Is social-first news part of publishing’s future?

Is social-first news part of publishing’s future?
The Media Leader Podcast

As more people continue to gravitate towards social media for obtaining news content, are publishers and social platforms doing enough to reach young audiences with trustworthy material?

This was the theme in a recent episode of The Media Leader Podcast featuring Ramin Beheshti, co-founder and chief executive of social-first news publisher The News Movement. Topics of discussion included whether short-form video is a suitable medium for news, if social media’s association with misinformation is problematic for news publishers and how platforms such as Meta moving away from supporting news has impacted business.

Listen to an excerpt of the episode or read a transcript of the conversation below:

The Media Leader: Social media has come under the microscope for many years for its capacity to spread misinformation. Do you worry at all that your social-first association will mean that some individuals are more sceptical or less trustworthy of [The News Movement’s] brand because that’s where it lives?

Beheshti: The reason we’re on social is because of the misinformation crisis on social. When we started this, a lot of [media] companies were pointing out misinformation, which is a very noble and worthwhile thing to do on social media. Our point was how can we flood the zone with actually high-quality content that’s produced for social to also tackle that misinformation crisis.

We’re not doing this on our own. We need to partner and work with the social platforms, creators, traditional media. That is the mission of The News Movement: to position itself at the centre of that ecosystem.

Do I worry about it? Look, wherever we appear, we’re going to have that thrown at us.

The other key [related] part of our content strategy is [having] a non-partisan, unbiased view, which is very, very, very difficult to achieve. At the heart of what we do is trying to give a balance of opinions and provide context. So people are always going to accuse us, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid that space, because actually that’s what’s happening on traditional publishing.

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The Media Leader: Short-form video does not necessarily strike me as a format that allows for the most holisitc presentation of news, especially on topics that require a really high degree of detail and nuance, because you have such a short amount of time — usually a minute or less — to sprint through such complicated issues. Is short-form video a good medium for news presentation full stop?

Beheshti: Without answering it flippantly — and maybe this is a flippant answer — it’s better, to me, than the headline and the first paragraph which are on a 2,000-word article that’s all someone sometimes will read and form an opinion and sometimes make a decision off the back of that.

I think you can get more interesting and engaging information across to people who consume in a minute.

However, you’re totally right — for some complex subjects, you can only get so much information across in a minute to three minutes, depending on the [format].

We’re also focused — and I think we need to do better here — on taking people on an onward journey. To say: “If you didn’t know about this subject, if I can give you a minute of information so that you understand more than you did a minute ago, where else can you now go to get even more information?”

It might be another video, it might be a web article, it might be a long-form piece of video that immerses you in that subject. But the idea is not to leave the person going: “OK, right, well I think I now understand it, but I don’t know where else to go.”

And, again, there’s nothing wrong with a 2,000-word, well-written, well-researched article. For some audiences, that is perfect. But it’s not for every audience. So it’s about how do we get this content to engage with these people and give the information that they need in order to be able to then make a decision about an onward journey.

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The Media Leader: Social media has also come under fire from more traditional publishers, not just related to misinformation, but for deprecating their support for news on their platforms. I’m curious how that’s affected you, if at all. Has your business been impacted by a lack of algorithmic recommendation or are you still finding it’s been fine?

Beheshti: It’s funny — because we’ve only been around a year and a bit, we don’t know any different.

What I find fascinating is there are huge differences between the social media companies in terms of how they want and treat news. Some, like Snap, for example, are really leaning in to the space. They’ve been a fantastic partner.

I think others kind of want to bury their heads in the sand a little bit and hope that it’s not happening on their platform.

But yet, despite pulling back from supporting news content on their platform, it’s prevalent. Whether it’s official, well-researched, well-reported news or that kind of ad-hoc news approach, it’s happening on their platforms. So I think some of the social media companies need to realise they need to do more to help both traditional publishers see it as a viable stream and also new publishers to reach these audiences.

I will say I don’t subscribe to the lean-back approach of “Well, you’ve come in and disrupted our business model and therefore you need to help us”. That’s not where I sit on it.

I think the news industry needs to do more to innovate and find ways of connecting with audiences and generating revenue — which they are doing — but I think it’s kind of on both sides.

I do find some of the social media companies who have pulled back — I think it’s amusing because they’re the platforms where news is most prevalent still, even despite trying to quash it.

Listen to full episode below and hit ‘subscribe’ to download the episode on your favourite podcast player, as well as receive notifications about future episodes:

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