The question for newsmedia: Do we have your attention?

With industry consolidation, news industry conferences have become scarcer in Australia, and time is money, especially when it's the boss who's paying for your day away from the office.

So NewsMediaWorks' Inform conference has exactly that - an event at which publishers put out their dominant messages to an audience of interested parties including agency but mostly their own staff.

Today's event in Sydney packed as much as it could into the time - especially given many delegates' habit of staying for the morning and the free lunch, and disappearing thereafter.

It was good value, not so much for the set-piece keynotes as for the often-unconnected insights which emerged from speakers, many of whom were packed into a succession of panel-format discussions.

Time and cost dictated that what one delegate described as the "gangster talk" of Scott Galloway, a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, was delivered by video link. No matter: the first-up wake-up call provided plenty of food for thought with his assessments of a changing retail scene in which resale and Amazon would somehow dominate, while innovation slowed and big tech started to come apart.

It fell to Damian Eales - chief operating officer of News Corp Australia, but also currently president of the US-headquartered INMA - to try to make sense of it all. With a vision of a "new world of data" empowering journalists to deliver on the wants and needs of their audiences, "and increasingly, their subscribers".

A priority to "ensure that we create content that is worth paying for", something that's clearly easier with what he called "empowered editorial".

"Things can't happen without the entire company embracing it," he said, explaining how data - "art blended with science" - was making journalism better, "because we are giving journalists insights they've never had before".

Among the insights being shared in Sydney this morning were not only what News was up to with new mastheads in Canberra and Newcastle, but the dozen local news brands launching across regional Australia over the coming months, some of them single-journalist online brands.

Inform is always a briefing on what is front-of-mind for publishers, so watch out for more audio - "radio is back, whether it's podcasts, audio files or whatever" - and smart speakers are "exploding".

Australia's minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts Paul Fletcher, apologised for stating the obvious - that media, particularly print, was facing "extraordinary challenges" - and did it anyway, discussing the "two-sided markets" in which newspapers operated.

His view that "if there is less journalism, that is a problem" is interesting in the context of his government's domestic acts to restrict press freedom, but little mention of them, other than to claim that "unlike the challenge from the global internet giants", the AFP's actions are "not unprecedented".

Fletcher calls it a "healthy tension between competing objectives" and talks instead of laws he says contain specific protections for journalists.

On cross media reforms, he points to what he sees as the benefits of changes made by the Turnbull and Fifield team - he's struck by the "vigour" with which (Nine) are tackling the challenges facing the former Fairfax newspapers... and to their increased profits.

He says the government "recognises that news and journalism is an important public good" and sees the need identified by the ACCC for reform - "to better protect consumers, improve transparency, recognise power imbalances and ensure that substantial market power is not used to lessen competition in media and advertising services markets".

And more, on the $60 million support package to which the government is committed (no matter how or whether it likes it), the role of the Judith Nielson Institute for Journalism and Ideas, and government funding for the ABC and SBS, "another important means of supporting quality journalism in the face of the current challenges".

That apart, you're all on your own: Whether journalism survives and prospers "will depend a great deal more on the people in this room - and other newspaper and media managers - than on what government may or may not do"... but Fletcher claims to be an optimist.

The programme discussed strategy, metrics and what was called "digital partnerships" in a succession of panels, and having prompted Galloway earlier, Melbourne Business School's Mark Ritson returned to centre stage for a late marketing 101 refresher on issues important to publishers: The importance of brand building as well as sales activation - you "need both", long term sales growth reducing price sensitivity - and of developing strategic objectives "not tactical goals or business aspirations".

An earlier panel had delivered News' Julian Delaney, Nine's Lizzie Young, and the duopoly duo of Andrew Hunter (Facebook) and Kate Beddoe (Google) with Mumbrella founder Tim Burrowes to prod and part any warring parties. And marketing types Mal Dale, Matthew Daniell, Alison Tilling and Nathan Hodges to discuss the metrics that "matter" - to them, at least, and therefore to the rest of us.

Sandwiched between the minister's address (above) and the keynote of Mark Ryan, director of the new Judith Nielson Institute, had been an editorial panel which perhaps summed up the bind in which the industry finds itself. Taking part were Lenore Taylor of (Guardian Australia), Anthony de Ceglie (the West Australian), Kate de Brito (newscomau) and James Chessell (Nine Entertainment).

If you want a quote to ponder, try this from De Brito (in response to De Ceglia): "We have trust, what we don't have is their attention".

-Peter Coleman

Pictured (from top): Scott Galloway, Kate De Brito and Mark Ritson

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