'Get on with personalisation and tech,' INMA delegates urged

Delegates to this year's INMA World News Media Congress left with a 'hurry-up call' on personalisation and digital tech ringing in their ears.

It came from chief executive Earl Wilkinson in his closing review of the INMA's sold-out event at the Times Centre in New York. "I keep wondering when data is just going to go into the woodwork and we're not going to talk about it," he mused. "(When) it's just assumed. I don't think we're there yet."

While personalisation was coming - "the tech is almost there" - Wilkinson said the process had been a long one. He quoted recently-appointed Schibsted chief executive and country manager for Norway Kristin Skogen Lund's call that we should do better: "We've got to speed up, we can't take another six years."

Wilkinson noted the shifts recorded at this year's conference, notably the shift from ad focus to reader focus, and of print "moving into the corner" as digital took centre stage. "We are getting smarter and better at what we do. And we're getting used to the new language of this business in digital format," he said.

He also stressed "the whole issue of people" and the constant need for coaching and education.

A digital platforms panel with Google and Facebook provided an opportunity to "

strip the varnish off the polite conversation", providing scope for further discussion. "I think we were getting to the point, and that this panel is a beginning not an end."

But while the dialogue was good, he warned on attitudes to involvement with the social giants after hearing that a 70 per cent of a Latin American publication's digital traffic came from Facebook: "Guys, it's not helpful to have 70 per cent of your traffic coming from Facebook.

"I don't know what the answer is, but it's not that."

He stressed the need for leadership -to reposition newsrooms and exploit data - "making data work is about top-down leadership, training and democratisation," he said - and quoted Greg Piechota's contentious claim that designers of algorithms that personalise news experiences are editors.

He urged publishers to invest in podcasts and voice, "for 12-18 months from now". But he said podcasts were currently being used for 'top of the funnel' engagement: "I'm not seeing too many examples of podcasts being behind a paygate or a paywall."

In a reference to a presentation by Karl Wells during a study tour at the Wall Street Journal, he shared his belief that talk about brands, digital and data was "simply the rebirth of marketing in the news industry.

"Data is reintroducing science into the marketing equation, making the news media industry smarter."

The final proceedings included the handover from outgoing president Eduardo Garces of El Espectador to his successor Damien Eales of News Corp Australia. In his opening address he stressed the importance of INMA: "This is a tough industry, we need each other to strive and survive," he said.

Next year's Congress will be in Paris from April 23-28.

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