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Vivian Schiller’s seven reasons to be cheerful about journalism

A timely start to the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin with Vivian Schiller, ex-president/CEO of NPR.

While quoting some of the bad news in the annual State of the Media report for 2011, Schiller outlined seven reasons to be cheerful:

  1. Conditions finally right to give paywalls a fair shake. What has changed, she said is that while scale still matters, brand is back. The other thing is that you can train people to pay for content, arguing iTunes has shown this is possible. She also points to the growing popularity of tablets.
  2. Local is still up for grabs. Schiller said legacy media can win the battle for local audiences as they have the people and brands. But she questioned whether legacy media would make the investment.
  3. Twitter as a newsgathering vehicle. She cited Andy Carvin’s curated feed of Twitter, saying it was an extraordinary and powerful complement to what a news organisation regularly does.
  4. Apps are the “holy grail of engagement”. The duplication of those who download NPR’s app and listen to NPR on the radio is massive, she said. 80% of Android app users are NPR listeners.  People who listen to audio consume 10 times as much content as those who just read, Schiller said.
  5. Audience acquisition. The web is not dead, said Schiller, stressing the the browser is the best way to acquire news users. Only 20% of NPR.org users listen to NPR radio. “Do not give up on the web.”
  6. Legacy news organisations are ready to be their own disruptors. So rather than being platform agnostic, news organisations have realised they have to serve every audience in different ways depending on platform.. Schiller cites examples of news organisations creating new brands such as Washington Post’s Trove and The Daily.
  7. Digital natives have come of age and care about journalism. Schiller said journalism school enrolment is soaring, saying these are the people who would reinvent the business model. She argued that people of her generation won’t be able to do this.

Schiller ended by quoting Clay Shirky on the opportunities before us and urged attendees to imagine and seize the future. We must be in a constant state of experimentation, she said.

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