NEW YORK—From Tumblr to live events, a few of those who are shaping the future of media discussed what they see ahead at a panel discussion Thursday.
I Want Media’s Patrick Phillips moderated an Internet Week New York session at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute featuring Henry Blodget, editor and CEO of Business Insider, Cindy Jeffers, CEO and CTO of Salon Media Group, Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, Roy Sekoff, president and co-creator of HuffPost Live and Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times Company.
On Yahoo’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Tumblr: None of the panelists were certain how it would play out, but the general consensus was that it was a solid move for Yahoo even with the hefty price tag. The purchase, they said, fits with both Marissa Mayer’s acquisitive strategy and the nature of the changing media landscape.
"It speaks to the importance of visual storytelling," Jeffers said. "People have traditionally read things online, but more and more you’re seeing acquisitions of Instagram and Tumblr. There are so many millions of people on their platforms, it’s hard to ignore. It’s a really important way to consume media, especially news."
Thompson agreed with the premise, saying that the uptick in visual storytelling isn’t anything new on digital platforms. It’s just a continuation of a trend that started in the mid-90s with the CD-ROM.
On the uses of video and where its real value lies: Sekoff, running a daily live 12-hour broadcast in HuffPost Live, was the panel’s resident expert on video. "We’re making our big bet on engagement," he said, emphasizing the tools and a general philosophy that will accommodate constant interaction with an audience.
Blodget responded: "I don’t think it’s going to work."
He qualified the statement saying that although the live broadcast was a losing proposition in his view—one Business Insider contemplated and decided against—there was value in the video broken down into easily consumable clips.
Jeffers added: "Everyone has access to sources online where regular citizens are producing extraordinary content—like what you saw yesterday in London. Video footage of an accused killer, right after he’s done what he’s done, talking about why he did it."
On the ethics of aggregation: "No offense," Sekoff said, "but I feel like this is a question from 2006."
On live events and conferences: "I think there are more platforms," Thompson said. "One of them is this. It’s face-to-face. We saw this in the music industry. In an increasingly virtual and digital world, a premium around actually meeting, hearing, seeing, experiencing grows."
On the role of social media in storytelling: Facebook was mentioned, Tumblr and YouTube too, but Twitter dominated the conversation around social media storytelling.
Thompson had one of the distinctive quotes of the session: "We know who’s going to get a hard news story first—it’s going to be Twitter."
The comment started a lively debate, but coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing became a de facto case study for the platform.
Twitter was getting all the facts first—and from non-traditional, non-journalistic sources—but web traffic spiked anyway. People were looking for journalists to distill the information.
The information coming from those primary social sources was invaluable, but so was the BuzzFeed team on the ground in Boston, Peretti said, as was the web team in New York sifting through Suspect No. 2’s Twitter account and the threads on Reddit.
"Having the knowledge of what’s happening on the web and what’s happening in the world, and how those things interact, became incredibly important covering that story and is going to be increasingly important," he said.