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Is Insider the “next-gen WSJ”?
Plus, Vice has a potential buyer
I love a good newsroom memo. And last week, Insider EIC Nich Carlson published a textbook example of the form.
The proximate cause of the memo was the end of a 13-day staff strike, which resulted in a new $65K minimum salary and a promise to avoid more layoffs this year. But Carlson took the opportunity to look beyond the strike, to catalog the broader challenges facing the publication today and lay out the beginnings of a new vision.
Here’s Carlson on the publication’s current state:
I also don’t want to bullshit you about where we are right now. Traffic is down. Subs are down. Video views are down. That was true two weeks ago and has been true for months, so I’m not talking about the impact of a strike. I’m talking about a changing reading and watching environment where Facebook is no longer sharing links, Snapchat is sunk, people aren’t hanging on Trump’s every word anymore, and there’s no more pandemic to demand you read the news every day.
Giant forces beyond our control have formed a perfect storm trying to sink us, and we are in for a fight to earn our audience and earn our existence into the future.
As we wrote earlier this week, this is a bleak picture. But even if you think the language of “giant forces” and “perfect storms” is dramatic, it’s hard to argue with the general thesis. Insider, like many of its peers, faces real challenges as it attempts to adapt to a new era.
Then Carlson pivots to the future, outlining several priorities going forward:
Insider is returning to its roots as a “business, economy, and tech-first publication.”
They’re launching a “smart paywall” to bolster their subscription strategy.
They’re investing in “homepages, email, and [their] app” as valuable distribution channels.
They’re launching an “AI pilot group” and expecting staff to embrace the technology.
These make sense. The pivot back to business, a lucrative vertical filled with ad dollars and corporate cards, will help the publication find sustainable footing. Emphasizing owned channels is smart, especially for an outlet like Insider with a history of riding platform traffic. And an imperative to experiment with AI will help the operation become more efficient.
Carlson framed the overall approach this way: “I hate comparing us to other publications, but it is a very easy shorthand to say we are once again working on becoming the next-gen WSJ.”
As Carlson acknowledges, comparisons like this are a bit fraught. “Next-gen WSJ” is a reasonable if high-level direction for Insider’s next chapter, emphasizing the return to business coverage and underscoring the need to embrace new technologies. But the phrase only hints at an actual strategy, leaving much to the imagination.
In refining its approach, Insider’s biggest risk will be not doing enough to differentiate itself. Business news is competitive and, while it’s easy to position The WSJ or The FT as legacy print newspapers, these publications have significant brand equity and profitable subscription-driven businesses. If Insider competes head on, it will struggle.
So it will be important for Insider to find a different lane, one that emphasizes its own unique value. You can imagine several approaches. One is leaning into personality and POV to distinguish from the more staid tones of established outlets. Another is for Insider to sharpen its focus on undercovered business topics, drawing inspiration from outlets like Axios and Industry Dive.
There’s no one path to success, but the stakes are high. To quote newspaper owner Jeff Bezos: “Differentiation is survival.”
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
Gannett is suing Google. The newspaper chain is arguing that Google violated antitrust laws and abused its power in the digital ad market. From the company’s complaint: “Google controls how publishers sell their ad slots, and it forces publishers to sell growing shares of that ad space to Google at depressed prices.”
Vice has a potential buyer. GoDigital, a holding group that owns the Latino digital media company NGLmitú, is expected to submit a bid in the $300 million to $350 million range (Vice’s revenues were about $600 million last year, though the company is currently in bankruptcy). If the deal goes through, GoDigital plans to make Vice profitable within one year.
More on publishers:
German tabloid Bild plans to lay off hundreds and replace certain roles with AI.
Vox announced two paid subscription tiers for its popular podcast Criminal.
WaPo launched its third online game called Keyword.
More on platforms:
Omnicon is leveraging Google’s AI to provide brands with generative text and image tools.
Spotify is planning to add a more expensive “Supremium” subscription tier with high-fidelity audio.
Vimeo launched new AI video editing tools including a script generator and teleprompter.
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