Virtually there: INMA delegates get together on Zoom

It's midnight in Sydney - an odd hour for Damian Eales (right) to be attending a conference - but the day is yet young in Dallas.

Welcome to the new reality of INMA's 90th annual World Congress of News Media, and you're virtually there.

Earl Wilkinson, INMA's chief executive and executive director is moderating the event from his home in Dallas, and team members from the global organisation are also 'WFH' in Dallas, Austin and Nashville.

Along with a respectable 332 media executives from 43 countries, gathered around computer screens, tablets and mobile devices to defy the global pandemic and hear a futurist, a marketer, and a design guru try to make sense of what comes next.

It's not the event members had hoped for, lacking the face-to-face networking, not to mention the je ne sais quoi of the Parisian venue booked a year ago for April 23-28. No 19th century former stock exchange, no reception rubbing shoulders (if not arms) with Venus de Milo in the Louvre, no awards dinner in the Napoleon III era Opera Ballroom of the Intercontinental Le Grand hotel... although look out for some p'zazz as the event progresses.

Instead time-shifted publishing people got straight to business with future-orientated topics under the theme of 'Rethinking News Media in the Age of Coronavirus'.

Monday's first module brought futurist Ross Dawson, eMarketer's Geoff Ramsey and design strategist Mario Garcia with a variety of predictions.

Media and other societal institutions are experiencing a rising "trust moment," and how news brands respond to today's crisis will determine future relationships, the crisis yielding new fluidity in where consumers make purchasing decisions, and work will get rebalanced across office, home and virtual spaces.

As COVID-19 opens the gates for new audiences, it is changing how people interact with media. For example, research shows forced isolation has added one hour to daily media consumption, with news, mobile, audio and streaming up.

On advertising, news publishers are seeing a bigger hit on programmatic than publishers in general, while there is a slight shift away from programmatic to direct buying from premium publishers. Only 16 per cent of people look "less favourably" on advertising next to COVID-19 coverage.

COVID is intensifying the consumer's relationship with "her" mobile device, meaning contextual "journalism of everywhere with interruptions" is the "new normal."

Nine two-hour Virtual World Congress modules are scheduled from May 5-28, a format Wilkinson says plays to the fact that two hours is usually a person's maximum attention span in one sitting. The 18 hours of programming - which merges Paris programming with new COVID-19 topics - will feature 50 speakers, many of them new.

"We have additional creative flourishes to unveil, yet the truth is there is a lot of brainstorming, experimenting, screwing up and learning," says Wilkinson. "It's going to make one hell of a case study once we get through all nine modules. I'm glad INMA members are patient with us."

Glitches in Monday's inaugural Virtual World Congress were limited to audio challenges in one session and the inevitable unexpected visitor in another. Wilkinson is hoping for more serendipitous moments ahead: "You never know what's going to happen next at the INMA World Congress," he says.

The virtual congress resumes on Thursday (US time) with a module titled 'Subscription experiences amid the surge: Opportunities in chaos'. The Zuora-sponsored module will be moderated and keynoted by INMA researcher-in-residence Grzegorz (Greg) Piechota and feature a fireside chat with author Robbie Kellman Baxter on subscriptions in the COVID moment. Attendees will hear case studies from Dagens Nyheter, Le Monde, Singapore Press Holdings and the Gannett | USA Today Network on how they are approaching subscriptions during the pandemic.

A profile on the work of The Subscribed Institute also will be included in the module.

Developed in three weeks, the virtual congress uses Zoom, home studios, and moderators in various parts of the world.

Its successful launch on Monday leaves Wilkinson relieved: "This was a team effort from the minute the board decisively approved the Paris World Congress' cancellation to our staff's ability to ideate concepts that have little to no peer in the association world.

"This extends to the past 36 hours during which one-third of our participants registered. This has posed logistical and creative challenges that they have embraced."

In addition to the livestream World Congress, INMA is providing registrants with full access to recordings and presentations. To register for the event, click here. Non-attendees can also follow along with basic coverage.

Pictured: INMA president Damian Eales of News Corp Australia welcomed attendees from his home in Sydney at midnight local time, and (background) Dawn McMullan leads INMA's editorial team from home offices in Dallas, Austin, and Nashville

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