BWI’s Miami Newsmaker panelists discussing the “Future of Marine Journalism” offered a frank assessment of continuing challenges for writers and what publications and websites will be seeking in the near future. Common themes are that all in media are having to produce more with less, expect flawless stories and images, view deadlines as ever more important, and that video is becoming the new “sidebar” to articles. Advice to writers: be useful, agreeable and indispensable, find ways to add value, increase delivery speed, and keep up with the technology.
Panelists included John Burnham, Editorial Director at YachtWorld.com/boats. com, Tim Cole, Executive V.P. at Belvoir Media Group, Duncan McIntosh, Group Publisher of Editor and Publisher as well as a number of boating titles, David Ritchie, Editorial Director at Bonnier Marine Group and Bill Sisson, Editor-in-Chief, Soundings Publications. BWI Director Michael Sciulla, chairman of the committee producing the forum, served as moderator.
Effects of Recession
Real opportunity exists for freelancer growth. Full-time staff has been transitioned off many mastheads in response to demands of the Great Recession, while those remaining are expanding roles from pure print to adding web-based mix, managing more outside contributors, getting involved in design or handling administrative duties. Titles and sites that have survived are picking up market share and there is optimism that the corner has turned to real growth.
The recession put the squeeze on publications beyond the severe drop in revenue for ad pages and views. Writers know the page counts are down, but those relying on subscriptions are working harder to find new prospects as they look for ways to insulate renewals. Sometimes content shifts were needed, as boat builder ads gave way to water toys in one example. As print receded, online visits often mushroomed, but the puzzle is how to monetize eyeballs that previously paid to hold a page.
Print products are not doomed, panelists said, but their format and delivery will change. Soundings, with its trademark tabloid presentation, is moving to a standard magazine size to cut production costs and better compete on newsstands. Mailing costs will continue to eat away at profits and force some titles from paper. Bonnier is looking for ways to add events for another way to engage readers and viewers in person. The editors urged writers to bring ideas to them to help the products become more needed or relevant.
Where Media Is Headed
Everyone is focused on mobile delivery of their work and learning how to leverage the ungainly social media to attract attention. This is difficult – and potentially costly – for many reasons, beginning with the reformatting of websites to translate to “pads” or smartphones and requirements to deliver appropriate, and often disparate, messages to Facebook or Twitter, visuals to YouTube or others yet unknown.
Mobile media will demand a different skill set to write and package content for it. Agreed is that writing for print simply does not work on the web and providers need to learn what works for each. The other urgent and largely unmet need is packaging longer works into two- to three-minute videos to tell the compressed story or drive readers to a longer format. If journalists aren’t carrying a small video camera, they need to get one and use it now.
The Newsmaker event had an aura of an “unknown world,” where definite answers are few, directions are murky, and demands are in constant flux. For listeners there and writers in general, perhaps the best advice was to “try everything.”