Innovation in Media 2022/2023 World Report: Must-Read Compendium of Publishing Trends

I’ve always found images important in journalism so it was doubly relevant when I read about “Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling” featuring a tragic virtual graphic novel about a place I’d visited decades ago.

Radio-Canada’s remembrance of a runaway train carrying crude oil that derailed in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic (with its pristine lake and surroundings) in 2013, killing 47 people and destroying the downtown area, is a masterful and sensitive piece of art and reporting.

Screen shot of “Lac-Mégantic: The Last Night,” a tragic virtual graphic novel

Reference to “Lac-Mégantic: La Dernière Nuit” (Lac-Megantic: The Last Night) was in the “Innovation in Media 2022/23 World Report,” a must-read compendium of trends in the publishing business.

So I looked up the long graphic novel, read it and found the CBC News-Radio Canada back story on creation of this gripping representation of events before the disaster, recollections of the tragic accident, and the people involved that provided the production context.

It was one of 15 fascinating case studies from media around the world using immersive digital multimedia to tell wide-ranging stories of religious persecution, childbirth during a pandemic, the war on drugs, wildlife cycles and pollution, to name a few.

The report by the Innovation Media Consulting Group produced for FIPP, an international organization that includes media owners and content creators, is a handy guide of what’s in vogue and what to expect in the industry.

Innovation in Media 2022/23 World Report (courtesy FIPP & Innovation Media Consulting Group)

The catchy “Print & Offbeat” chapter includes creative examples of storytelling with a message.

One example is of Asian-Americans, long targeted physically and verbally by xenophobes in the U.S. and often told to “go home,” presented in a “I’m Really From” series of posters showing they all hail from American cities.

Featuring celebrities alongside victims of anti-Asian hate, the campaign takes the form of a series of vintage-inspired travel posters. At first glance, they appear to be posters for far-flung destinations, but a closer look reveals they’re actually advertising US destinations from New York City to San Diego.

“I’m Really From” poster campaign (courtesy FIPP & Innovation Media Consulting Group)

In his introduction to the report, FIPP president and CEO James Hewes said innovation was no longer just about re-emergence from Covid, and that other key trends had been significantly accelerated in recent years, with a shift towards reader revenues and publishers finding new ways to leverage first-party data.

“We’ve seen podcasts finally realise their potential, and a resurgence in the popularity of the humble newsletter, as consumers search for more personalised and engaging experiences,” he wrote. “NFTs have gone mainstream, while a whole host of what were once thought of as periphery plays like AI, gamification, and visual storytelling are now finding more pragmatic applications.”

A new mantra is how to brace oneself for the “cookiepocalypse,” and life after the cookie (and other types of third-party data), notably with digital advertising back on the upswing.

According to an Adobe report, more than 77 percent of websites use tracking cookies, as do 82 percent of all digital ads. As extensive profiles were built on users, the internet thus became ultra-personal, recognizing users’ locations, browsing history, preferences, and crucially, gaining the ability to target ads at them. Third-party cookies were identified as a considerable privacy threat as far back as 1996 but the system continued until users’ privacy concerns resulted in major changes over the last few years.

In a “What Comes After Third-Party Cookies” sidebar, the report said Google was the last of the Big Tech companies to hold out on doing away with third-party cookies. Earlier this year it announced plans to launch Topics, a system in which advertisers “place ads via a limited number of topics determined by users’ browser activity.”

Another focus area is newsletters, which the report said was a powerful tool in a publisher’s arsenal.

While not new, newsletters can build direct, intimate relationships with readers; build habits, drive traffic and monetize relationships; be key drivers for collecting first-party data insights; be adaptable in content and format, such that A/B testing — split testing, or randomized experimentation where two or more versions of a variable (web page, page element, etc.) are shown to different segments of website visitors at the same time to determine which version leaves the maximum impact and drives business metrics — is a dream; be tailored to deliver specific content to niche audience segments; give star writers a new lease on life, or a shiny new project; pair well as a companion to podcasts and other new storytelling ventures; and, be the foundation for an entire business model (if done right).

Innovation in Media 2022/23 World Report (courtesy FIPP & Innovation Media Consulting Group)

As for podcasts, the report said audio was experiencing a renaissance and that innovations in format were proving it can address many aspects of the engagement funnel.

It pointed to key trends in audio of which publishers should keep track:

The continued boom in podcasting advertising, significantly enhancing its potential as a driver of revenue.

The removal of technical roadblocks to offer paid podcast subscriptions, thanks to new initiatives by platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Publishers going in heavy on converting text articles to audio either through human voice or AI solutions. Often in response to readers demanding more audio over text.

The combining of audio articles and podcasts into appealing subscription packages. Either linked to existing digital subscription plans or fashioned, in some cases, into standalone audio apps put out by publishers.

The boom in live or social audio, inspired by Clubhouse but now led by new tools like Twitter Spaces.

More developments in short form audio that increasingly looks like the future: finding a sweet spot somewhere between a podcast, text article and a video.

Audio is experiencing a renaissance (courtesy FIPP & Innovation Media Consulting Group)

As always, the “Innovation in Media” report concludes with a reminder that good journalism is good business.

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Magda Abu-Fadil

Magda Abu-Fadil is a veteran foreign correspondent/editor of international news organizations, former academic, media trainer, consultant, speaker and blogger.