Despite Reports of Its Demise, the Press Is a Case Study in Evolution

Through Sheer Will, Industry Has Reasserted Itself and Is Stronger Than Ever

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If you want to learn about the future of advertising, start with the press. Yes, I refer to the same press that some declared "dead" back in 2008 (witness the rise of @themediaisdying on Twitter). The Fourth Estate is actively writing the b-school case for how an industry can adapt to a digital tsunami. And we should all be in awe.

Through sheer will, unbundling of assets and the deployment of talent across social networks, the press has reasserted itself and is now stronger than ever. In fact, according to my employer's annual Trust Barometer survey, the press was the only institution to see its trust rise in the past year.

With this in mind, I set out to identify just what the media is doing to revitalize itself in the face of massive disruption. Through interviews with executives, junior and senior editorial staff, entrepreneurs, academics and in-house content creators, several trends emerged. I plan to actively chronicle them in this space and on my site.

One of my initial observations is that media have been able to thrive, in part, because they abandoned conventional definitions. Marketers, meanwhile, seem to cling to traditional meanings to guide everything from strategic plans and budgets to agency selections. This behavior has to go, and the example of the press should inspire us.

Consider the old riddle: "What's black and white and read all over?" The classic definition of a newspaper no longer fits. In fact, one of the oldest papers, The Wall Street Journal, has thrived because it abandoned that definition by pushing aggressively into video. It's actually hard to call the Journal a newspaper now. Managing Editor Darren McDermott recently told me that his team is publishing 40 to 50 video pieces to the web each business day. The Journal also runs a daytime video network, WSJ Live, available on the iPad and Apple TV.

Then there's the way we define jobs. What's a reporter? What's a reader or a viewer? These tags have also been obliterated. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said we live in an age of "pro-am journalism."

Riding that wave successfully is CNN's iReport, which blends "community management" with day-to-day journalism. CNN Participation Director Lila King told me that that her team spends 60% to 70% of its time "managing relationships on the web," mostly with its own group of iReporters.

The same ethos pervades Mashable, where veteran professional journalists are hired for their storytelling ability as well as their ability to cultivate a community on social networks.

According to Mashable Executive Editor Adam Ostrow, "community is everyone's responsibility."

Finally, it's nearly impossible to draw a line between hard news and internet memes as they compete for the same "shelf space": your attention. This has given rise to a more-blended model.

Some, like Clay A. Johnson, author of "The Information Diet," warn us to consume carefully, but the advice will most likely go unheeded. The rising popularity of sites mixing fluffy fare with hard news are, well, "#winning."

Buzzfeed is the perfect example. The site, which made its name as a video aggregator and a mirror of digital culture, is moving into reported news. It hired Politico's Ben Smith to run a political channel and Matt Buchanan from Gizmodo to start up a similar tech site. A women's vertical is next. Amy Odell recently joined Buzzfeed from New York Magazine, according to WWD.

The takeaway from all these stories is that our industry must also think differently when it comes to how we define roles, strategies and budgets. Ad creative, for example, doesn't always have to be driven by an agency. Let go of the definitions and boundaries in favor of what's best for the consumer.

If the media -- an institution that predates advertising -- can do it, so can we.

Steve Rubel is exec VP-global strategy and insights for Edelman.

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