband is manifest destiny"

Even so, the iPad is still a primitive medium; publishers have not yet invented how they will engage in with readers in the future, says Gaines. A future in which he predicts "broadband is manifest destiny" and where print will recede from people's lives as broadband rolls out greater bandwidth to take up more of their time.

Gaines traced the history of knowledge transfer, with oral communication overtaken by print and print being overtaking by social communication (where yesteryear's storytellers listen and their listeners now have a chance speak). Gaines is saying that interactive functionality is creating a new language - one the publishing world will need to adopt and adopt too.

The Advertising NEXT panel discussion was supposed to address what "next generation" advertising will look like and what the implications are for magazines.

Dismantling editorial/marketing divide

Brita Reid, media director at planning and buying agency MediaCompete, again advocated the dismantling of the editorial/marketing divide as the future of advertising. Indeed. OMD - South Africa's #1 independent media specialist. It even has a website!*

Content marketing and branded entertainment were definitely key to how panellists saw the future of marketing, and they are certainly part of the answer. How publishers adopt these concepts (jettison editorial independence) was the question unsatisfactorily answered.

Virginia Hollis, from The MediaShop, sensibly argued that the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF) needed to change how it conducts research if it's going to successfully integrate digital ion its audience research. Nobody suggested media planners should think outside the Excel spread sheets filled with AMPS figures that have become their unimaginative comfort zone or how to incentivise them doing so (hint: clients looking at digital strategy, thinking WTF, you're fired).

Competition from a broad spectrum

One of the most sensible quotes from the media summit came from keynote speaker and International Federation of the Periodical Press (FIPP) president Chris Llewellyn, when he said magazine publishers need to stop measuring the success of their magazine products against other magazines. Competition is coming from across a broad spectrum of media, including digital.

On the downside, he couldn't see value in editors beyond them being "filters" separating quality content from everything else. It prompted AdVantage editor Louise Marsland to retweet The Daily Maverick's Branko Brkic (who was not at the summit but following remotely on Twitter), who believes that magazine editors should be both visionary and brand custodians. "Calling him just a filter is simply wrong," Brkic tweeted.

Outsourcing of content production

Llewellyn saw content production in publishing being outsourced in the future (in SA few magazines have large editorial staffs, so it's already a reality here). He held forth TV separating content production from broadcasting as a possible future business model for magazines.

The final two panels of the day were dedicated to "A 21st Century Strategy for Magazines" and Journalism 2.0.

In the former, RamsayMedia MD Stuart Lowe noted that social media starts the conversation between a magazine and its readers long before 'thud' factor of print hitting the shelves. It was here where one of the panellists remarked that the importance of good journalism seems to be missing at the conference (Marsland speaking as an editor).

It provides a critical insight into the conversation publishers are having with themselves - A 21st Century Strategy for Magazines seemingly doesn't include budget for independent journalism. It goes straight against the strategy adopted by newspaper brands, trying to rise above the muck that is most of the information available online, of beefing up their investigative news teams.

Talk some courage into

Linking up with Gaines' view on the future of journalism, New Media Publishing MD Bridget McCarney tried to talk some courage into the gathered publishers by suggesting ad agencies still need the storytelling skills of (custom) publishers.

During the final panel discussion of the day, on the future of journalism, talk centred on community-building using social platforms and jokes about coming up with a new description for journalists. "Communication shepherd" (editors are nothing more than filters, remember) and "content producer" produced a couple of chuckles.

With publishers having seemingly thrown in the towel on journalism, the journalists seemed to follow suit. No impassioned defence for the walls that divide editorial and marketing departments would be produced at the summit. Instead Mail & Guardian Online editor Chris Roper talked about the familiar troubles of integrating online and offline newsrooms (lots of extra work for journalists, no extra money to pay them for it), while Sam Wilson, editor-in-chief at Women24, enthused on how she no longer needs to spend money on food journalism. She gets all her content from her readers - free.

Pretty depressing

From a journalist's perspective it was pretty depressing stuff. The future of magazines should hold more than being multimedia brochures beholden to special interests. Hoping people will start paying for information again (the iPad is saving the magazine industry! Oh dear I have to compete with Vanity Fair now?) while decreasing the value of that information by pandering to advertisers seems counter-intuitive.

For more:

*Outsmart your competitors. Buy editorial keywords at special rates before Dec 1!**
**What? I'm being proactive and breaking down those dumb editorial/marketing divides.***
***OMD can courier that cheque directly to me; let's skip the middleman, yes. Idea for next year's conference: rebuilding the wall between editorial and marketing, while keeping your cut.

About Herman Manson: @marklives

The inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011, Herman Manson (@marklives) is a business journalist and media commentator who edits industry news site His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines locally and abroad, including He also co-founded Brand magazine.